Today, we will hear from Melissa Johnson Bills:
I was driving around earlier this week on an unseasonably warm and wet January day, already feeling a bit down because of the gray sky and leafless trees. I switched on my car radio just in time to catch the end of the Chicago-area news, which reported a double homicide in my hometown and half-joked about global warming when reporting the crazy warm weather forecast. I’m an odd emotional mix of a passionate theologian and a drama queen, so I found myself unnerved by these examples of brokenness in our world – both human and cosmic. These two random news stories reinforced my own deep longings for renewal and reorder and recreation, and I found myself recalling a particular passage from Revelation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:1-5a)
This is a compelling image for me, with its picture of the renewal and re-creation of the cosmos at the hands of a God who comes to dwell among us. Reading it, I can’t help but construct an image of the kingdom of God as a matter of absolute cosmic resurrection (the new heavens and earth coming to life at the passing away of the old order), that will come to its fulfillment at God’s final act of breaking in to our existence. N.T. Wright believes that this vision of the kingdom of God as re-creation has already begun with the event of Christ’s resurrection. He makes the claim that:
The deepest meanings of the resurrection have to do with new creation….When Jesus emerged, transformed, from the tomb on Easter morning, the event was heavy with symbolic significance….It was the first day of God’s new week, the moment of sunrise after the long night, the time of new meetings, new meals, of reconciliation and new commissioning. It was the beginning of the new creation. ((N.T. Wright, “The Transforming Reality of the Bodily Resurrection,” in The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, N.T. Wright and Marcus Borg, (San Francisco: Harper, 1999), 126.))
Christ’s resurrection secures for us the hope that God has already begun the process of restoring creation from its broken state, and by God’s grace we are already living in the kingdom of God, no matter how incomplete it may yet be. In this re-creative view of the kingdom of God, humans play an important cooperative role in negotiating the in-between time by participating in the work of the kingdom. Paul Tillich, speaking of the simultaneous presence and expectation of the kingdom of God, says that the victory of the kingdom of God lies precisely in the tension between its already and not-yet character. Thus we are to live lives of faith as “representatives of the Kingdom of God in history” and to carry out the task of “[keeping] alive the tension between the consciousness of presence and the expectation of the coming.” ((Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology III, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), 391.)) Driven by our expectation for a fully renewed future, we are empowered by our faith to participate in the work of re-creation and restoration in this in-between time. God in Christ has begun the work of the kingdom in this world, and by God’s grace, we can faithfully participate in this kingdom. We actively await the fulfillment of this kingdom, not because our salvation depends upon it, but because we have been given the grace to live out our faith in love and good deeds. We are blessed with the opportunity to be a part of this world’s transformation until the time when God, who transcends all human bounds, will bring the kingdom to completion and dwell with us anew in the resurrected and reconciled creation.
Melissa Johnson Bills is a Chicago native and is a graduate of St. Olaf College and Princeton Theological Seminary. She is currently pursuing ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and applying to graduate programs in theology and liturgy. When she’s not being a theology nerd, you can find her singing, knitting, reading, writing, cooking, and being computer-geeky (a hobby she can credit to Matt, her husband of 3 years!). You can find more of her writing at The Thin Paper Vault.