In a previous post I commented on Chris Wright’s article on ‘world’ in the Bible in the July edition of Evangelical Review of Theology and his argument for strong continuity between ‘this world’ and the ‘world to come’.
In another previous post I mentioned that we’re back from seeing some fantastic scenery in the west coast of the USA. In this post I want to try to connect the two a wee bit.
One of the great secrets of America is that vast tracts of it are wilderness. We were numbed with scenery overload – hard to take more in. The grandeur of Yosemite, the awe inspiring Crater Lake [with less than awe inspiring clouds of mosquitoes], the daunting power of the Pacific Ocean, the imperious beauty of a bald eagle, the imposing grandeur of Mt Rainier, the raw violence of Mt St Helens, the humbling presence of the great Sequoias …
I found it a deeply spiritual experience – simplicity of camping, of hikes, of spending time in the outdoor world away from intense human presence (although of course never too far from its civilising comforts!). The beauty of creation, perhaps more clearly than any other thing, speaks of a world as it could be, as it should be … in harmony, in equilibrium, where every thing has its place.
This I find easy enough to connect with the world to come – a very recognisable, renewed creation – presumably with trees, and flowers, and grass, and mountains and rivers and lake and animals and so on. At the level of beauty I find little problem identifying with ‘all that is good in creation’ being part of the renewed new heavens and earth.
But of course this is simplistic. It is a sort of sterile ‘scenery picture postcard’ view of creation. The natural world is full of death hidden not far behind the beauty. A small example: in Yosemite, a raven snatched a baby squirrel from its mother on the roof of the visitor centre and pecked it to death for dinner in front of crowds of horrified adults and children. They all wanted to stop it but couldn’t. Such brutality and the desperate attempts of the mother to save her offspring jarred horribly with the whole image of unspoilt beauty towering around us on all sides. Nature red in tooth and claw gatecrashed the party.
OK you may say, in the new creation there will be no more death. Yes – but here immediately we cannot begin to conceive of life without death. The more specific sorts of questions you ask about continuity between this world and the one to come the more difficulty you have in coming up with any sort of coherent answers.
Don’t get me wrong – as I said last time, there is a strong case for continuity. But I wonder how much can be made of this given how absolutely little we can begin to guess about the world to come and how little specifics there are in Scripture which is necessarily metaphorical.
And if this is the case for the natural world, I would suggest it is even more impossible to say anything much about what sort of continuity there will be in terms of human culture – but I’ll come back to that in a final post on ‘A Wright on World’ [get it? :)]