Have you ever taken a picture and realized that the focus was on the wrong point? This morning I read a headline that said 1/3 of the people who die of old age are affected by dementia. If you look forward to retirement, do you also look forward to dementia and a nursing home? I used to look forward to retirement, until I decided that I was not going to retire if I could help it. Am I now looking forward only to dementia and a nursing home? No. Like the picture with the wrong focus, I'm slowly refocusing on my real "retirement" - heaven! Let's jump into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn about heaven - the "Creation, Again!"
Commentary for the March 30, 2013 Sabbath School Lesson
“I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.” Jeremiah 2:7, NIV
Perhaps some of you, who are older, remember as I do that day in July, 1969 when we all gathered around our television sets to witness the historic first step on the moon by astronaut, Neil Armstrong. Many of us still had black and white television sets, but that didn’t matter since the footage from the moon was in black and white anyway. The iconic image of his footprint in the dust of the lunar surface is easily recognized around the world. The epic journey of the Apollo 11 began an almost four year period of Apollo missions to the moon. Ending in 1972, the moon landings stopped and mankind has not returned since.
Maybe, like me, you also remember the sermons in 1969, preached in many churches, proclaiming with assurance that God would never allow a successful lunar landing because the rest of the universe was untainted by sin and God would not allow that universe to be defiled by the presence of sinful humans. Neil Armstrong’s footprint is mute evidence to the falseness of those predictions. The Bible tells us that when a prediction fails to come true we are not to believe the ones presumptuously making the prediction or to fear their pronouncements.
Sadly, those who make such pronouncements not only make themselves look foolish, they also cause many to ridicule the church of God and scorn anything else they might say. One would think that the church would learn from such forays into the realm of science, but well-meaning Christian pundits continue to insist that science is untrustworthy and only blind faith in the words of some church leader is all the science one needs. History has not been kind to these demagogues as they have famously been shown to be untrustworthy themselves over time. So why do so many continue to trust these pseudo-scientists?
Perhaps it is best described as the Ruby Slipper Syndrome. Like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz,” we want to be able to leave the crazy world around us behind. We want to be able to close our eyes to the evidence, click our ruby-slippered heels together and repeat “There’s no place like home,” over and over again until it actually happens. Unfortunately, life is not a fantasy novel. We cannot escape the data by pretending it doesn’t exist and wishing ourselves away to another reality. We only end up looking like the fabled image of the ostrich with its head in the sand – ridiculous and completely exposed to the derision of those who would take advantage of our presumption.
Does this mean there is no place for Christians in a modern, scientific world? Far from it. There are many things science cannot address. For instance, science has been unable to derive from observation an ultimate source of all things. That certainly leaves room for a Creator as that source. Science also is unable to resolve the problem of ongoing evil in the world. This is a problem that Christians have grappled with for centuries and for which the Bible has a perspective.
In that view, evil, just as everything else, had an origin. It also has a life span and an end. What was in the beginning will be again. A time without evil will return. This is an alternative to a viewpoint that would posit that evil will always be with us. Such a view actually encourages the spread of evil, for if it cannot be eradicated, why not simply join in the evil and obtain what you can, when you can, without regard to right or wrong moral action. Secularists might propose that this would be self-defeating and therefore enlightened self-interest would prevail and bring about morality. There are two problems with this, however.
First, what is the source of this “enlightenment?” Is this nothing more than a religious argument in secular clothes? Who is to say whether the flash of insight we call enlightenment is not of divine origin? Of course the same argument could be made in reverse, but that only proves the point. We might be “hoist by our own petard” when we so cavalierly toss about words like “enlightenment” to explain a basis for morality.
A second problem is the uncertainness of life. This “enlightened self-interest” is founded on the principle of delayed gratification. In other words, I put off my own selfish greed to allow others to reach their own goals in hopes of a greater reward for my unselfishness later. However, what if there is no later? I have no foreknowledge from day to day of when I will draw my last breath. Therefore, why should I delay gratification? Wouldn’t it make more sense to get what I can now, before it is too late?
Of course one might respond to this problem with enforcement of a compliant, if limited, altruism through statute. However, the poverty of this approach was demonstrated in Puritan New England where such measures often fomented rebellion rather than conformity. We even have a state, Rhode Island, which largely came into being because of those, like Roger Williams, who eschewed such methods. Americans, who sometimes like to feel that they are the most moral nation in the world, demonstrate the failures of legislated morality in modern times as well. While claiming to be such a moral nation, we also have a higher percentage of our population in prison than any other nation on earth.
In spite of such a high incarceration rate, greedy self-interest has not disappeared. To the contrary, those who are successful at it are often able to bypass any regulatory restrictions on their behavior with the proceeds from their enterprises. The process is not as effective at deterring selfishness as it is at weeding out those who aren’t very good at it. This being the case, recidivism rates would be expected to be high as those who fail to learn from their failure at self-centered criminality would be doomed to continually be swept up by enforcement unless they could find another career. This is indeed the case as recidivism in the United States is about 60%.
In view of some of these failures of enlightened self-interest as a basis for morality, perhaps there is the possibility we might look at a biblical perspective with more receptivity. The Bible proposes to bring about a moral man in the absence of man’s ability to produce one. It is on this basis that the Bible can tell us of restoration of what once was. The entire biblical narrative is bookended with two paradises: Eden, which literally means “paradise” and the New Jerusalem. “Jerusalem” means to own or possess peace which could also certainly be another definition of paradise.
Both of these paradises have the Tree of Life. Allegorically we might contrast this with life as we know it today and find the comparison somewhat lacking on our end. In fact, we might find our lives now to simply be a parody of what life was intended to be. Instead of vitality, we have chronic sickness and disability. Instead of eternal or even lengthy life spans we are limited to a few short decades. Those who see a century are few in number. Only 17 people out of 100,000 can hope to be 100 years old in the United States. Small wonder if we find the promises of immortality proffered by the Scriptures beguiling.
The problem for all of is the same reason that prevents Christians from speaking authoritatively on science from a Christian viewpoint. Christianity cannot provide evidence of these things as they are matters of faith, not science. Also, while faith is uniquely personal and not dependent on scientific methodology, it is experiential and highly individualized. While this may be a problem for the scientist who looks for patterns of uniform data streams, it does not seem to be a problem from a biblical perspective. Strangely enough, in spite of our efforts to regulate for conformed behavior, the Bible seems to prefer unity to uniformity. It appears to follow a musical model. In music, uniformity does not produce harmony, but harmony is a result we might expect from a unity founded in diversity.
Something we can take away from the creation account in Genesis is that God loves diversity. The world around us is filled with it, and if we trace all things back to a Creator then we might find ourselves unable to come to any other conclusion. We might also feel justified in projecting that any future restoration would value it as well. Perhaps those closest to realizing the reality of the River of Life in their own veins and coursing through their own hearts will be those who can bring that into the present and value diversity now. Maybe in that harmony, we can find an “enlightenment” we all can appreciate.
 Deuteronomy 18:22
 Much of the book of Ecclesiastes is dedicated to exploration of this theme.
 “Rhode Island,” www.wikipedia.org
 “United States Incarceration Rate,” Ibid.
 “Recidivism,” Ibid.
 Jeremiah 13:23; Isaiah 64:6; Ibid., 1:18
 “Centenarians,” www.wikipedia.org
 Job 38:4-7
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