“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 22, 2009

Integrating Scientific and Biblical Eschatologies, Part 5: Hope for a Dying Universe

In conclusion, science and Scripture agree on the present state of the cosmos. But Scripture tells of renewal and resurrection (Isaiah 11, 35, 61; Romans 6; 1 Corinthians 15; Revelation 21). Christ endured the cross before his victory. Perhaps the entire physical universe must also pass through some sort of thermodynamic or cosmological death through the wearing passage of time if it is ever to be fully redeemed. Christ destroyed sin and death on the cross. Perhaps the physical effects of sin and evil must in turn be undone through a final act of God in order to complete the process of redemption. Paul writes that, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (1 Corinthians 15:35, cf. also John 12:24), and describes in Romans the reason why creation was subjected to decay:

“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. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” - Romans 8:20-22
It seems, then, that a broken and decaying world, although ruined in and of itself, will serve the ultimate purpose of rendering the new creation something even more glorious than it would have been without a redemptive history. If we believe in a God powerful enough to bring creation out of nothing and to structure physical reality according to his redemptive purposes, then it is only sensible to expect that he is able to and will perform an act of cosmic resurrection, and that he will do it in such a way as to preserve the elements in the physical world that reveal his character, and purge away those elements that are not ultimately from God.5 In short, God will redeem a broken world in order to bring to completion the best of all possible realities.

Although there may seem to be a tension between science and theology in one regard, there is no flat contradiction, and a more comprehensive examination of the Scriptural and physical data, along with an open-minded consideration of the possibilities, suggests that there is still hope for the universe. “Increasing entropy” writes Polkinghorne, “can only be parasitic on the openness of creation to what is new” (Polkinghorne, Faith 165). God is making all things new, including the heavens and the earth (Relation 21:1,5; Isaiah 66:22), and his plans will not fail to reach completion (Isaiah 14:24, 51:6).6

5 For example, since the second law implies death, and death is a consequence of evil (in the Garden, but on a deeper level, through the fall of Satan), there is something in the second law that is not wholly consistent with God’s character and his ultimate purpose for reality.
6 Polkinghorne writes, “an ultimate hope will have to rest in an ultimate reality, that is to say, in the eternal God himself, and not in his creation” (Polkinghorne,
Faith 163).

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