Cultivating New Creation, Investing in the Ruins . . . Together

"On either side of the river, the Tree of Life. . . . The leaves of the tree  were for the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22:2)

"On either side of the river, the Tree of Life. . . . The leaves of the tree  were for the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22:2)

Your Kingdom Come

One headline this morning read, “Istanbul terror attack: 41 killed; airport resumes flights amid blood, shattered glass.” Another day, another headline of death, terror, and pain in our cities. It's difficult to know where to begin, but time waits for no one and so normal life must resume “amid the blood and shattered glass.” This is life in a world ravaged by sin and death. So, what do we do as we walk in the midst of the shattered world? Is there any hope for its healing?

In the midst of such pain it is good to imagine the world differently, to imagine our cities made new. It is good to remind ourselves of the vision of the renewed city from Revelation 21–22. The vision is of an enchanting city made from the most precious jewels the earth has to offer. These jewels reflect and refract the light of the glory of God creating a dazzling display of beauty where the darkness of death, mourning, crying, and pain could not possibly make a home. God and his people dwell here, and God reigns from the midst of this city. The River of Life flows from the throne, the Tree of Life is on both sides of the river. The leaves of that tree are for the healing of the nations. And the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil cannot be found. Evil has been vanquished and has not entry point for potential return.

This enchanting city is no mere fantasy. It is a future reality. So, is our only hope to look to that future city with no hope for our present reality? To seek escape from this world as we wait for another? Not if we take seriously how Jesus taught us to pray.Jesus teaches the disciples to pray:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
(Matthew 6:9-13) 

Amid blood and shattered glass, we should pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done in our cities as it is in heaven.” And this may seem like a hopeless prayer. Not just in Istanbul or Orlando, but the cities and towns where we live and work. What can we possibly do? A lot, if we work together.

Jesus teaches us to pray in the plural “us.”

Made To Work Together

In Genesis 1 God always comes to the conclusion “It is good” after surveying what he has created. But, here in Genesis 2 we find the one time that God looks at his creation and says something is not good, declaring, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18).

In his book The Mission of God, Christopher Wright comments:

God is addressing a not merely a psychological problem, but a creational one. The problem is that God has given an immense task to this creature in Genesis 2:15. He has been put in the Garden “to work it and take care of it.” When added to the task specified in the earlier creation account—to fill the earth, subdue it and rule over the rest of the animate creation (Gen 1:28)—the human task seems limitless. A man cannot tackle such a challenge alone. That is ‘not good.’ He needs help. So it is significant that the term used to describe the project God now embarks on is not to find a companion to stop him feeling lonely but to find a helper to stand alongside him in this huge task laid upon him as the servant, keeper, filler, subdue and ruler of creation. The man does not just need company. He needs help. Male and female are necessary not only for mutual relationship in which they will reflect God (though certainly for that) but also for mutual help in carrying out the creation mandate entrusted to humanity. (pg. 428)

For Adam, only another human, another one created in the image of God, a woman, a queen is a suitable helper for the king that God has made; and he is the only suitable helper for her. Equal for this mission in the eyes of God, man and woman now rule creation together. They need each other, and they both stand in need of God—if they are going to fulfill God’s mission.

God’s mission is to take his presence as it is in Eden to the ends of the earth. We join with him in this mission when we “cultivate the land” that God has entrusted to us by doing life according to his design and purpose. Genesis 2 reminds us that part of this design is to live in obedience to God in community. Together the work that we do results in nothing less than working toward building that heavenly city on earth.

Cultivating New Creation Together

The vision of the heavenly city noted above has its beginnings in the creation narrative of Genesis 2. When comparing/contrasting Genesis 2 with Revelation 21–22:5 we again find a movement in a story. This movement highlights the movement from a good garden to the perfected garden city. Although we usually think of the movement of this story as beginning in perfection, taking a detour due to sin, and then returning back to Eden, in this story, we are moving beyond Eden to a heavenly city.

The Garden of Eden was good but in the new creation there will only be the Tree of Life, no Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and therefore no opportunity for rebellion from those created in the image of God. We no longer need to fear our capability to stray from him. Our hearts once tempted to wander from God will have nowhere to run except his good provision in the Tree of Life. And even if we were to get lost wandering through the beauty of new creation, the River of Life will always lead us back to the throne (I believe I have stolen this last line from a friend). In addition, the latent beauty of the earth in Genesis 2 represented by gold and onyx stone have now been cultivated to build this enchanting city. The potential of the earth has now reached its consummation through humanity’s working together. We have harvested the latent potential of the earth to build a home where we will dwell with God and he with us.

The vision we find in Revelation 21–22:5 is the completion of God’s people on mission together, the completion of the mission he gave to Adam and Eve, the result of kingdom friendships.

Investing in the Ruins Together

But, things are different for us now than they were for Adam and Eve in the garden, and they are different from the way things will be. We live in a time of broken families, rampant sexual violence, poverty, hunger, disease, terrorism, exile, mass murder, war, and many other ways in which we invent evil to mar God’s good creation and harm our neighbor. In the midst of all this God is still gathering a community of people together, renewing their relationship with him and with each other, and then sending them out on mission together for the sake of his creation. 

And so, in the time between Eden and the perfected Garden City, we invest in creation ruined by sin, but we invest with friends (renewed relationships) and in the hope that our friendships and our investments together will have eternal returns.

Recently, Paul House challenged those gathered for the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society to greater friendship through the biblical example of Jeremiah and Baruch. God calls Jeremiah to a clear mission to serve the people of God, but God also tells Jeremiah that the people will not listen, they will go into exile, and he will go with them. The people, the land, and the city of God will be ruined. In the midst of all this, God reminds Jeremiah that this is not the end of the story by asking him to invest in the land that is in ruins. House writes:

God tells Jeremiah that he will have the opportunity to buy land outside the city and that he must do so (32:6–8). God tells Jeremiah to invest in the ruins of Judah. Jeremiah buys the land; Baruch documents the transaction (32:9–14). Quite understandably, Jeremiah asks God why this purchase was necessary (32:16–25). God answers that Jerusalem will be rebuilt, David’s lineage will rule again, and all the promises of the new covenant outlined in chapter 31 will be fulfilled (32:16–33:26). God will create a new kingdom out of the ruins of the old. As it turns out, Jeremiah has gotten a priceless deal. He has purchased property in the kingdom of God and his friend Baruch holds the deed.

God understands the basic investment principle of buying low and selling high, so he graciously calls us to go all in right now. It would be wise to do so because the present state of affairs is not the end of the story. We have it on good authority that creation’s stock is destined to rise. God has promised a new creation and he will deliver. The earth will be rebuilt, Jesus’ lineage will reign over the new creation, and all the promises of God outlined in the story will be fulfilled. God will create a new earth out of the ruins of the old.

House concludes by drawing the clear analogy to our mission together in Christ:

We do not choose the times in which we live. . . . How the present and future unfold is God’s business. Our task is to do good work in the times he gives . . . [But] the outcome of our labors is not in doubt. As co-heirs with Jesus the Christ we have a place in the choicest territory.

Together with the community that God has gathered you into, pray the Lord’s prayer, pray for wisdom. Then with boldness, courage, and hope invest wisely with good friends, especially amid the blood and shattered glass.

Mark Catlin