“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

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Integrating Scientific and Biblical Eschatologies, Part 3: New Creation Ex Vetere

Creation is not to be annihilated and replaced with something wholly different; rather, Scripture gives us the impression of the transformation and renewal of what is already there.4 That is, the kingdom will be “not a radically discontinuous world, but one in some way perfected to be a new form of life by and before God…the one who raised Jesus from the dead is the one who will transform and so perfect this whole order of space and time” (Gunton 224). Polkinghorne describes this transformed creation as ex vetere as the old creation is ex nihilo (Polkinghorne, Faith 167). Indeed, we would not expect the God of order, structure, and consistency described in the Bible and suggested in nature (Romans 1:20) to perform some act of sudden stark discontinuity (Polkinghorne, “Eschatology” 29). Moreover, matter and spacetime are intimately tied together in general relativity as components of physical reality, and thus, writes Polkinghorne, “if it is intrinsic to humanity to be embodied, then it must be intrinsic to humanity to be temporal” (170). If this is true, then the idea of the general resurrection suggests a large measure of continuity in physical reality, in addition to elements of discontinuity, just as there was for Christ’s resurrected body.

4 Polkinghorne notes that “surely the ‘matter’ of the world to come must be the transformed matter of this world. God will no more abandon the universe than he will abandon us. Hence the importance to theology of the empty tomb, with its message that the Lord’s risen and glorified body is the transmutation of his dead body” (Polkinghorne, Faith 164). Indeed, we can observe in Scripture elements of both continuity and discontinuity between Jesus’ former body and his resurrection body. He could be seen and touched physically, and bore the scars of the cross (Matthew 28:9, Luke 24:40, John 20:27), and he ate food (Luke 24:42-43), but he bypassed locked doors (John 20:19,26, Luke 24:36), and his physical appearance was apparently somewhat different (John 21:12).

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