A reader of my previous post objected to some of what I wrote. Which of course is fine. I remain grateful that we have the freedom to do that. I’m also grateful for the opportunity it provides me to interact with some of his thoughts and critiques. So, here’s my response…
First, he said he didn’t know what “canceled Christians” means. It is a reference to the “popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures… after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming” (dictionary.com). Christians are being shut down from sharing their biblically informed views (especially moral issues on sexuality) on social media and often in general conversation as well.
He said that “we are to invest much energy into this world.” I, of course, agree with that. The Bible is replete with examples calling us to do just that. One of the reasons it calls us to invest in this world is actually because of the coming of the next. Our eschatology (study of last things) is a goad to our ethics (e.g. Matt. 24:36ff; 25:13; Col. 3:1ff; 1 Thess. 5:1-2).
He also said that this world is not a “stinky tent. It’s God’s handiwork.” This world is not literally a stinky tent. The Bible doesn’t say that exactly. The Bible does, however, say that “in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling… For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened… we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:2, 4, 8). It says, “the creation was subjected to futility… the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption… For we know that the whole creation has been groaning…” (Rom. 8:20, 21, 22 see also 2 Cor. 4:16-18). It thus seems to me that the world is a metaphorical “stinky tent.” It is not our final home. We should have a certain amount of longing for our “lasting city” (Heb. 13:14 cf. 2 Cor. 5:1; Jn. 14:2-3).
God’s creation does show His handiwork and it is an “expression of His creativity.” The first chapter of Genesis says six times that God’s creation is “good” and in the seventh and final announcement God says it’s “very good” (Gen. 1:31). That, however, is not the end of the story. It’s the beginning. Something sinister happens. The Fall (Gen. 3). And because of sin all manner of curse and chaos.
We live in a post-Genesis-3 world. So, while creation still attests to the goodness and creativity of God, it is also riddled with ruin because of sin. Jesus as promised in Genesis 3:15 is the one who finally remakes it. And He is the hope of the world.
I really appreciate that he says, “we are called to imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.” That is very true. I am not sure why but it seems like he was led to believe that I would disagree with that truth. I am not sure why, however. No writing of any length can say everything, but especially a blog. Yes, we are to “imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.”
I actually believe it’s true that unless Christians live as the campers and exiles they are, they won’t participate, they won’t invest, and they won’t forgive as God would have them. It’s being focused on the Kingdom that makes us effective in whatever kingdom we find ourselves in. It’s the person who realizes the value of the treasure (i.e. all the goodness of the new creation) that will sacrifice all to gain it (Matt. 13:44); even if it means loving those who are sometimes unlovely.
That is why we must “set [our] hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13). That, as Peter explains, will help us “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (v. 22). It will help us “imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.” It will help us with creation care and the Golden Rule.
As C.S. Lewis said,
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
We can be so earthy minded that we’re no earthly good. And we won’t rightly love our neighbor if we only love ourselves. As we look to Christ and the heaven He’s purchased us we will more and more be drawn to live like Christ, to love and sacrifice ourselves for others (See e.g. 2 Cor. 3:18; 5:14-15; 2 Pet. 3:11-14).
Regarding his comment that “most [my] assertions are not contextualized or elaborated” and that what I wrote is “gobbledegook,” I would say that the assertions in his response are also not “contextualized or elaborated.” And had they been his response would have been much longer. I would not say though that as a result what he wrote was “gobbledygook.” I looked up the definition of “gobbledygook” and apparently it means “language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of abstruse technical terms.” I’m not sure where my post earned the term “gobbledygook” but that is not a noun I want associated with anything I write. I actually wanted my post to be simple and thought provoking. Ironically, it seems to me that writings that are most contextualized and elaborated are the very writings that have the most likelihood of being gobbledygook.
I want to be clear, instructive, and helpful. And this gentleman’s comments are a spur to encourage me in that pursuit. For that I am thankful.
 Of course, I don’t expect the gentlemen’s brief response to be perfectly nuanced either. Covering every facet is not possible in a brief comment, blog post, or even a book-length treatment. We are both fallible and temporal. Scripture itself, if the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) is not rightly considered, can seem lopsided. Matthew and Luke, James and Paul, however, are not at odds even if they are emphasizing different things and coming at issues from a different perspective.
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Some times people paint with colors and at other times they paint with words. Isaiah here is painting with words and what a wonderful picture he paints.
He starts by saying that “the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad” (Is. 35:1). The groaning world, the world bent with the Fall, shall be made right. Even the earth shall be glad. The barren desert, filled with dust and sand, shall beautifully blossom. It shall “rejoice with joy and singing” (v. 2). The whole of the world will unfurl and be in a state of spring. Yes, the desert shall blossom like the crocus (v. 1).
The redeemed shall see the majesty and “the glory of the LORD” (v. 2). Our eyes as of now have a shutter over them, we see through a fog, or as through dirty glass dimly, but then we shall see. We shall see the full wonder of the LORD’s glory and beauty. We know the whisper but we shall hear the wondrous roar!
As we saw in the previous post on the resurrection, Peter looked at Psalm 16 and showed how Jesus’ resurrection was foretold. In Acts 2 Peter goes on to show that Jesus is now at God’s right hand, as Psalm 110 foretold. Jesus Himself had quoted from Psalm 110 and stomped His critics (see e.g. Matt. 22:41-46). And when you look at 110:1 it’s not surprising that they were stomped.
So, we see that Jesus is at God’s right hand until… Until He makes His enemies His footstool. That means that Jesus is coming back—and the New Testament repeatedly says soon—to bring judgment, and pervasive peace through that judgment.
Jesus’ death and resurrection shows that He is indeed the Lord and Messiah. As the Lord and Messiah, He is coming back soon to vanquish every foe and establish His forever reign of peace. In His second coming, He will bring the Kingdom that was expected at His first coming. Read More…
Introduction: How should we think about art? Why has art had such a varied history? What explains why we can relate to both “sad reflective art” as well as “joyous exuberant art”? How does art in its various forms sometimes make us yearn for something that seems out of reach?
These are big questions and questions that have been answered by many better minds than my own. However, I believe as we look to God’s Word as our guide we will be able to make some significant observations that will better position us to answer them.
Let’s consider seven things from the storyline of Scripture.
Consider the Creator
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen. 1:1). He made atoms and oceans, sunsets and frogs, butterflies and hogs. He made matter and motion, the stars in space and every trace of sand. He made my hands and yours too. God makes flowers and bees. God thought up nectar and the neurons that make emotion.
God created the wild crash of hydrogen and oxygen known as water; crystal clear and falls from the sky, and gives life. It’s like miraculous manna from heaven that we completely take for granted.
The only artist who is perfect in all forms of creativity—in technique, in originality, in knowledge, of the past and future, in versatility, in having perfect content to express as well as perfect expression of content, in communicating perfectly the wonders of all that exists as well as something about Himself, is of course God—the God who is Personal.
God is the most majestic musician, supreme sculptor, wowing writer, and awesome artist. We can look at the flowers of the field and see that God is the most creative creator of clothing. He is the creator that gives creativity.“God is the Great Maker, the unique Creator. And all other creative activity derives from him.”
God the Creator is the great Artist. He set the dome of the heavens and fashioned the universe. He created the music of the stars and set the heavenly bodies whirling in a great cosmic dance. He paints the sky of man’s earth with clouds and sunsets, and the ground with flowers and streams. He fashioned man out of dust of the earth. He tells the greatest love story of time and eternity, and unfolds it in a drama unlike any that man has ever created. He uses every art and every medium.
Observation: Our creativity is contingent upon the Creator. God is the great Creator and we merely reflect Him with our creations, as we will see.
We see in the beginning that when God saw all He had made He pronounced, “very good” (Gen. 1:4; 10; 12; 18; 21; 25; 1:31). There was no sin, no death, and no problems. Man had perfect fellowship with God (cf. Gen. 3:8) and enjoyed God’s beautiful creation.
God’s creation shows us what God wants for us. He wants us to enjoy and take part in the creation that He has made very good. It shows us our intended design: fellowship with God and each other and the correct enjoyment and creative oversight of creation.
The heavens declare and shout forth the glory and beauty of God (Ps. 19:1-6). “Our God is beautiful in all his way; it is part of his perfection. This divine beauty has been woven into the fabric of creation, in the massive stars, inside the submicroscopic balance of the atom.”
Observation: As we take in and enjoy beauty, whether Mozart, Norman Rockwell, or a brook basking in the sun, it points us back to our Creator for which we truly yearn. Even “photography is a longing for eternity, a desire for a lasting impact. When we blast our memories far and wide, we are hoping they will linger when we’re not present and maybe even when we’re gone. How odd that something seemingly instant can be rooted in a hunger for eternity.”
Consider that we are Creative Creatures
What is man? A complex animal, more advanced through Darwinian Evolution? Are humans merely matter in motion?
We see the doctrine of the image of God, the imago Dei, in various places in Scripture (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1-3; 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7 Col. 3:10; James 3:9). The most prominent is Genesis 1:27 that says, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” “The ‘image (likeness) of God’ refers to a permanent aspect of our created nature, which was not affected by the fall. It is the special characteristic of the human race, which distinguishes us from other creatures.”
So, “We are created in the likeness of the Creator… So we are, on a finite level, people who can create.”
We were made, in part, to create. We were made to work unhindered at the creative care of the creation. However, the plot thickens. A cosmic problem is introduced. Through man’s fall we see the crash and curse of creation, which explains why everything is no longer good and why our creative care is constrained.
Observation: We are creative creatures; that is part of what we do and how we reflect the image of our Creator. We see that because that is what we were created to do we thrive as individuals and as societies as we create.
Man was created that he might create. It is not a waste of man’s time to be creative, because this is what was made to be able to do. He was made in the image of a Creator, and given the capacity to create—on a finite level of course, needing to use the materials already created—but he is still the creature of a Creator.
We were created in the image of God not to procrastinate but to be productive, to create and “subdue the earth.” When we are functioning according to our design, doing what God has given us to do, it is then that we prosper (and realize I do not mean financially, I mean teleologically).
Realize there are all sorts of types of creativity, one person creates cars, another creates music, and still another manages his restaurant in thoughtful ways. The important observation here is not so much what we do but how we approach our tasks.
We should approach all we do with intentionality and skill. As Timothy Keller says, “our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests. Thinking of work mainly as a means of self-fulfillment and self-realization slowly crushes a person and… undermines society itself.”
Consider the Crash
Man disobeyed and rebelled (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:6) and this brought spiritual and physical death (Gen. 2:17; 3:19), pain (3:16-17), difficulties (3:18-19), and separation from God (3:23-24). This is the bad news that we all live in.
In Genesis 3:1-24 we see the Fall of humanity. We see various forms of death given birth to. We see “’an ever-growing avalanche of sin, a continually widening chasm between man and God’. It progresses from disobedience, to murder, to indiscriminate killing, to titanic lust, to total corruption, and uncontrolled violence.” Sin truly brings a litany of death. “Disease, genetic disorders, famine, natural disasters, aging, and death itself are as much the result of sin as are oppression, war, crime, and violence. We have lost God’s shalom—physically, spiritually, socially, psychologically, culturally. Things now fall apart.” Sin opens Pandora’s box and unleashes a horde of evil.
We have marred more than the mediocre; we have marred the Michelangelos of the world. We have marred superb beauty and made it unbelievably hideous.
To illustrate, if I ruin a “masterpiece” that my son made with paper, glue, and crayons, the ramifications will be far less than if I destroy the Mona Lisa.
Well, creation was intended to be a Mona Lisa; that is, it was intended to be supremely glorious. God’s creation was intended to be good, beautiful, and aesthetically pleasing to our senses, emotions, and intellect beyond what we can imagine.
We often think of this world as the way it is not as the way it was intended to be. If we could see a glimpse of what the Great Creator had in mind for His masterpiece, then we’d see that we “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” We essentially killed a thousand Beethovens and blared white noise. We backfilled the Grand Canyon with gravel. We burned a hundred museums of art. We scorched our taste buds off our tongue. We took a wrecking ball to all the wonders of the world and razed a thousand gorgeous cities. We have brought cataclysmic chaos to the world.
Sin is not a light thing. We, as humans, were created in the image of God. We were to be like Christ, God in flesh (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). The world was meant to be supremely glorious, peaceful, and loving but instead it is disgusting and understandably repugnant to God. So, as we try to grasp the wonder of what has been marred we can begin to understand how serious the situation is and how terrible sin is.
The crash happened in Genesis 3, man disobeyed God and chaos and curse ensued. In the crash, we see what went wrong with us and the world.
Observation: The image we bare is tainted and marred. It’s like one of Winslow Homer’s famous watercolor paintings had a pail of acid poured on it. We can still trace the image but it’s faded. We need a master painter to repaint us.
It is important to observe that “The arts, which speak so subjectively and so very personally regarding who and what we are in relation to our Maker are very vulnerable to the distortion that sin has brought in the world.” Even in the Bible art can be used to idolatrous ends. We, after the crash, often use creativity to de-create and desecrate the good world God has made.
We see that we often desire heaven and make hell. We want back in Eden and sometimes we express that, but sometimes we express the crash. We, in the words of Makoto Fujimura, “carry the dust of Eden in our DNA.” Michael Card has said, “A thousand examples speak of a deep, inner hunger for beauty that, at its heart, is a hunger for God. We hunger for beauty because it is a beautiful God whom we serve.” Yet, we are stuck on the outside of Eden. We are stuck yearning.
Much art reflects on this theme, from superhero movies to angsty art, we know there was a fall. We know we live after the crash. We desire the new creation but many don’t know the answer. They don’t know Christ the Promised One.
After the crash of creation, after the curse was introduced, there was a promise of a deliverer that would set all right again. At first, the promised offspring (Gen. 3:15) was vague; in fact, Eve rejoiced because she thought she had the offspring (4:1) but it was all for naught because Cain was the offspring of the serpent and killed his brother.
However, later on, we see Him who even the prophets longed to see (Matt. 13:17), we know that all Scripture finds its fulfillment in Jesus who is the long awaited Messiah (2 Cor. 1:20). The one that will crush the curse and bring in the new creation.
The Bible is a true story about God making the world, man messing it up, and God becoming a man to fix the world by not messing up. It is a story of Eden—exile—repeat. It is not until the true Adam, the true and righteous Son of God—Jesus—comes that this process is broken. All of Christ’s predeceases fell short; Adam, Noah, Abraham, Saul, David, Solomon, and the lambs, priests, and prophets could not fill Christ’s role.
Through Christ we see what God has done to put things right. Christ hung, outstretched on the tree, and bore the curse and will come again to bring His eternal reign when peace will be pervasive and joy will be tangible.
Jesus is the hero of the story. He takes upon Himself the curse and brings the new creation and friendship with God that we all yearn for.
The Cosmic Creator that flung the stars in place and knows them all by name cares to the point of crucifixion. He is the author that writes Himself into the story. He makes, He comes, He dies, and He rises again. And He’s coming back to recreate the world.
Observation: In Christ, first we see our Savior, but we see also see a profound example. Christ’s character as seen in the Gospels is one of creativity and compassion. He is expressive and real. He is harsh and gentle.
Christ was honest to the reality of our current condition. He didn’t lighten the realities of the crash and the catastrophes that it created. However, He wasn’t hopeless either. He brought the world the solution they needed: Himself.
We too must understand our current condition and honestly and creatively communicate truth to the world.
Consider our Current Condition
It is important for us to correctly situate ourselves within our current condition. We, for instance, do not want to place ourselves within the new creation when we are still wheeling from the crash. In the same way, we don’t want to forget that Christ has came. We need to understand our current condition. We do not want to have an “over-realized eschatology” or an “under-realized eschatology.” We want to correctly grasp our situation and communicate the struggles and hopes that we have to the world.
Steve Turner has said, “It is not Christian to make art that assumes that the world is unblemished.” It’s certainly true that the Kingdom has come in God’s Son. The light is shining and the darkness is passing away (1 Jn. 2:8) but it hasn’t passed away yet. We still live in a fallen world. Soon the darkness will be forever gone (Rev. 22:5) but for now it’s an element in our reality so to paint or portray reality means including “darkness.”
We must position ourselves after the Creator, the creation of all things, and the crash and curse of the cosmos, and we must remember that we were created as creative creatures to reflect our Creator. We must remember Christ, the hope of all the world. We must hope in Him and the new creation that He will bring at the consummation of His Kingdom.
We must not get stuck hopelessly on the crash and curse of the world, though to be in the world is to reflect realistically on its realities. Yet, we must not forget Christ and His coming Kingdom and the fact that we are not the center of the universe. So, “The Christian artist will often be an irritant, disturbing the anthropocentric view of the world that fallen nature naturally gravitates toward.”
Observation: It is when we remember our current condition, all that has laid behind us and all that lays before us, that we can most profoundly and prophetically speak into our cultures. It is then that we can bring compassion and truth to bear and see God’s truth take root and change people and society.
So, David Skeel says, “The most beautiful and memorable art will reflect the tensions and complexity that only Christianity can fully explain.”
Consider the coming Consummation
When Jesus came the first time, He had no beauty or majesty. When He comes again His face will shine like the sun in full strength (Rev. 1:16). We were cast out of the garden in the beginning but as Jesus said to the thief on the cross, all those who go to Him will be let back in. For those in Christ, the story of history will have a happy ending (Rom. 8:29-39).
Through Jesus the Christ, we have the unwavering hope of a new creation (2 Peter 3:13). “The creation was subjected to futility” in Adam (Gen. 317-19) but in Christ “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:20-21). As Isaac Watts put it in “Joy to the World,”
No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found.
The problem (all of them!) will be fixed and there will be no more sin (Rev. 21:27; 22:3; Matt. 13:41). Everything will be more right than it was ever wrong. We will see that God did, in fact, work all things together for good (Rom. 8:28). Christ will make a new creation and we will be like Him (1 Jn. 3:2; Rom. 8:29; 2 Peter 1:4). “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49). God will fulfill our deepest desires and we will finally live with Him in paradise in the end.
Jesus is the good news but the good news is not static it goes on and on and on; those in Christ live happily-ever-after. In contrast, God “will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers” (Matt. 13:41) and cast them into the pit of eternal fire (Rev. 20:14-15). The Lord will bring heaven down and establish His Kingdom that will not be shaken but will last forever and ever in perfect beauty and joy.
Observation: Time is working itself down to a consummation; to a renewal of the creation, in fact, a new creation. Ever since Eden, this is what we have longed for and it is made available through Christ. However, many miss it. They look to the creature rather than to the Creator to find satisfaction, life, and joy.
As we carry out various creative tasks we can thoughtfully point people to what they need and why they need it. We can address the issue of the crash, our current condition, and Christ and the coming consummation.
We can also know that art occupies a type of middle ground. In one way pointing backward (to creation) while planted firmly (in the current condition) and also pointing ahead (to the consummation).
Conclusion: So, how should we think about art?
As we carry out our creative tasks (whether or not it is typically labeled art or not) we reflect our Maker. We point to the reason and rhyme of the universe, especially when we reflect on and cause others to reflect on why, at times, there seems to be no reason and rhyme to the universe.
Lastly, as we seek to be faithful and reflect God’s image we must look to Jesus. He is the Master. He is “painting” us in His image. The brushstrokes that stand out the most are “love the LORD your God with all you are” and “your neighbor as yourself.” It is through the application of those two brushstrokes that we look more and more as we were always supposed to look.
 My word is very fallible but God’s Word is truth. This is important because, as William Dyrness, has said: ““Artistic issues are, according to the biblical perspective, profoundly theological from the beginning to end” (William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue, 70).
 Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, 14-15.
 Frank E. Gaebelein, The Christian, The Arts, and Truth, 72.
 W. S. LaSor, “Art” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 302.
 “Only God can imagine and make something out of nothing. In this sense, he is the only One who deserves the title of Creator. We are merely creative” (Harold M. Best in Michael Care, Scribbling in the Sand, 122).
 Michael Card, Scribbling in the Sand, 32.
 Craig Detweiler, iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives, 189.
 “That man by creation uniquely bears the divine image is a fundamental biblical doctrine—as also that this image is sullied by sin and that it is restored by divine salvation” (Carl F. H. Henry, “Man” in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, 338).
 “The declaration that humanity bears God’s likeness is startling, awesome, and almost incredible, but what exactly does it mean?… Two primary, and not necessarily contradictory views are: (1) the substantive view, according to which humans share some aspects of the nature of God (intelligence, emotions, etc.); and (2) the functional view, according to which humans act like God in their divinely given role to rule the earth. The immediate context, with the language of dominion and subjugation, suggests that the functional interpretation is primary” (Köstenberger, God’s Design for Man and Woman, 29). I personally believe in a hybrid view. I believed in a functional view that implies the substantive view. That is, if we as humans are to function as vice-regents we must be endowed with the abilities to carry it out (e.g. intelligence, creativity, etc.).
 G. L. Bray, “Image of God” in NDBT, 576.
 Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, 24.
 Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, 24.
 I think for example of Chic-fil-a.
 Keller, Every Good Endeavor, 19. He also says “Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavours, even the best, will come to naught. Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavour, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever” (29).
 Revd Victor James Johnson, “Illustrating Evil – The Effect of the Fall as seen in Genesis 4-11,” 57 in Melanesian Journal of Theology 11-1&2 (1995).
 Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Penguin Group, 2008), 177. “Disunion with God is reflected in disunion with others and with oneself” (Johnson, Foundations of Soul Care, 466).
 Frank E. Gaebelein, The Christian, The Arts, and Truth, 75.
 Makoto Fujimura, Refractions.
 Michael Card, Scribbling in the Sand, 32.
 “Christianity explains our inability to sustain transcendence as evidence that creation, and the creation, have been corrupted” (David Skeel, True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World, 88).
 Steve Turner, Imagine: a vision for Christians in the arts, 86. “To portray the world as a rose garden can be as misleading as portraying it as a cesspool” (Ibid., 58).
 Steve Turner, Imagine: a vision for Christians in the arts, 22.
 David Skeel, True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World, 82.
East of Eden, this trance in which were caught. Serpents all around, lies within, lies without. Death, death, unspoken though it be, prevails. Prevailing misery, wrapped in supposed ecstasy. Whisper, whisper; slither near, they speak the lies into my ear. Sell it all, the order built tall, fails. Embrace it all, accept all, end null. Trudge on and live and die, for what do we expire? Only all we desire. Endless cycle of misery, never free. Eat the apple, embrace the noose. Slither near, oh yes, my dear. Come here, constrict me. Worthless cycle, the viper of this world, strikes fast yet the venom kills slow. How strange, but the hand that feeds me, bites me. Diluted profit, fruitless field, this the futility that we yield. Strive for the Garden, yet we embrace the curse; oh, the contradiction that is humanity.
East of Eden, for a season, the King will soon return. Every foe vanquished, for every thorn a rose. The King, He soon shall reign! Then, the refrain, forever remain, “life, life!” The serpent is gone, we sing a new song forever of our Savior. We ate of the tree, He died on a tree to be the curse we created, and with His death, death’s defeated.
Spoiler alert. If you don’t want to know the resolution to all the twists and turns of the plot line of the Bible do not read on!
Jesus is the hero of the story. He saves the day. As Michael Emlet says, “If you read the Bible from cover to cover you realize that it narrates (proclaims!) a true and cohesive story: the good news that through Jesus Christ God has entered history to liberate and renew the world from its bondage to sin and suffering.”[i] He goes on; God “pursues the restoration of his creation at the cost of his own life. He is making all things new (Rev. 21:5)! That’s the simple and yet profound, life- and world-altering plotline of the Bible.”[ii]
The Bible is chiefly a story about God’s glory being displayed through the recompense of all things wicked, redemption of those made righteous, and finally, the reconciliation of all things in Christ.[iii] The Bible is a true story about God making the world, man messing it up, and God becoming a man to fix the world by not messing up. It is a story of Eden—exile—repeat. It is not until the true Adam, the true and righteous Son of God comes that this process is put to an end. All of Christ’s predeceases fell short; Adam, Noah, Abraham, Saul, David, Solomon, and the lambs, priests, and prophets could not fill Christ’s role.
From the beginning of time and the beginning of God’s word, the Word has been a prominent character in the script (Gen. 1:1; John 1:1). At first, the promised offspring (Gen. 3:15) is vague, in fact, Eve rejoiced because she thought she had the offspring (4:1) but it was all for naught for Cain was of the offspring of the serpent and killed his brother. However, now we have seen that which even the prophets longed to look (Matt. 13:17), we know that all Scripture finds its fulfillment in Jesus who is the long-awaited Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).
When Jesus came the first time, He had no beauty or majesty. When He comes again His face will shine like the sun in full strength (Rev. 1:16). We were cast out of the garden in the beginning but as Jesus said to the thief on the cross, we will be with Him in paradise in the end. Jesus is the linchpin among all the cogs of Scripture. “The trajectory of the arrow shot from the Hebrew Scriptures finds its target (fulfillment) in Jesus of Nazareth.”[iv]
The storyline of the Bible can be understood as creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. We can see the gospel in the storyline of the Bible. God loves us even though we have rebelled against Him. He has provided forgiveness for us through Jesus Christ and if we repent of our sin and trust in Him we will enjoy Him forever in heaven.
Through the creation part of the narrative we see that God made everything (Gen. 1:1; John 1:1-3) and it was good (Gen. 1:4; 10; 12; 18; 21; 25; 31). There was no sin, no death, and no problems before man sinned. Man had perfect fellowship with God.[v]
However, the plot thickens. A cosmic problem is introduced. Through Adam’s fall, we see the collapse of the creation, which explains why everything is no longer good. Man disobeyed and rebelled (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:6) and this brought spiritual and physical death (Gen. 2:17; 3:19), pain (3:16-17), difficulties (3:18-19), and separation from God (3:23-24). This is the bad news. We deserve death and hell.
But there is good news. This is not the end of the story. Even at the beginning of the story, God promised that He would send someone (that is, the Messiah/Christ) to defeat the “bad guy” (that is Satan) of the story (cf. Gen 3:15). In a similar scene, seen throughout the Bible, man’s nemesis is once again at it with him. Satan is tempting not Adam but the second Adam in the wilderness (Luke 4). However, unlike Adam in paradise, the second Adam does not give into the serpent’s temptation although He is in the desert. Jesus was tempted in every way that Adam was, and we are, yet He did not sin (Heb. 4:15) and still He bore our sin upon Himself.
Jesus became man so “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power over death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). Jesus’ heel was “bruised” at the cross but through that same cross, where He received the bruising, He struck the serpent with a definitive death blow to the head (cf. Gen. 3:15). From the cross, Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” In Jesus’ death, the devil, and death are defeated! He has delivered us from the domain of darkness (Col. 1:13). He disarmed the demonic rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them through the cross (Col. 2:15).
Jesus is the promised one (Luke 24:27, 44-46; Acts 13:23, 27; 17:3; Rom. 1:2-4; 1 Cor. 15:3-4;) who brings the redemption of all things (cf. Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:20; Titus 2:14; Gal. 3:13; Eph. 1:7, 10). He secures for us an eternal redemption by means of His own blood (Heb. 9:12). Jesus Christ is the solution to the problem; He takes our sin, our problem, upon Himself on the cross. This is the good news; Jesus is the good news! Jesus reversed the curse of sin by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). Jesus was cast out of the garden so that we could be welcomed back in. Through the one man Adam we all have condemnation yet through the one Man Jesus Christ the grace of God has abounded for many (Rom. 5:12-21). We deserved to be crushed under God’s wrath because of our sin but instead Jesus was crushed in our place (Is. 52:13-53:12). Jesus is the solution to our problem of sin, the sole solution (Jn. 14:6; Act. 4:12). Jesus is the Lamb of God, without blemish, that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29; Heb. 9:14)!
Jesus is the good news but the good news is not static it goes on and on and on; those in Christ live happily-ever-after. In contrast, God “will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers” (Matt. 13:41) and cast them into the pit of eternal fire (Rev. 20:14-15). “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thess. 1:9). However, for those in Christ the story of history will have a happy ending (Rom. 8:29-39).
I concur with what C.S. Lewis says in The Last Battle,
“We can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”[vi]
I believe we, upon arrival to the new Eden, will exclaim with Lewis’ Unicorn:
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it to now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia [“old creation”] is that it sometime looked a little like this.”[vii]
Through Jesus the Christ we have the unwavering hope of a new creation (2 Peter 3:13). “The creation was subjected to futility” in Adam (Gen. 317-19) but in Christ “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:20-21). As Isaac Watts put it in “Joy to the World,”
“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found.”
The problem (all of them!) will be fixed and there will be no more sin (Rev. 21:27; 22:3; Matt. 13:41). Everything will be more right than it was ever wrong. We will see that God did, in fact, work all things together for good (Rom. 8:28). Christ will make a new creation and we will be like Him (1 Jn. 3:2; Rom. 8:29; 2 Peter 1:4). “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49). God will fulfill our deepest desires and we will finally love the LORD our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength when we receive our glorified bodies (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 31:33-34; 32:40; Phil. 3:20-21)! There will be no more pain or problems and God will wipe away all our tears (Rev. 7:17; 21:4). We will once again be in Paradise, the New Jerusalem, and we will have fellowship with God (Rev. 21:3)!
However, this story by its nature, by the fact that it claims to be true, does not leave us alone but calls for a response. We can receive this story or we can reject it outright. God can rewrite us, as it were, into His marvelous script or He can cast us, the unruly “cast,” into hell. We must respond to this story, will we respond rightly? Will we strive to obey the God who reveals Himself? Will we turn to Jesus in faith and repentance?
This is the gospel, the story of all the woes of existence finding their solution in Christ.
[i] Emlet, CrossTalk, 41. A true and cohesive story contained within sixty-six books written by numerous people (with one divine author) in various languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic) over thousands of years! God’s word about the world being reconciled through the Word is truly amazing!
[iii] James M. Hamilton Jr. says that “in the broadest terms, the Bible can be summarized in four words: creation, fall, redemption, restoration” (God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 49) but the “ultimate end” of everything is “God’s glory in salvation through judgment.” He goes on to say, “The created realm (creation) is a spectacular theater that serves as the cosmic matrix in which God’s saving and judging glory can be revealed. God’s glory is so grand that no less a stage than the universe—all that is or was and will be, across space and through time—is nescessary for the unfolding of this all-encompassing drama” (Ibid., 53). See also John Piper’s book The Pleasures of God and Jonathon Edwards’ The End for Which God Created the World.
[iv] Emlet, CrossTalk, 47.
[v] Perfect in sense but not like it will be in the new creation; Adam and Eve related to God as creation to Creator and we will relate to God in the new creation as the redeemed to the Redeemer. So we will enjoy a consummated perfect fellowship with God.
[vi] C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: NY: Harper Collins, 2002), 228.
[vii] Ibid., 213.
“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.”