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Sunday, February 26, 2006

More New Creation

So in response to Ryan's post on New Creation, Brian asked a really good question (I'm paraphrasing):
Since Adam and Eve sinned, there are physical consequences in the earth which a person could point to and could say, "That is there because of the Fall" So then, are there also things we can point to today and say, "That is there because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ"? And, wouldn't these be visible to both believers and unbelievers alike?
That's a great question. And we could actually push it a bit further - if this "new creation" thing really is for real, Where do we really see this the new creation shining through? And why do we have such a hard time seeing it?

I think we need to start by realizing that even in observing fallenness, our ability to "see the effects" is limited and deficient. Sure we can point to things like tsunamis, hurricanes, drought, plagues, etc and attribute them (rightly) to the Fall, but most unbelievers are not going to agree with that conclusion - they would argue and attribute these things to "nature" (that's just the way this world is).

Why such disagreement? Because at a very fundamental level, we often tend to limit "see" and "know" to things we can observe and prove "scientifically," without any reference to God. And this tendency doesn't just affect non-Christians. Consider what else God tells us about creation:
The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.
- Psalm 19:1-3 (ESV)
Look at all those verbs - Scripture is making some very strong claims about the nature and function of creation (fallen even!) - specifically, that it actually communicates something to us. And yet how many of us read those verses and think "How come I don't hear it?" Our ability to perceive is dull, even for the best of us.

In his Instruments in the Redeemers Hands, Paul Tripp summarizes the situation well: "The bottom line is this: The problem is not that God is not here or that he is inactive; the problem is that we don't see him. Our perspective on life is often tragically godless" (98).

So why is it so hard to see? Because our perspective is godless - we are trying to see life on our own. Once again, Scripture sheds some light on the difficulty: "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor 2:14). Paul's point here is that we shouldn't be surprised by people's blindness - they cannot see the significance of either fallen or redeemed creation because that sight is actually a spiritual gift.

So in one sense, then, I wouldn't ever expect to be able to point to something in this creation that either a believer of unbeliever is going to admit as a result of their own observation or logic - "oh yeah, that's a result of the Fall" or "that's a result of Christ's death and ressurrection." It's not going to happen, because our ability to see is itself a spiritual gift. On our own, every fiber of being is busy trying to deny that very thing.

At the same time, it's important to remember that even though unbelievers don't see, at the same time they do see too. Psalm 19 emphasizes the fact that what creation is saying IS in fact heard. Romans 1:19-20 says something similar - that what can be known about God is plain to all men, and it has been since the creation of the world. So here we have another one of these mystery moments where Scripture seems to suggest two competing realities are both true at the same time - they do see, they don't see. Calvin liked to describe it as "enough knowledge to render us guilty" (we all know THAT God exists), "but not enough knowledge to actually save us" (or we wouldn't need faith would we?).

So where does all this leave us? How DO we explain this "new creation" thing to unbelievers? Once again, Paul Tripp is helpful:
The revelation of God in his awesome glory is the only thing that exposes the utter emptiness of all the other glories we crave. If you understand the incarnation this way, you have already learned much about your calling. Personal ministry is not just about confronting people with principles, theology, or solutions. It confronts people with the God who is active and glorious in his grace and truth, and who has a rightful claim on our lives. Only as our hearts are transformed by this glory will the principles of Scripture make any sense to us.
-Instruments (99)
Tripp's point here is profound. What attracted people to Christ in the first place? People saw something - many of them couldn't put their finger on WHAT it was, but they could certainly tell that there was SOMETHING about him, about his ministry. Jesus himself claims to be the definitive revelation of God - after all, Jesus tells his disciples: "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father."

What this tells me is that I need to show people Christ. And I need to show them the effects that Christ is having in me. Rather than trying to logically show their system empty and meaningless, and then logically trying to prove our system meaningful and consistent - I am much better off simply trying to incarnate Christ to them.

Christ incarnates God to the world, and then he turns around and commissions us to incarnate himself to the world - "You are my witnesses" (Lk 24:48), "Go and make disciples of all the nations..." (Mt 28:19). We will reveal this new creation kingdom most clearly when the character of Christ is most clearly manifested in our lives. And in the New Testament, that character is most clearly summarized in two words: "grace" and "truth" (Jn 1:14).

In terms of truth, this will mean a willingness to speak hard truth to people who may not want to hear it - they are sinners (just like me). We cannot waffle on the fundamental problems. At the same time, we must also offer grace - we can never mete out our acceptance of others on the basis of how "good" they are, how much the "agree" with us. We offer the grace of Christ, we accept on the basis of that same grace. And that combination really gets to the heart of the gospel - we call sin, sin; but we accept not on the basis of performance or sinlessness, but rather on the basis of relationship to Christ. We accept others even as God accepts us - on the basis of a relationship to Christ.

If we do that well, we will offer the clearest possible picture of a new creation kingdom. It's new creation in us; it's new creation available for sinners like us. And the reality of that kind of relationship is deeply attractive to a world of unbelief. It makes the system of the world look vain and shallow in comparison. To me, that is how we reveal this new creation.


At 8:34 PM, February 26, 2006, Blogger Dan McGowan said...

Your citing of Psalm 19 is one of the reasons why I have a problem with verse 3 of the classic hymn, "Holy, holy, holy..." which says:

Holy, holy, holy,
though the darkness hide Thee
though the eye of sinful man
Thy glory may not see

I understand the poetics of the verse - but is it really BIBLICAL?

the light SHINES in the darkness and the darkness can never hide the light, right? So what does that first part mean??

And, citing Psalm 19, if the heavens declare the glory of God - then how is it hidden from the eye of sinful man?

Just pondering these deep thoughts on a Sunday night...

At 8:49 PM, February 26, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Good question Dan - reading the hymn as charitably as possible (since I like it after all), you could always interpret "thy glory may not see" along the lines of "sinful man may not come into God's presence".

But I think it's probably even more than that - yes you have Ps 19 and Rom 1 talking about how we DO see, but we also have that 1 Cor passage, talking about how we DON'T see.

So if you wasn to ask the question: "Do we see? Or do we NOT see?" The answer has got to be something like , "Yes". And then the fun begins as we get to figure out how both of those truth play out in different perspectives...

At 9:07 PM, February 26, 2006, Blogger Master Aegidius said...

So how do you believe that "nature" reflects the resurrection?

At 5:34 AM, February 27, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Global Warming? 8-)

Ok, sorry, I couldn't resist. I'm not sure I can point to something IN nature (which wasn't there before Christ) and say "see, evidence of the ressurrection".

BUT - I can say quite confidently that there is a creational mandate as Christians to care for and restore creation, as a result of the rez. In other words, we ought to be seriously into caring for and restoring the creation around us, just like we should be caring for the city, the poor, and especially fellow believers.

We should be living redemptively in all these areas, making a difference in them _because_ of the resurrection (remember, God created the garden, but he charged Adam with tending to it - so it shouldn't surprise us if we have new creation responsibilities when it comes to the restoration of nature).

All that said, I want to also add that all our redemptive work in creation - in nature, in the cities, with the poor, etc - all of that is merely a pointer to deeper reality, a heavenly one. Eph 1 tells us that we are already seated "in the heavenlies" (and that IS one example of a change in nature - but you can't see it, can you?).

My point here is that earthly "nature" is ultimately just a pointer to a "heavenly nature", which is best characterized as "kingdom of God". So yes we have responsibilities here, but it's always with a great reality in view. We are pointers to something better which is breaking in to this present reality, and the work we do is a pointer as well.

That help at all?

At 6:25 AM, February 27, 2006, Blogger Dan McGowan said...

I'll never look at a tree the same way again...

At 9:51 PM, February 28, 2006, Blogger Master Aegidius said...

I will still look at deer the same way....

At 10:00 PM, February 28, 2006, Blogger rs said...

through the cross-hairs, right Jake?

At 8:15 PM, March 01, 2006, Blogger Master Aegidius said...

Ryan, Shame on you! I am quite hurt by that comment. If I only were to view deer through "the crosshairs", I would never get to enjoy shooting them with a bow. And archery season lets me put at least one more deer into my freezer.


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