Last day. Let’s talk about last things.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – John’s Revelation
Turns out heaven isn’t where we go when we die. Renewed earth is. That’s why Daniel and Ezekiel both describe restoration with creation imagery: rivers flowing from the throne in a renewed temple that renews the wilderness (think exodus) into a garden (think Eden).
This should change so much about how we live out our faith.
One obvious conclusion is God cares about creation. And we’re trashing it. This isn’t a radical left wing issue and I’m not asking you to park your SUV. Just notice. Buy your beverage of choice in glass or aluminum. Reuse bags. Recycle. Carpool. Plant a garden. Plant a tree. Buy local. This is just being a good steward. Hell, it’s being a good human.
Hell… huh, the irony.
How you live now matters. Jesus never spoke about life as a pregame warmup. He said filling needs like hunger and poverty and oppression and prison and injustice (you know, those earthly, temporal things) matter. He said take special care of orphans and widows and aliens and exiles because we used to be in their shoes. We’ve been slaves. We’ve been in the wilderness. We’ve been in exile.
One summer I took a youth group to SIFAT and we were down in their simulated 3rd world village, over heated, underfed, drinking hot water we’d boiled in a coffee pot. But the “missionaries” were coming and they were going to bring lunch. They came. But before they served us any food or water they sat us in the sunshine and preached some escape-pod-theology sermon so they could check the box on their scorecard.
It’s no different than what churches are doing today to folks who’re tired and hungry, underpaid, under-healthcared, overworked and over-stressed. Just give em Jesus. They’re on their own for maternity leave, childcare, a living wage, a future and hope.
Jesus taught us to pray for God’s kingdom to come here, now, on earth just like it is there, now, in heaven. The goal has always been heaven on earth. When Jesus did talk about after-life, he did so in the context of what we need to do now to enjoy it. He talked about the rich man not caring about his poor neighbor, Lazarus. He talked about sheep and goats, divided based on how well they cared for the hungry and poor and naked – earthly, temporal things.
One more thing. We should forgive.
There’ll probably be some folks you don’t like in the corporate merger between new heaven and new earth. And they might keep you out. Not because they won’t want you there. But because your own inability to be around them might preclude it. In that same prayer where Jesus told us to pray for God’s kingdom here on earth, he also said to pray for our own forgiveness in the same measure that we forgive. Then he made it more plain: “if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
In “The Great Divorce” C.S. Lewis imagined that folks might choose their own personal hell over heaven with the wrong people. And I get it. There are still folks I hope I don’t run into at the grocery store. And a lot of y’all have expressed your own pain to me. One night I sat in a hotel hallway crying and trying to help a student figure out how to forgive her father for unspeakable sins against her. I encouraged her that forgiveness doesn’t mean she shouldn’t testify against him. Forgiveness doesn’t negate consequences. I think now I’d add that forgiveness is when you can imagine being happy they’re invited to the kingdom too. Even if you don’t want to see them now.
After recounting the marriage of heaven and earth, John goes on, essentially plagiarizing the Old Testament, to describe the new city and the temple in its center: its dimensions, layout, and aesthetics… even the paving. There’s a stream that flows from, you guessed it, the throne, right down the center of the city and on both sides grows the, wait for it, tree of life bearing fruit every month and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
On earth as it is in heaven.