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What are you up to today in light of your theology of tomorrow?

Friday, October 12th, 2012

It was the confident, menacing gaze of the oafish preacher which destroyed any courage the students may have had to challenge his previous sentence. He was fully aware that his opinion was highly debatable and would ruffle more feathers than a battery hen attendant with a life-long vendetta against poultry; but he relished the fact that any objections made in the Q and A would be powerfully defeated due to his greater age, confidence and bible knowledge. I slumped in the seat of the stuffy classroom where the university’s Christian Union met and did my best to reciprocate the preacher’s sentiment with a look of moody disapproval. In hindsight I imagine that this look was the preacher’s prize; every face of his listeners which turned to shock, anger or worry was like another skittle rolling in the alley.

 

Signorelli's 'The Resurrection of the Flesh'

I have no remaining memory of what the text or topic of the talk was, only the sentence in which we were exhorted to ‘not be bothered with politics, or be too concerned for the environment, because God’s gonna burn it all up in the end anyway’. He must have had 2 Peter 3:7 in mind, which refers to the heavens and the earth being ‘stored up for fire’, a fire which many theologians take to be for purification rather than destruction. Alas, my naivety left me silent as I churned through a list of people who I wished were present to challenge the motion: Wilberforce, Luther King Jr. and so on. 

‘God is gonna burn it all up in the end anyway’. As these words ricocheted around my mind, I thought of a view over Rio De Janeiro from Sugarloaf mountain I had enjoyed the previous year. The rich red and yellow glow of the sun as it kissed the water on the horizon, still spreading its light over the magnificent combination of human settlement and rugged mountains. I also remembered the spread of fields that surrounded my upbringing in Wiltshire, enriched through April showers yet lit up by an early glimmer of summer’s sunny hope. The taste of my late Granny’s apple pie when the pastry would crumble and give way to the tangy sweetness of stewed apple. The sound of Pachabel’s Canon in D Major, which because of its painful beauty has become the most unoriginal piece for a Bride’s entrance. These things are just small tastes of the wonderful world we live in, which God himself describes as ‘good’ no less than seven times in the first chapter of the Bible, before announcing after having surveyed his entire work of creation, that it is ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31). However, I couldn’t help thinking that if God’s final verdict on the world is a trip to the cosmic scrap heap, then my enjoyment of these things would be somewhat dampened.

Despite my frustration, this preacher (who had incredibly chunky hands and in my mind’s eye morphs further into the image of a gorilla in chinos every time I recall the event) did make a vital truth lodge in my mind. What you believe about the future determines how you will act in the present. If I think that my eternal destination is a cloud, upon which I’ll sit in a nappy strumming a harp, then I would hone my musical skills and do some sit-ups. If I think that there is no hell, then I might vigorously pursue a career in sex, drugs and rock and roll because ultimately there would be no consequences. If I think that God will eventually destroy this world, I might decide to begin helping him out on his demolition project now. Our understanding of the final act in the drama of history has a major influence on the way we read the script today.

So is our planet headed for heavenly healing, or doomed for the deity’s dumpster of destruction?  

Here are three highly recommended resources that answer that question and help us think through today’s implication of God’s future plan:

The Physical Future - Paul Blackham

Why does Jesus' resurrection matter? - NT Wright

Where are we Heading? Armageddon or Apocalypse? - Mike Reeves

 

HT: Jack O'Grady, Theology Network ASW at King's College London
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