“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Integrating Scientific and Biblical Eschatologies, Part 2: The Biblical Vision of Redeemed Creation

In sharp contrast with the bleak future for the universe predicted by thermodynamics and cosmology stands the biblical picture of the end times. Not only God’s children, but the whole world, is to be renewed, redeemed, resurrected from its state of decay and brokenness, and restored to what it was meant to be, and once was in part (Romans 8:19-23, Colossians 1:20). Although the eschatology predicted by science is in conflict with what Scripture foretells, the present state of the universe as described by the second law (and also as observed in the phenomenon of physical death 3) is exactly what Scripture portrays: corrupt and bound to inevitable decay and death. But it will not always be so. God’s victory over death is so powerful and so complete that it spreads over all of redemptive history, raising millions of fallen people from death and resurrecting this fallen world itself, all in the wake of the cross. Creation is lifted to an entirely new level, and on a cosmic scale. In the words of John Polkinghorne, “our destiny is intimately bound up with the destiny of the cosmic womb from which we were born” (Polkinghorne, Faith 167) in such a way that “human salvation brings with it the redemption, not obsolescence, of its environment, just as human sin incorporates the world in the process of destruction and dissolution” (Gunton 224).

In particular, redeemed humanity is to follow Christ in bodily resurrected from death:

“Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead…But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ…For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death…the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 52-53; cf. also Romans 5:12-21, 6:1-11, 2 Corinthians 5:17)
A broken world is healed by the Great Healer, and corrupted and depraved creatures are “transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18) – into the children of God they were made to be. With Adam, the first man, sin and death entered the whole world, but with Christ, the new man, death was reversed. It was with Christ’s resurrection that this new creation began. He is the firstfruits of redeemed humanity (1 Corinthians 15:20), “the seed from which eschatological fulfillment will eventually blossom for all” (Polkinghorne, Faith 166), and in his resurrection body, something new entered creation. Polkinghorne writes that the Gospel accounts of Christ’s resurrection “can be interpreted as indications appearing within history of the transformed nature of eschatological ‘matter’” (Polkinghorne, Faith 168).

3 Polkinghorne writes, “cosmic death and human death pose equivalent questions of what is God’s intention for his creation” (Polkinghorne, Faith 163).

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