Formation: Behold I make all things new (or do I?)
Throughout this series we’ve been reassessing some language in the Christian tradition that is often assumed to be about somewhere out there in the future, and finding that it may in fact be a lot more about the present than we thought.
Heaven and hell; language that invites us to think about the kind of lives we’re living in the present, and what kingdoms we want to participate in
The Beast and the antichrist: not about some future apocalyptic scenario, but about how the empires and controlling narratives of the world can dominate, oppress and violently assert themselves. But we’re invited to live differently and to follow Jesus along the path of self-giving love and peace.
The rapture: not about being whisked away into the clouds to escape persecution, but about seeing God’s way of being, God’s kingdom, come present into the earth and the world in the here and now.
So what does all this mean? And what are we trying to say?
There’s a lot of language of newness in both the Old and New Testaments. Isaiah uses this kind of language in chapter 43:19 where he says
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
At this time Isaiah is speaking to the nation of Israel who were in exile in Babylon and scattered around the ancient near eastern world. The prophet was giving them hope in the midst of a oppressive situation that is threatening to overwhelm them.
And this is a theme that repeats throughout scripture; one of newness, of the new life that follows devastation. Of hope that comes after disappointment. Of renewed strength.
Of new heavens and new earth.
Of new creation.
Of being born again.
All sorts of language and imagery and metaphor to call up this picture of newness. We find the image of newness at the end of bible as well – toward the end of the Book of Revelation when in John’s depiction of events, God says “behold I am making all things new”.
And once again, our tendency is to jump ahead, and sometimes with good reason. Especially when we yearn for justice in the world. We long for things to be put right. We don’t want to see suffering continue without somehow being brought to an end. But whenever language of future newness in the scripture is used, it is always to inform how we live in the present.
The German theologian Jürgen Moltmann says that,
“We are still involved in the experience of renewal, and the becoming new travels with us.”
I think it’s true that in Christianity we have a tendency to locate the newness well ahead of us. Its beyond our current reality and grasp. And yet, the language of the New Testament is somehow that this newness is something that emerges in the here and now of our lives. That is the grounds of Christian hope – not just that something will happen in the future, but that newness and beauty is already emerging in us and around us if we could pay attention.
Of course the other side to this conversation is that when we see scriptural language of newness, or being born again, of resurrection life, of new creation… they don’t describe all of reality. And scripture unfolds this to us over and over again as well.
Walter Brueggemann talks about how the Old Testament is filled with testimony and counter-testimony. Passages that speak of all that God has done, and how good things are; and then texts that speak about how things are not turning out the way we thought, things are not unfolding beautifully and wonderfully.
And the point of Christian faith is not to descend into the depths of the darkness and get lost there, but neither is it to ascend only into the glory of hope and possibility and deny the very real experiences of pain and challenge. Christianity is the rejection of that kind of duality, and instead asks us how we might find God present to us in the midst of the human experience.
That God is at work making all things new, but God is also present to us when it seems like things are not turning out to be as new as we thought. So at the centre of the Christian tradition is the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. New life, hope, possibility, suffering, pain, isolation, death, and then even newer life, hope and possibility. And God is present to us in the full depth of the human experience.