Striving to understand God’s “now and not-yet” creation
If this stage in history is the best God can do, then God is neither very good nor very powerful.
This statement may strike you as brash, but it is actually so obvious that any child can verify its truth. Just ask any thoughtful young teen, “How could the world be a better place?” He or she will give you some very good answers, and then might even follow those statements with a perfectly legitimate question: “So, why doesn’t God do something about all of the hurt, injustice, and suffering?”
Thankfully, in spite of many Christians’ tendency to say the opposite, the biblical writers were quite aware of this reality. They often remind us that this “age is passing away” and God’s future is “the age to come.”
What are some of the implications of the claim that this age of history was never meant to last?
1. We are now scientifically aware of about a 100 different ways in which this world will end. It’s just a matter of which of the 100 different ways ends it first—the asteroids, the mega-volcanoes, the grinding plates, out-of-control proliferating viruses, mega solar flares throughout the universe, or human nuclear or biological destruction. Clearly this is not God’s best creation.
2. Is all the bad stuff in the world simply a step on the way in God’s continuing creation event? No! This world is NOT “the best possible world” as some theologians and Christians have wanted to argue. The horrific evils of this world are NOT “God’s will” or a part of his plan.
3. On the other hand, it might be that God allows this current age because “it is the best way to God’s best possible world.” From Genesis through Isaiah to Romans, Hebrews, James, and Revelation, the biblical writers seem to believe strongly that this is the kind of world that teaches us—that allows God’s ongoing creation of humans into the image of God. It’s a world in which “nature” is far from “perfected,” and humans are allowed to make choices—a stage that cannot be skipped if God is ultimately going to make us heirs of all that belongs to God. It is in this kind of world that a refining and maturing is possible that will allow God to turn his future over to us. Obviously, as a race, we are not there yet since so many of our gains are turned to destruction and manipulation rather than to blessing one another, but “humans in the image of God” is God’s goal, and this age is “on the way.” Only in this sense of a goal in process, is this age “God’s will.” As Hebrews 5 says, even for Jesus this age was necessary for “being made more perfect/mature/complete,” on his way to “the joy set before him” in God’s future age.
4. This “now” and “not yet” paradigm of reality is not about “pie in the sky by and by.” It is about hard-nosed realistic thinking. Either this paradigm that God has been revealing for centuries is true, or God is neither good enough, powerful enough, nor faithful enough to God’s promises for any of us to have a realistic hopefulness about the future. On the other hand, if this age from its inception was always meant to both come to an end and be the “stuff” of transformation into the age to come—if this age with its beauty, wonder, and incredible human potential is only a taste and a guarantee that God can complete God’s purpose for creation—then hopefulness and trust are the most appropriate of human responses.
5. So, even when experiencing the injustices and sufferings of this present age, we can be at bottom a joyful people—not because we have our heads in the sand, or because we are masochists, or because we kid ourselves that these injustices are somehow “God’s will.” We can be joyful because this age is not the last word, and when the last word is spoken, only its wonder and beauty and purpose will survive, not its brokenness and sorrow. Meanwhile, God is using it to prepare and mature humans who would like to live in a world where they can do anything they want to do, and where we will have learned that we only want to choose and do good. The other path will have already been weighed, tried, and found wanting.
6. PS – I want to be sure this is not heard as an excuse to denigrate the earth or humanity in their current stage as some Christians seem to love to do. This “now” and “not yet” paradigm gives us every reason to work to treat both the earth and other humans well. But this respect and honor is not because we can sustain the current reality, but because this current earth and the human race are magnificent gifts from God that “taste like more.” At its most glorious moments, this creation is like an architect’s first sketches, a teacher’s 5th grade math prep, a parent’s honoring of a child’s early sports activities (my great-grandson is a 1yr old basketball “dunk champion,” and as a former player, I am thrilled), and the early stages of a craftsman’s work of art. Each step is to be honored and enjoyed, but it is never enough without its intended follow up.