What is the Christian’s greatest hope in the face of suffering and death?
Tim Keller argues in his book, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, that the Christian worldview best deals with realities of pain and suffering not because it teaches improvement, but because it teaches complete restoration. Our current condition is not later improved, but later perfected. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “There are far better things ahead than what we leave behind.” This is especially true because of future restoration and glorification of all who are in Christ and creation itself.
The hope of a Christian who is suffering under the unbearable weight of immense tragedy is not merely found in the fact that at death, the suffering ends and the sufferer is in a better place. While there is tremendous hope found in the “absent from the body, present with the Lord” consolation, the greatest hope comes at the second advent of Christ. The reason we can confidently say this is because the purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection is not fully consummated until he returns in judgment over his enemies when he completely restores the earth to the glory for which it was created.
Keller caused me to reflect on this truth. And I can say that when I consider those in my family who died young or in a horrendous way, I find that I have greater comfort when thinking about the future resurrection of their bodies than merely thinking about them in the presence of God now (as great as that is!). I have been mostly exposed to the spiritual, non-physical aspects of new creation theology. It was very sanctifying to start thinking of the certain eschatological future residence of believers as being physical. Though there is no absence of joy whatsoever in thinking of our future eschatological home in terms of being in God’s presence outside of an actual physical place, there is almost a special feeling of joy that can be found in realizing that this home in God’s presence will be somewhat familiar to the place we call home now.
This was an edifying read for me, and Randy Alcorn’s words on the doctrine of the New Earth make total sense and spoke directly to my heart on the matter.
The biblical doctrine of the New Earth implies something startling: that if we want to know what the ultimate Heaven, our eternal home, will be like, the best place to start is by looking around us. We shouldn’t close our eyes and try to imagine the unimaginable. We should open our eyes, because the present Earth is as much a valid reference point for envisioning the New Earth as our present bodies are a valid reference point for envisioning our new bodies.
I miss my cousin. I find comfort in knowing he is with Jesus. I’m even a little jealous of this! But, I find greater comfort in knowing that one day, his impressive arm and body, which struck out countless batters will be fully restored in a glorified state that we cannot even imagine.I look forward with great hope to this day and instead of closing my eyes to imagine being in God’s presence outside of a physical place, with eyes wide open I will anticipate walking in an abundantly joyful, satisfying, and perfectly renewed/redeemed Earth with the God whose glory shines in it all.
Mathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba.