Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: New Creation

Resisting Naturalism’s Spell

In his comprehensive book, Heaven, Randy Alcorn  quotes a Barna survey:  “An overwhelming majority of Americans continue to believe that there is life after death and that heaven and hell exist” (p. 9).  But what people actually believe about heaven and hell varies widely.  And I would suggest that the majority view heaven and hell, and the spiritual realm in general, as less “real” than the natural.

Naturalism, I think, is the culprit.  Without using the word, we’re “naturalism” thinkers.  And naturalism insists we understand the world in scientific terms.   And science, even unintentionally, undercuts faith.  That’s because faith calls us to believe in what we can’t see, while science operates in the seen realm.  Consequently, “Scientists say . . . ” carries great authority and leaves the believer with his own private faith that “works” for him but carries no weight in the “real” world.

Randy Alcorn makes a compelling response . . .

“In The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis tells how Puddleglum, Jill and Eustace are captured in a sunless underground world by an evil witch who calls herself the queen of the underworld.  The witch claims that her prisoners’ memories of the overworld, Narnia, are but figments of their imagination.  She laughs condescendingly at that child’s game of ‘pretending’ that there’s a world above and a great ruler of that world.

When they speak of the sun that’s visible in the world above, she asks them what a sun is.  Groping for words, they compare it to a giant lamp.  She replies, ‘When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me.  You can only tell me it is like the lamp.  Your sun is a dream, and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp.’

When they speak of Aslan the lion, king of Narnia, she says they have seen cats and have merely projected those images into the make-believe notion of a giant cat. They begin to waver.

The queen, who hates Aslan and wishes to conquer Narnia, tries to deceive them into thinking that whatever they cannot perceive with their senses must be imaginary—which is the essence of naturalism.  The longer they are unable to see the world they remember, the more they lose sight of it.

She says to them, hypnotically, ‘There never was any world but mine,’ and they repeat after her, abandoning reason, parroting her deceptions.  Then she coos softly, ‘There is no Narnia, no overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan.’  This illustrates Satan’s power to mold our weak minds as we are trapped in a dark, fallen world.  We’re prone to deny the great realities of God and Heaven, which we can no longer see because of the Curse.

Finally, when it appears they’ve succumbed to the queen’s lies, Puddleglum breaks the spell and says to the enraged queen, ‘Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself.  Suppose we have.  Then all that I can say is that . . . the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.  Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world.  Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one.  And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it.  We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right.  But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow.’

The truth is exactly the opposite of naturalism’s premise—in fact, the dark world’s lamps are copies of the sun, and its cats are copies of Aslan.  Heaven isn’t an extrapolation of earthly thinking; Earth is an extension of Heaven, made by the Creator King.  The realm Puddleglum and the children believe in, Narnia and its sun and its universe, is real, and the witch’s world—which she tempts them to believe is the only real world—is in fact a lesser realm, corrupted and in bondage.

When the queen’s lies are exposed, she metamorphoses into the serpent she really is, whereupon Rilian, the human king and Aslan’s appointed ruler of Narnia, slays her.  The despondent slaves who’ve lived in darkness are delivered.  Light floods in, and their home below becomes a joyous place again because they realize that there is indeed a bright world above and Aslan truly rules the universe.  They laugh and celebrate, turning cartwheels and popping firecrackers.

Sometimes we’re like Lewis’s characters.  We succumb to naturalistic assumptions that what we see is real and what we don’t see isn’t . . . But we must recognize our blindness.  The blind must take by faith that there are stars in the sky.  If they depend on their ability to see, they will conclude that there are no stars . . .

We’ll one day be delivered from the blindness that separates us from the real world. We’ll realize then the stupefying bewitchment we’ve lived under.”

* * *

I don’t want to get into a science vs. faith debate.  Suffice it to say that a true interpretation of Scripture and an accurate scientific discovery will coincide.  But my point here is that “science” can subconsciously make us doubt the spiritual realm.  Or it can leave us assuming we have to reject science if we’re to have faith in what we can’t see.

This problem arises especially for students.  At any grade, how should they harmonize their science-learning with their faith?  Or should they regard science and faith as forever separate realms, thus considering faith as anti-scientific and private?

C.S. Lewis creatively reminds us that instead of naturalism reigning supreme, naturalism (the only realm science can study) offers us only “copies” of what exists in the spiritual realm.  And when all is said and done, the trinitarian God, whom we can’t see but whom we follow by faith, will have the last word.  And his new creation will be immeasurably superior to anything naturalism provides.  Puddleglum’s right.



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That’s what my daughter named her.  Missy called her Stormy.  Or maybe it was our granddaughter, Moriah, who did the naming.  We had given her the 20-year-old grayish-white quarter horse-Arabian-cross as a gift.  She and her mom then rode together, each on her own horse.

That was 16 years ago.  Stormy’s back eventually couldn’t bear riders.  She ended up in our “back pasture” where she spent her last two years.  She grazed and nosed around, but mostly waited for her next meal:  feed for breakfast, apple at lunch, feed for supper and “horse peppermint” mashed up and mixed with water as “bedtime snack”.  After pushing her mouth in the peppermint bucket, Stormy had pinkish lipstick.  She loved it.

Stormy was a gentle, contented old girl—except when her stomach-clock told her supper was a little late.  Then she’d start whinnying.  Not the excited whinnying when she knew somebody was coming with food.  Impatient whinnying like, “Hey!  Don’t forget me!”  Then if no one came, she’d run, just to be sure we knew she was still there.  Around and around the pasture.  Back and forth along the front fence.  A 36-year-old horse running so fast we were afraid she’d fall and break a leg.  She never did.

Then, last Sunday night, she was in distress.  The vet could do nothing.  Tearfully, with grieving hearts, we put her down, surrounded by people who loved her.

Now our back pasture stands empty.  Lois and I look out still expecting to see her.  We were greatly blessed to have her and to help give her those good two years.  But we miss her.  Our hearts are sad.  Especially since death is so final.

So comes the question:  will there be animals in heaven?

To some, it’s a sentimental question on the lips of children.  But Scripture suggests there’s more to it.

First, remember heaven isn’t our final destination.  When believers die we go to be with the Lord in heaven.  But after Jesus comes, he will bring into being the new heavens and new earth.

“But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).  “His promise” comes from Isaiah 65:17–“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

Forget about floating forever on white clouds.  The new earth will be as solid (but not sinful) as this one.  Seeing our destiny that way, it’s reasonable to expect animals to be there, since God created animals on this earth . . .

“God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:25).

Not only did he create them, he preserved them through the flood.  “Bring two of every kind of animal into the ark.”  They would replenish the after-flood renewed earth.  Why should we not expect animals to fill the new earth?

That raises the “soul” question.  That is, does an animal have one?  Certainly not a human soul.  But at least the higher animals (dogs not tadpoles) have a sense of self-consciousness.  Furthermore, when God created Adam he breathed the breath of life into him.

“The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).

The same Hebrew word for “breathed” (nephesh) is used for both animals and people.  Animals and people have “the breath of life” in them (Genesis 1:30; 2:7; 6:17; etc.).

J.P. Moreland (philosopher, theologian, Christian apologist) observes, “It wasn’t until the advent of seventeenth-century Enlightenment, that the existence of animal souls was even questioned in Western civilization. Throughout the history of the church, the classic understanding of living things has included the doctrine that animals, as well as humans, have souls.”

Animals and humans are different.  But, since God created animals and breathed into them the breath of life, is it too much to think that his new earth will include life-breathed-into animals?

See what Paul wrote . . .

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:20-23).

Does “creation” mean just vegetation?  Or, as animals were included in Eden where “creation was subjected to frustration”, might animals be included in “the creation [that] will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”?  I think we have good ground for saying YES.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Very few animals indeed, in their wild state, attain to a “self” or ego.   But if any do, and if it is agreeable to the goodness of God that they should live again, their immortality would also be related to man . . . “

In a poem about the world to come, John Piper wrote . . .

And as I knelt beside the brook
To drink eternal life.  I took
A glance across the golden grass,
And saw my dog old Blackie, fast
As she could come.  She leaped the stream–
Almost—and what a happy gleam
Was in her eye.  I knelt to drink
And knew that I was on the brink
Of endless joy.  And everywhere
I turned I saw a wonder there.

And John Wesley commented on the animal kingdom’s restoration:  “And with their beauty, their happiness will return . . . In the new earth, as well as in the new heavens, there will be nothing to give pain, but everything that the wisdom and goodness of God can give to give happiness.  As a recompense for what [animals] once suffered . . . they shall enjoy happiness suited to their state, without alloy, without interruption, and without end.”

Oh, by the way, in his prophecy of the new creation, Isaiah saw a wolf, a lamb and a lion.  It’s in the Bible.

“The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox .  . . They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 65:25).

Maybe they’ll even talk!  Strawberry had pulled a London carriage on Earth.  In C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, he watches as Aslan declares the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve to be his kings and queens in Narnia.  Strawberry had labored under his master’s whip.  Now in the new Narnia, Strawberry says, “My old master’s been changed nearly as much as I have!  Why he’s a real master now.”

All the people celebrate.
All the animals rejoice.
Aslan, Lord of all, is pleased.

So, Stormy, we’ll see you again one day.  You’ll be young.  But not only young;  you’ll be new!  If you’d like, we’ll ride you again.  Maybe we’ll talk along the trail.  And, don’t worry:  we’ll bring the peppermint.

*All quotes from Heaven, by Randy Alcorn.



The Meaning of History

P.AllanMonday of Holy Week dawns.  Holy Week:  from Sunday when Jesus “triumphantly”  entered Jerusalem through Good Friday when Jesus was crucified, climaxing  Sunday when he rose from the dead.

The events of Holy Week happened in “the real world”.  Our world.  Here where we live. That’s such an elementary truth I often forget it.  This isn’t a once-upon-a-time-story.  It is  historical events recorded in writing.  Jesus entered a real city–Jerusalem–about 30 A.D.   He was nailed to a cross of wood from a real tree at a real crossroads just outside the city.  All the week’s events belong to authentic human history.  They’re not part of a hidden, spiritual revelation mysteriously whispered to one man in a desert.

They happened here.

Jesus came for all to see.  Breathed our air.  Walked on our dirt.  Touched our people.  Was buried in our tomb.  Rose again in the grayness of our pre-dawn.

Which brings me to the most-amazing thing I’m thinking about today:  all human history–including the history of Holy Week –has meaning It’s not just a pointless succession of events.  Of course, given the state of the world, one could be excused for assuming that.  Take politics, for example.  Another presidential election cycle.  “Unprecedented” say the pundits.  No.  We’ve had our share of “crazies” before.  Or take the Middle East.  Chaotically violent for as long as I can remember.  One war.  Then another war.  Then another.  Peace summits.  Peace meetings.  Nothing much changes.  Follow the news, read history and you know why Solomon (or whoever wrote Ecclesiastes) brooded,

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless'” (Ecclesiastes 1:1,2).

Was he right?  Is there no reason for life?  Does history have no purpose?  Was Holy Week nothing more than a collection of random events that ended with another Jew crucified, then rumored to have risen?

In his book, The Bible and the Future, Anthony Hoekema, a professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary until his death in 1988, argued that history has meaning.  He explained that the Christian (biblical) view of history has five main features . . .

First, history is a working out of God’s purposes.  God works, not in some ethereal realm removed from this time-space world, but in history.  And he works to work out his purposes.  That means that the political and moral state of America at the moment is somehow the working out of God’s purposes.  It means that all the events of Holy Week from the triumphal entry to the tomb, and all the hostile debates with Jewish leaders in between, were also the working out of God’s purposes.

Second, God is the Lord of history.  This means God not only works in history to work out his purposes but in the same way he uses “bad” things for “good” to those who love him (Romans 8:28).  It means that God reigns over and governs history.  God’s kingdom rules over all (Psalm 103:19).  Hoekema writes, “God overrules even the evil deeds of men so as to make them serve his purpose.  No more breathtaking example of that exists than Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday.  The apostles prayed . . .

“Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles
and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy
servant Jesus, whom you anointed.  They did what your power
and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:27,28).

Third, Christ is the center of history.  History books are thick.  In fact, a complete history of the world would require, not a big book, but a library.  Think of all the dates and people and events you had to learn in just one history class!  Add to that all the other history classes.  Imagine every significant event that’s occurred from the beginning until now.  And the radical Christian claim is that Christ is the center of history.  Oscar Cullmann, a 20th century Lutheran theologian, wrote that in this central event “not only is all that goes before fulfilled but also all that is future is decided.”  Thus each event of Holy Week–even Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in an unknown upper room–was a main scene in the center of history.

Fourth, the new age has already been ushered in.  The Bible sees two ages:  the present age from creation until Christ’s return and the age to come from Christ’s return on into eternity.  In Colossians 1:13, Paul writes,

“He (Christ) has delivered us from the domain of darkness
(i.e., this present evil age–Galatians 1:4) and transferred us
to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption,
the forgiveness of sins.”

Already, we who have trusted our lives to Jesus Christ have started to enjoy a taste of the eternal kingdom in the age to come!  This is because Jesus in his person inaugurated the new age.  Jesus said . . .

” . . . the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21).

When Jesus died, he opened the way to the age to come.  And when he rose again, it rose on earth in him.

Fifth, all history is moving toward a goal:  the new heavens and the new earth.  God is taking this creation somewhere—to the new creation.  As Karl Lowith, a 20th century German philosopher, wrote, “The ultimate meaning of a transcendent purpose is focused in an expected future.  Such an expectation was most alive among the Hebrew prophets; it did not exist among the Greek philosophers.”  Jesus’ resurrection was eventually followed by his ascension.  And at his ascension two men in white robes stood by the apostles and said . . .

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?
This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven,
will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
(Acts 1:11).

This prompted Paul to write . . .

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time
are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.
. . . For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly,
but because of him who subjected it,
in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption
and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
(Romans 8:18,20,21).

A flaming consequence of this Christian view of history:  HOPE!  Political progressives preach it.  Presidential candidates promise a better future.  Yet even high school history students know  that all human “progress” is marred with corruption, disappointment and death.  Our phones connect the Internet and deliver tons of information about ancient Greece or the latest hit movie.  But innocent civilians are still dying in Middle East wars.  We Jesus followers, however, “look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:10).  Our hope is righteous and amazing beyond imagination (Ephesians 3:20,21).

Holy Week isn’t a commemoration of random events.  Holy Week has deep, transforming, eternal meaning.  Because of that, God is doing his saving work in the world today leading toward the fulfillment of his beyond-imagination purpose.  And when we see that purpose climaxed, we will bow and worship  . . .

The Lord of history.
The One in whom all history reaches its climax.
The Holy One before whom we stand in awe!

The Aberration of Now

O PreacherAberration:  “a departure from what is normal.”  Synonyms—“divergence, abnormality, rogue.”  Now–the time in which we live–is an aberration.

Compare these two passages of Scripture . . .

“In the beginning God created  the heavens and the earth . . .
And God saw everything that he had made,
and behold, it was very good.”
(Genesis 1:1,31)

. . . 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,
“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live 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.” 
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
(Revelation 21:1-5a)

In the beginning God saw everything he had made and appraised it as being “very good”.  The apostle John was given to see a new heaven and earth which will have no tears, death, mourning, crying or pain.  The present “order of things” is “old” and will pass away.  Implication:  the new order will not pass away.  Thus there was a time when this creation was “very good” and there will be eternity when the new, never-passing-away creation will come. Implication:  now–this present world order–is an aberration.

Take two other texts . . .

Therefore we do not lose heart.
Though outwardly we are wasting away,

yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
For our light and
momentary troubles
are achieving for us an eternal glory
that far
outweighs them all.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen,
but on
what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary,
but what is unseen is eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing
with the glory that will be revealed in us.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice,
but by the will of the one who subjected it,
in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay
and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning
as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons,
the redemption of our bodies.
(Romans 8:18-23)

According to the 2 Corinthians text what we see is temporary, a time of “momentary troubles”.  Whereas what is unseen is eternal, an eternal glory wonder.  In the Romans text Paul writes of “present suffering” in which “the creation [has been] subjected to frustration” (or, futility) and has been “groaning as in the pains of childbirth”.  What is coming is incomparable “glory”, the “redemption of our bodies” and “the sons of God [being] revealed.  With that, “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”  When Paul writes that present sufferings and troubles are “momentary”, he’s contrasting them with redeemed bodies in a liberated creation all of which will be as lasting as our “adoption as sons”.  Since the new creation will be filled with eternal glory and the present is filled temporary sufferings, the present order is an aberration–a departure from the normal–of what God intends.

Why this long aberration?  Genesis 3.  In the paradise of Eden our first parents fell for the devil’s lie, fell from the grace of trusting and obeying God, and fell into sin and death.  Ever since, humans have refused to honor God or give thanks to him.  We became futile in our thinking and darkened in our foolish hearts.  We exchanged the eternal Creator’s glory for images of created things.  Thus God has given us over to the depravity we crave (Romans 1:18-32).

 . . . but God shows his love for us
in that while we were still sinners,
Christ died for us
(Romans 5:8).

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;
the old has gone, the new has come!
(2 Corinthians 5:17)

The “new” has come in us who are connected to Christ by faith!  Still we live in this sin- and- death-dominated world in unredeemed bodies.  But soon Christ will come again.  And with him, the restoration of all things.  So we can say . . .

. . . in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to
a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
(2 Peter 3:13)

Meanwhile, we live in “the aberration of now”–a comparatively brief time of troubles that will one day be swallowed up by the weight of eternal glory in the new creation.

I write “the aberration of now” for two reasons.  One, to correct the idea that our eternity will consist of fluffy white clouds on which we–disembodied spirits–will play in an all-harp praise band for an unending worship service.  When we die, we go to be with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:8); but when Christ comes, heaven comes to a new earth forever.

Two, to stop thinking that this world is home.  I naturally sense it is.  It’s all I’ve known for 72 years.  The new creation is an unknown, except for the strange symbolic language of Revelation 21 and 22.  A river running through the New Jerusalem with fruit trees bordering both sides, though,  just doesn’t get my juices flowing, you know?  I wish the Bible had a photo section  of the new earth!  I’d be more excited about going there.

Nevertheless, God’s Word urges us to “fix [our] eyes on what is unseen” and to “wait eagerly for . . . the redemption of our bodies” and to “[look] forward to a new heaven and a new earth.”  One thing helps me do that:  to remember this world is a brief aberration.  It’s a departure from what is normal, a divergence, an abnormality, a rogue world controlled by the evil one (1 John 5:19).  Together with all of you in Christ, I’m on my way to a better country (Hebrews 11:16).

“At present we are on the outside of [that] world, the wrong side of the door . . . But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory