Notice I said that “I believe” this. Among Christians, this is definitely a secondary issue!
Moreover, it’s nothing we can be absolutely certain about, based on Scripture, our only testimony about the coming afterlife. Scripture doesn’t say fiction will inhabit the New Heavens and New Earth, any more than it says we’ll have certain ice-cream flavors, or ponies, or spaceships, or a highly welcome big-budget remake of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader film (my pick for executive producer: C.S. Lewis himself).
Scripture also doesn’t directly say we won’t have any of these things. That in itself gives support to speculation, if it doesn’t contradict what God has told us.
However, we have more Biblical evidence that allows highly educated guesses in favor of fiction. We don’t need direct mentions of what the New Earth will include. That would take too long, and perhaps even spoil too many surprises. We also don’t need that because what God has told us about the After-world is enough to apply to other things we might hope God would preserve.
- Christians have accepted many myths about the afterlife, among them that it’s a bodiless existence, or that physical things have no place there, or that we should not even bother with the issue (often citing “no eye has seen …” from 1 Cor. 2:9).
- Scripture does directly predict much about the New Earth, including that it will be physical, and that God will resurrect His creation itself, as He will resurrect us. In rightly anticipating our eternal Home, we are anticipating the Homeowner!
- The Bible itself, God’s Word, will last forever. It’s the only “story” (the true Story) that God has clearly promised to preserve. For all the eons in which God’s people work and worship Him, we’ll have His record of how He saved us from our evils.
All those lay the foundation to claim this: that many stories we love, perhaps even those we’ve written, will continue to bless others, and honor the ultimate Author, forever.
This column will begin several more reasons why. I hope to finish that list, next week.
Splendor of kings, under the King
“By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it,” says the apostle John, privileged to see the New Jerusalem city after its touchdown on New Earth. “And its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.” (Rev. 21:24-26)
Isaiah also specifically prophesied several ways in which Earth’s peoples, from many nations, will worship the Lord: with their ships, trade, national cultures, precious metals like gold and silver, incenses, trees, and animals (all throughout Isaiah 60).
If all those — either re-created, or more likely left over from what was “exposed” after God’s sin-purging fire (2 Peter 3:10) — could be used for worship, why not stories?
1. God loves stories, even speculative ones.
God’s whole Word is a “speculative” story, of which our stories can only be dim copies. (This is also true of any story with messianic elements, as Fred Warren noted Tuesday!) His Word has set that precedent. For Him, the “fantastic” and miraculous is typical.
2. We can worship Him now through stories and imagination.
Speculative Faith is based on this premise, which I need not re-present here. Becky has been exploring this more directly, most recently: the truth that while we enjoy God in many different ways, through many stories and art forms, speculative fiction is unique.
Given the multiple callings in which people can glorify God now, in much the same ways they would have if evil had never entered the world, I do take as axiomatic that we’ll be able to do many of these same tasks right on into the future ages. Only if the Bible says no, such-and-such will be fulfilled then, should we not anticipate that (and there’s at least one way we honor Him now that we can’t do then: human marriage — Matt 22:23-33).
3. Worship in many different ways is our destiny on New Earth.
Nowadays many people have rebutted the notion that all a “body” has to do all “day” in Heaven is to float on clouds (which causes severe angst among all those people who staunchly defend the Cloud Theory). But we need to replace any misconceptions with truth — not with implications that we needn’t bother about such things, or even worse, with notions that Christians must feed the poor, open our church boundaries, etc., and bring heaven to Earth as a “shalom” program of peace, sans the Prince of Peace.
What we do find in Scripture is stunning and inspiring: that our Old-Earth worship will be much like our New-Earth worship. Adding onto the above-referenced texts about kings bringing their glories into the New Jerusalem, we find Paul directly tying a God-exalting work ethic here to what we have awaiting there, our inheritance: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col. 3:23-24)
Theologian Anthony Hoekema comments on that relation between this world and that:
If there is continuity as well as discontinuity between this earth and the new earth, we must work hard to develop our gifts and talents, and to come as close as we can to producing, in the strength of the Spirit, a Christian culture today. Through our kingdom service, the building materials for the new earth are now being gathered. Bibles are being translated, peoples are being evangelized, believers are being renewed, and cultures are being transformed. Only eternity will reveal the full significance of what has been done for Christ here on earth.
From “Heaven: Not Just an Eternal Day Off,” Christianity Today, June 1, 2003
That definitely fits with the true Biblical “prosperity gospel” of sacrificing now to obtain Christ’s rewards later. It also fits with the belief in honoring Him in all we do, not just the “spiritual” stuff, because good work in itself exalts Him. And for the lover of stories, this means we make our stories the best, as beautiful and truthful as we can, because excellence reflects His Excellency.
Moreover, as I’m fond of remarking, of all the varying kinds of stories, it is speculative fiction that is destined to have a more-direct fulfillment in the New Earth. Every day will bring wonder, excitement, and discovery, and what had been previously described as “otherworldly” will have become contemporary. Whether that means we’ll get to have spaceships and outer-space colonies, I don’t know. But nothing opposes this. And if we suspect God may disapprove of these things, we should trim them from our stories now.
If anything, my guess is that on New Earth, it will be romance stories, based on human marriage that will then be fulfilled by the union between Christ and His Church (which marriage symbolized all along, Eph. 5:31-32), that will seem defunct and odd!
4. While we can’t bring any of our possessions beyond death, God can.
“We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world,” the apostle Paul reminds Timothy, and us (1 Timothy 6:7). This, along with Paul’s other strong words against confusing the means of Things as an end of themselves, should head off any of our sin-sourced desires to abuse God’s good gifts, and ignore the Giver.
It should also remind us that in a way, the “there are no U-Hauls behind hearses” lines is true. We don’t even get to bring our bodies when we die. Sin will split our bodies and souls — that’s a nasty consequence of living in a presently cursed and decaying world.
But that split is temporary. God is a God of resurrection: Christ’s, ours, and creation’s.
After our resurrection, might we simply resume our God-honoring callings right where we left off? That, along with the resurrection issue, is where I’ll pick up next week.