What difference does all this make right here, right now?
OK, so this month, we are meant to be studying the book of Revelation, the final book of the Bible and we will come to that, I promise. I thought it would be a good idea to give that a context by reading Tom Wright’s Surprised by Hope first – and there have been times over the last week or so that I have wondered why I’d thought that would be a good idea, I must admit!
I guess it’s shown me that all we thought we believed may not be so clear as we first thought. Tom Wright has given me a fresh way of thinking about resurrection and life after life after life. He is a renowned Bible scholar, yes, but I believe he would be the first to admit that his is just one interpretation of many and needs to be read as such. This is not the definitive answer that I am expecting you all to swallow without question. I’m simply asking you to sit with what you have read here over the last couple of weeks as we approach the book of Revelation and see what God has in mind to reveal to you.
But first, let’s spend the next couple of days with Tom Wright exploring what difference what we believe about the after life makes to how we live in the here and now. He calls this ‘Hope in Practice’. By hope, he’s referring to the future hope we have of the final resurrection of all people when God establishes his new creation here on the earth and Jesus comes to be with us in bodily form to rule over the whole of creation. However, he points out that this future hope was not the main focus of the resurrection of Jesus. That event has immense implications for the here and now, not simply for the future. And so belief in the resurrection is non-negotiable for the Christian; it is the foundation on which our faith is built.
As we hope for a better future in this world for the poor and exploited and dispossessed (including the planet), we work for the realisation of that hope in the present and this is central to our faith – life-giving and vital. It’s what Jesus did. It’s what he was criticised for, far more than for his teaching.
The whole point of what Jesus was up to was that he was doing, close up, in the present, what he was promising long-term, in the future. Tom Wright, page 204
This present bodily life is not valueless. What you do with your body in the present matters. Tom Wright asserts that whatever you do in the present will last into God’s future (I find that really hard to get my head round, but have a sense that if I do, it will change how I view all that I do!). This is building for God’s kingdom.
So let’s talk about salvation. Salvation is what enables us to feel certain that we will go to heaven when we die. It’s our golden ticket to heaven. Isn’t that what most of us believe? Salvation means rescue and we are rescued from death, yes, but we cannot see salvation as rescue from our physicality and the physicality of God’s good creation. If we do, then the only work of any value on this earth is that of saving souls. That was the tradition I was brought up in – no one cared about justice and the planet, all we cared about was conversion of individuals. Why bother trying to put things right in the present world?
‘Salvation’ then, is not ‘going to heaven’, but ‘being raised to life in God’s new heaven and new earth.’ Tom Wright, page 210
Do you get the distinction? Can you see the present implications of this distinction? We can begin to enjoy that salvation in the here and now – partially of course, the best and the rest is yet to come! If we look at Jesus’ ministry on earth, we see that being saved was often a combination of physical and spiritual healing. And this salvation and liberation and redemption is not just reserved for humans – it applies to the whole cosmos. We’re part of something much, much bigger.The whole creation is waiting with eager longing. And so we pray in the prayer that Jesus taught us that God’s kingdom will come and His will be done on earth as in heaven.
God builds God’s kingdom. Not us. But he created each one of us to be a part of that and we have that choice every single day. What we do now is not in vain. Everything we do in Christ and by his Spirit will not be wasted. Creation is to be redeemed and we each have a role to play in that.
God’s intention from the beginning of time has been to set the world right. This can be known as justice. We have to care about justice in this world. It’s not enough to abdicate responsibility by saying that the world is an irrevocable mess and God will take us away from it when we die. God has always been about turning the world upside down, hearing the cry of the oppressed and responding to it.
The world has already been turned upside down; that’s what Easter is all about. It isn’t a matter of waiting until God eventually does something different at the end of time. God has brought his future, his putting-the-world-to-rights future, into the present in Jesus of Nazareth, and he wants that future to be implicated more and more in the present. Tom Wright, page 226
Now that gets me excited. That’s a passion I already burn with. It’s what I yearn for each time I pray the Lord’s Prayer. I guess coming to it here in the context of resurrection puts it into a firmer framework, gives a reason for the motivation I already live by.
And then Tom Wright moves on to address creativity. My excitement knows no bounds. Oh, how I’ve struggled with this whole area! He asserts that being made in God’s image means that we are called to be creators – in procreating, being stewards of God’s beautiful creation, but also in creativity.
Genuine art is this itself a response to the beauty of creation, which itself is a pointer to the beauty of God. Tom Wright, page 234
Finally, evangelism. It’s not what you probably think it is. Yes, it’s all about good news and this news of a new heaven and a new earth is good news. The good news is that God is God, regardless of what you have been told before. The powers of evil have been defeated and God’s new world has begun. And you’re invited to join in, join the party, discover your role and get involved.