What is redemption? What does it mean to “make all things new.” What did Jesus mean when He said this? How is God going to accomplish this feat? Most Christians are united in an eschatology which states there will be a new heaven and a new earth with no evil. If you do not share that belief, that is fine, keep reading. I believe you may still find this blog interesting. For those who do share this eschatology, the question for us becomes, how? How will we arrive at a new heaven and a new earth and an absence of evil?
I will be addressing these questions here but first I must address a foundational question asked by a friend of mine. He asked why God did not make heaven and/or earth perfect from the start. He argued that if heaven and earth failed once, why is there more confidence in this new earth and heaven. It is a great question and one we must deal with adequately if we are going to dive into the main question of this post.
My answer to that would be that this original creation was not meant to be perfect. I believe all of creation is journeying towards wholeness and perfection and Abba God is involved in leading all of creation in that direction. My first question here would be what separates us humans from other animals? I believe it is our ability to attach meaning and symbolism to things. I was actually in a Michael Hardin lecture last night where he said you can teach a gorilla what an apple is, but the gorilla would never understand if you said he was the apple of your eye. We assign meaning to things. God, in the beginning, when He creates all of this, gives up power to humanity. He gives us the ability to attach meaning and to choose love or hate, good or evil, submission or power. God never wanted to be the puppet master so He must allow us to choose wrong paths if He is going to have any sort of relationship with us. God is triune. God is three in one. God is relationship. God has always existed in relationship and His entire desire is to be in relationship with His creation. You can only have a real relationship with someone if the person has the ability to reject your affections. This is one reason why Calvinism, to me, is abhorrent. So this brings up the fact that I am currently an open theist. This means that I do not believe God, or anyone else, knows the future because the future has yet to take place. So the bottom line answer to my friend’s question, for me, is that God creates us with the capability of making horrible, awful, monstrous decisions all the while intending to walk us to a place where those decisions no longer make any sense to us whatsoever.
I believe the entire universe will arrive at this place. I believe the entire universe will arrive at a place where the horrible, awful, monstrous decisions no longer make any sense. There will come a day when the lion will lie down with the lamb. There will come a day when all things have been made new. There will come a day when God’s will, that all should come to know Him, will be accomplished. The previous three sentences are all straight out of the scriptures. Simply google them if you do not believe me. So the question we have once again arrived at is how. How will we arrive at a creation with no evil? How do we get to a place where everyone here is someone who knows God? How do we get a new heaven and a new earth?
For many, the answer is that God will either destroy all of the bad things, or lock them in some prison away from His presence and possibly with flaming torment taking place for all eternity. Those who agree with this way of thinking can surely produce Bible verses to support their argument. With this line of thinking comes an us versus them mentality. The only way to defeat evil in this belief system is to destroy it. Whether we are talking about the demonic spiritual beings or the rebellious human ones, destruction is the way that God gets His way.
The problem I have with this view is that if we believe that the omnipotent, sovereign creator of the entire universe can only accomplish His will by destroying those things that do not fall in line, then what is to keep us from acting in the same manner. This sort of belief in God can lead us to also hold a worldview in which killing our enemies is ok whether it be through the death penalty or war or even just street justice. A god who gets his way by destroying will have followers who attempt to do his will by destroying. Obviously not everyone will take this view of God to its logical conclusion but nonetheless, therein lies the danger in this view.
There is also a logical problem with this view. His name is Jesus. Jesus does not accomplish His purposes by destroying. In fact, He specifically points out His ability to destroy just before allowing Himself to be tortured and murdered. As Brian Zahnd often says, “we serve a God who would rather die than kill His enemies.” The fullness of God is revealed to us through Jesus. We must not superimpose our view of justice onto Jesus and then attribute it to God. Jesus shows us how God enacts justice. As Jesus hung on the cross He repeated over and over “Abba forgive them for they know not what they do.” That is God’s justice.
There are far too many eschatological teachings out there which have the suffering servant of Jesus returning one day as the ultimate terminator. These teachings flip the character of Jesus entirely upside down. This is what humanity does though. We have been putting our evil desires onto God’s character for as long as we have had a language for God. We want God to enact justice in the same way we do. However, God’s ways are not our ways. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. We think that when something bad happens we must balance the scales of justice. Jesus shows us that when something bad happens we must forgive. Forgiveness is what changes the world.
So my argument here is that God makes all things new by doing just that, making, ALL, things, new. I believe God’s will is that all should come to know Him. Everyone. Every. Single. Person. Does that make me a universalist? Well, not in the way most think of that term. I believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. I confess that Jesus is the only way to God and that He is the savior of the entire cosmos. The ENTIRE cosmos.
If God were to destroy some beings, be they physical or spiritual, well then He Himself is stopping what He says His own will is, that all should come to know Him. That makes God foolish. But He is not foolish. God IS infinite wisdom. How could a being who knows everything that is knowable not know how to win over every single piece of His creation?
One of my friends said that we must first want to be redeemed. I could not agree more. I believe in free will. I believe that we can always choose to reject God’s love. I also believe, however, that God will not give up on us…ever. I believe in a God who would pursue Hitler’s heart for all of eternity if that is what it took to redeem him. I believe God loves every person who has ever lived with a relentless love. A love that never gives up. I believe evil is defeated not by being overpowered, for it takes evil to overpower evil. Evil is defeated through redemption, through love, through forgiveness.
Yesterday a woman named Kelly Gissendaner was executed. Her appeal was denied by a governor who claims to follow Jesus. Kelly conspired to have her husband killed. Once in prison, her life was radically transformed by the figure Georgia’s governor claims to follow. She gained a degree in theology and became a minister and counselor to fellow inmates and even guards. She became a picture of the radical, life-changing power of Jesus Christ. The state of Georgia walked out mainstream Christian theology, however, when they murdered her yesterday. While Kelly was having poison pumped into her veins I was eating dinner with friends. A short while after our meal, we were told of the state sponsored revenge killing which had taken place. Suddenly I was struck with the importance of this topic I have been thinking about for nearly a week now. Georgia is a state in which most people claim to be followers of Jesus, yet they murdered a woman whose life had been radically transformed by Jesus. We MUST get away from this idea that God redeems by killing. He does not. Nothing was redeemed when Kelly Gissendaner was murdered yesterday. The world did not become more beautiful. In fact, the world lost some beauty. We must begin making decisions which lead to redemption. We must begin making decisions that add beauty to this world, not eliminate it. Jesus and His Abba are all about redemption. If we claim to follow them, it is long past time for us to be as well.