The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:1-3
Whoever invokes a blessing in the land
will do so by the one true God;
whoever takes an oath in the land
will swear by the one true God.
For the past troubles will be forgotten
and hidden from my eyes.
“See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
“Never again will there be in it
infants who live but a few days,
or older people who do not live out their years;
those who die at a hundred
will be thought mere youths;
those who fail to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands.
They will not labor in vain,
nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
they and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
but dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord. Isaiah 65:16-25
Very truly I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:12-14
Point by Point
- It was God’s intention that humans be the project managers of the earth
- There is no change throughout the Scriptures in God’s design or our ultimate task
- Even in the New Testament, Jesus calls on his followers to pray for the will of God to be done throughout the earth
- We can see the will to “make things right” in the striving of all human efforts
- The always failing empires begin with bright visions of a better world
- Christians have been taught to see their faith in very narrow terms in our era
- We have been taught to practice a spare-time faith; our work is rarely mentioned
- The scope of the coming kingdom involves everything we do and do not do
- The task is overwhelming if we do not stay very close to the one who loves us
- Which is exactly what Jesus and his Father want us to do!
After a few comments this past week, here is what I can say, briefly, about our task in the world. More to come on this big subject in future posts.
The imperative of our communal task is quite clear in the Scriptures. God took the original parents aside in Genesis, chapter 1, and blessed them and told them to be fruitful, to multiply, in order to fill the earth, in order to subdue it, in order to have dominion over it. In other words, God made humankind the society builders, the cosmos/order creators, the project managers of his new earth, the ones charged to put the grand finishing touches on his magnificent creation.
In the biblical story, humankind received this mandate to make the good world an even more wonderful place before the human rebellion and so I think we can say there was nothing reactive or remedial in this first of all marching orders from God. What has been called “the cultural mandate” or, more recently, “the creation mandate” was a clear expression of how God wanted people to behave as his agents in a world created for that very purpose, to be ordered and cared for by wise, whole, fruitful people.
Then, in the biblical story, after the rebellion of Genesis, chapter 3, God did not just scrap the whole project. In my long class, A Year in the Bible, I ask the question, at an early point, “Did God then change his objective because of the fall? God’s goal had been that people glorify him by making the whole earth into a garden-city, the fabulous city of God on the earth. Did that long-term purpose change after the fall of humans from grace?”
I see no compelling evidence of a change in God’s long-term objective anywhere in Scripture; but I do see the repeated restatement of the original mandate.
When God promised Abraham he would raise up a great nation from his loins that would bless all the nations of the earth (Genesis 12), God was restating the creation mandate in other words. And when Jesus told his newly minted apostles they were to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit” (Matthew 28:18-19), Jesus was restating the creation mandate again, in other words.
God’s goal for humans has never changed: “Live well (fruitfully, with integrity, generously) in your life at work, at play, in bed, in political debate, in what you make and buy and keep and throw away!” We are charged, as Isaiah lays out, to work with God to so bless the land that we bring into being a new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah. 65:8-25). That is what we humans have been charged to do since we became aware of ourselves in the garden, since God breathed his Spirit into us and blessed us and began to instruct us on how to run his show. Often, when we read the Old Testament we see there was a cultural element to the outworking of God’s design for Israel. It is when we read the New Testament that we often read into the text an “other-worldly” element, a “off to heaven because God is done with culture and creation” theme. There is no space here to pursue this strange assumption. That will have to wait for other posts.
Moreover, look around at the creation and pro-creation which we humans do anyway, no-matter who we are. We try to leave our mark. If most of the marks we humans leave are contributions to a total mess then perhaps in that mess we can see how far off base we humans have come to be in our fallen condition but the answer is not to cease being creative. It is to bring our making, buying, keeping and throwing away under the lordship of the one who will teach us how to do all things if we will learn to sit quietly together at his feet and truly listen. The Spirit was promised to us so that we could be led into the truth. The problem is not power; it is the misdirection of power. Truly, empires are simply the badly aimed, ‘successful,’ as far as they go, attempts of human beings to act out the creation mandate which was our to keep from the beginning. We will always try to bring order, as we (badly) see it, out of chaos. This was Stalin’s goal. This was Pol Pot’s goal. Hitler was after the same thing: “The world will be all it was meant to be, the master race will be in its proper place and ‘Germany will become great for a thousand years,’ if everyone will just do as I say.”
Empire is the thoroughly wrong-headed attempt to bring order out of the chaos of a good but broken creation. We humans are always trying to ‘baptize’ all the nations, ‘clean’ of their previous views, and ‘disciple’ them in our ‘glad tidings’, our ‘gospel’, whatever it is. Listen, for instance to the speeches of Bill Clinton, both now and in prior years. Clinton is a firm believer that the way to world peace and justice is through economic exchange, through international trade. We live in the shadow of an imperial corporatocracy, founded on the gospel of buying and selling and Clinton and others like him have “drunk its ‘kool-aid’.” He is an evangelist for that false gospel. The results of even the most well-meaning human visions always lead to a total mess, because we do not know where we are, whose we are or what we are doing apart from God and God’s Spirit, leading us into all truth. It is always that way and will always be that way as long as Christians abandon their calling to declare the Kingdom in the arena of public life.
So, what is happening now? Are we just heading for another total mess? Without a doubt. Does God still call upon his people to listen to him, to read the directions and to follow his Spirit into the true blessing of the nations, the true discipling of the nations? Absolutely! That is what we are supposed to be doing, bringing all things and all people and all powers and principalities under the lordship of King Jesus, here on earth as it is in heaven.
In fact, Jesus taught us to pray for the success of that very endeavor in the prayer he taught his disciples: “Your name be hallowed on the earth; your will be done on the earth; your kingdom come fully into being on the earth.” Our first problem is the problem of scope. We have not understood that the job of being faithful to Christ encompasses every thing we do and every ounce of our time and talent. Yes, without question, our calling is to bring to earth the will of God: heaven down to the earth.
Will that work out? I do not know how it will be on the earth when Jesus comes to reclaim all that he created in the first place and bought back on the cross. “When the Son of Man comes, will the he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). Jesus asked this question in relationship to his arrival in Jerusalem on the fateful day we have domesticated and call “Palm Sunday.” However, the question is, I think, still a pertinent question for Jesus’ return at the end of our age.
If we extrapolate from what has happened in the first two thousand years of Christian history, we would be forced to say, “No. We have been taught to so narrowed the scope of what it means to follow Jesus that in practical terms, Christianity is a spare-time faith. If most Christians do not even remember what our job is, nor begin to live it out in their own lives, if most Christians view their faith as ‘being (privately) good’ while waiting to die and go to heaven, then our actual work will not be started let alone finished.”
However, we know from Scripture it is not necessarily true that what has gone before tells what will happen after. Will the Spirit stir the hearts of his people, recreate them and finally renew the face of the earth? Will Christians figure out that all of life is to be redeemed and that wherever we are, we are charged to bring light and life where there has been darkness and loss? Will Christians figure out that God cares more about what they do Monday, and how they do it, than he cares where they spend Sunday morning?
And what will happen if Christians figure out the scope of their calling? Perhaps nothing. To see what is so is truly half the battle but the other half begins with running to Jesus for his strength, his support, his power. In John 14, Jesus said we would do greater things than he but in chapter 15 he declared that if we do not stick very close to him, as close as a branch is to its vine, we will do nothing of value. Discovering the truth about the length and depth and breadth of our task in this world leaves us trembling and hopeless. But to realize how small our vision has been and how much there is to be done is useless if we do not discover how big is our God and how completely he wants to work with us, in intimate fellowship with us. It is a community of faithful people who discover the scope of the task and run to the arms of their savior that will change the world. It is my daily prayer that such a people will arise, not in just one place, but all over the earth. Happily, I am in no way unique in my prayer. As I suggested above, it has been the daily prayer of every Christian, within the Lord’s Prayer (whether they knew it or not) to call down heaven to earth. We have all been praying so for nearly two millennia!
Our Father, may your name become the greatest name on the earth,
May your kingdom arrive fully on the earth,
May your will be done everywhere on the earth
As it already is in heaven
Give us the stuff we need to get our little parts of that big job done today and keep forgiving us for the stumbles we make and the debts we pile up; we know we are to do the same for those around us. Keep us far away from the bright, shiny lights which might snare our thinking and doing and please, please, keep us so close to you that we are light-years away from the evil one. After all, you are the one with the love we need, the hope we need, the power we need, the authority which we must have to push on in the job we do together of bringing heaven down to the earth. Amen