I think I may have quoted this before, but re-reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope this Easter has really helped me to rediscover the hope for the whole of creation through Jesus’ death and resurrection that we see in the Bible. I think the following section is particularly relevant as we’re often tempted to put ourselves at the centre, talking about God’s good news as if it were all about getting Christians into heaven…

The whole point of my argument so far is that the question of what happens to me after death is not the major, central, framing question that centuries of theological tradition have supposed. The New Testament, true to its Old Testament roots, regularly insists that the major, central, framing question is that of God’s purpose of rescue and re-creation for the whole world, the entire cosmos. The destiny of individual human beings must be understood within that context – not simply in the sense that we are only part of a much larger picture but also in the sense that part of the whole point of being saved in the present is so that we can play a vital role (Paul speaks of this role in the shocking terms of being “fellow workers with God”) within that larger picture and purpose. And that in turn makes us realize that the question of our own destiny, in terms of the alternatives of joy or woe, is probably the wrong way of looking at the whole question. The question ought to be, How will God’s new creation come? and then, How will we humans contribute to that renewal of creation and to the fresh projects that the creator God will launch in his new world?

If what I have suggested is anywhere near the mark, then to insist on heaven and hell as the ultimate question – to insist, in other words, that what happens eventually to individual humans is the most important thing in the world – may be to make a mistake similar to the one made by the Jewish people in the first century, the mistake that both Jesus and Paul addressed. Israel believed (so Paul tells us, and he should know) that the purposes of the creator God all came down to this question: how is God going to rescue Israel? What the gospel of Jesus revealed, however, was that the purposes of God were reaching out to a different question: how is God going to rescue the world through Israel and thereby rescue Israel itself as part of the process but not as the point of it all? Maybe what we are faced with in our own day is a similar challenge: to focus not on the question of which human beings God is going to take to heaven and how he is going to do it but on the question of how he is going to redeem and renew his creation through human beings and how he is going to rescue those humans themselves as part of the process but not as the point of it all. If we could reread Romans and Revelation – and the rest of the New Testament, of course – in the light of this reframing of the question, I think we would find much food for though.

N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, pp184-185

Surprised by Hope

 

    • Mark says:

      Yeah – it was good to read your thoughts. I felt exactly the same on Sunday, and have drafted a blog post about it. Not quite sure whether to publish it or leave it as a draft and think of it as therapy for culture shock…!

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