First World Exiles Part 3: The Future Eden
Behind COVID and the recent outcry in our society over racial injustice are the words, “How long?” How long will we have masks? How long will it take before minority voices are heard? How long will we continue to swirl in confusion? How long?
At some point as we examine the experience of David and Ezra, we zoom out far enough to realize that all of humanity has been lamenting this question, how long? since the day we were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. While the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon, they still yearned for Eden. In the New Testament, this is what Paul suggests in Romans 8 when he talks about creation groaning, and Christians groaning, and even the Spirit groaning in this present era as we wait for what is to come (Romans 8:18ff). We all feel innately this sense that something is not the way it used to be, nor the way it will be.
And that’s precisely the point of the gospel. While you and I live fine-enough lives, things used to be way better—not a generation ago in our family, not in that ambiguous time when our country was great, but all the way at the start of creation. And God promises that he is moving all of creation toward his good and perfect ending, when we will be with God and he will be with us. Think of the implications of these words that Paul wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).
There is always redemption of today that we are awaiting tomorrow. Regardless of our circumstances, the best is yet to come. That’s hope for us in the midst of a pandemic and civil unrest. That’s hope for us who trust in Christ for our salvation and need his encouragement and endurance to sort through the issues at play today. But in this all, God is at work threading the ups and the downs together to bring about good, not evil.
If this were a superhero story, we would be in the moment where the night is darkest just before the day dawns. Where it feels like the hero is tied up in a dungeon and the villain is having his way with bombs and confusion and fear. We have all cried out in one way or another, “God, how long?” But I’m reminded by the certain future of the good that God is pushing us toward, where we go back to the future, back to Eden in the New Jerusalem.
Every day that we cry out how long will it be until we experience some relief is another step closer to the great day when God will bring heaven to earth and we will once again dwell in his garden, which might look more like a city than a forest. Look at what the Apostle John wrote in Revelation 21,
“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” (Revelation 21:2-4).
Harmony in all God’s majestic glory. We are prone to believe that just the people who lived like us will be included in this description of “man.” But it’s anyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, which includes men and women of every tribe, tongue, and nation. And what are we all doing in this new city? Understanding. Breathing. Celebrating. Rejoicing. Praising. Dwelling in the home that our souls have always wanted to return to. Our hope has always been a past/future sort of thing. We get back to the garden at the end of the story, which it turns out is still unfolding into eternity. For how long? We won’t care. We’ll never ask that question again.
Until then, we’ve not endured these past three months just to go back to life as normal. No, I want to have a bigger picture in mind. A picture not of life as it was yesterday, nor of a life consumed by the trials of today, but rather a life that asks the question, how long until you make heaven touch the earth? May we at least praise God today that the situation in our world has pushed us to seek God all the more?