How the story ends
My usual Bible reading begins at Genesis and methodically works its way to Revelation. Which means that after all those stories of faithfulness and unfaithfulness, all those spiritual and historical meanderings, I regularly arrive at the end of the great story of God and His plan for the rescue and re-creation of humanity.
Spoiler alert: It ends well. As another writer summarised it: “One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love” (Ellen White, The Great Controversy, p 678).
It’s a wonderful picture of hope. But one of the accusations often levelled against those who believe in some kind of heaven or similar afterlife is that it tempts them to disengage from this present life and the world in which we now live. The assumption is that too great a focus on life elsewhere and eternal tends to diminish the significance of the life we live here and now, except perhaps for seeking to ensure our personal “readiness” for heaven.
But in the Bible’s telling of it, there are important aspects of “how the story ends” that urge us to greater engagement with the world and the life we now know. In this story it all matters.
First, is the recognition that God’s focus is not on us “going to heaven” but on heaven coming to earth, albeit a new heaven and a new earth: “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them” (Revelation 21:3*). Yes, it’s a significant difference when there are no more tears, pain, or death; but our destination looks a lot more like the world we know and are called to love than many of our imaginings of heaven. Our ultimate home is our planet, renewed and restored as it was created to be.
Second, Revelation 18 offers a vivid description of the destruction of the fallen, destructive, violent, and oppressive powers of this world. This is the judgment God’s people and His prophets—and the poor, oppressed, and exploited they have spoken for throughout history—have been looking for.
While God has given even the oppressors repeated invitations and opportunities to repent, for sin and injustice to be completely destroyed, those who stubbornly practice it also have to be destroyed. As tragic as this is, for those who have suffered it is the ultimate justice and restoration: “Rejoice over her fate, O heaven and people of God and apostles and prophets! For at last God has judged her for your sakes” (Revelation 18:20).
Theologian Walter Brueggemann, using disproportion as shorthand for all kinds of injustice, oppression, and inequality in the world, explains it this way: “Because God will rule, the disproportion in which we live will sooner or later come to an end, because this God will countenance no continuing disproportion. God’s intent for justice and peace in creation cannot finally be resisted” (Finally Comes the Poet, pp 86, 87).
If this is what we believe about the future of injustice, oppression, violence, and exploitation, we are empowered, encouraged, and called to be people who stand up and speak up against the injustice we see and experience in our communities and our world. Whatever form they might take, evil and injustice matter and they—and those who perpetuate and profit from them—will be defeated and destroyed.
But there is a third aspect to the Bible’s end of the story: the good things of our lives, our communities, and our cultures also matter into eternity. Describing life in the promised city of God, Revelation points to the glory of God as the source of light; but also suggests that the best of human creativity and achievement somehow contributes to the goodness of our re-created world: “By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it” (Revelation 21:24, ESV**). Imagine the best of our nations, communities, and cultures—represented by the glory of these “kings”—being celebrated, shared, and enjoyed with our Creator, with our fellow citizens of the eternal kingdom of God, in the light of God’s glory.
Remembering how the story ends, we turn back to our lives and our world today; called to live with this transforming hope; reminded that so much of our lives matter; that our lives are lived with eternal significance.
*Unless otherwise noted, Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
**Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Originally published at www.adventistworld.org.
Nathan Brown is an editor at Signs Publishing Company in Warburton, Victoria, Australia.