Thursday, December 17, 2015

on polishing brass and rearranging deck chairs

I wrote this piece in April 2012 as a follow up to this parable, but decided not to post it because it was too controversial. As a not-yet-employed academic and a missionary living by the generosity of friends and family, it's not judicious to go around ruffling feathers. But it's time. These are things that need to be said and need to be heard. And by now you've already seen my most recent post on the subject, so the damage has been done. So let's plunge right in . . .


Titanic Sinking

The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic got me thinking about some of the "pithy grabbers" about ships.

That's like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Why polish the brass on a sinking ship?

Both sayings are getting at the same idea. We shouldn't waste our energy on something that is doomed anyway.

Unfortunately, both of these have been applied by well-meaning Christians to the very planet on which we live. For them, this world is a sinking ship. The idea of heaven so captivates their imaginations that they see no real value in developing sustainable agriculture or environmentally-friendly standards of living. They see public education, politics, and even scientific research as a waste of time. The only thing that matters to these missions-minded and rapture-ready evangelicals is "getting souls saved."

Now, before you throw rotten tomatoes at your screen, let me explain. I consider myself a missions-minded evangelical. My most recent post should make that obvious. But I do not agree with the subset of evangelicals who see this world as a sinking ship from which we are being rescued. I do believe in heaven, but my impression from the Bible is that heaven is a temporary place. ("What?!" you ask.) Heaven is not our final destination. It's more of an interim hangout for all those who have been reconciled to God but have died. [2015: After reading Middleton, I'm less sure it's even that.] The final destination, the real goal of the story God is writing, is the new creation. At the end of John's book of Revelation, where he is granted a vision of spiritual realities, he sees the new creation (a cubic arboreal city) coming down out of heaven. According to John's vision, it will be the place where all the redeemed live and worship the true king. The new creation will be much like this one, with streets and rivers and trees, only it will last forever. If you want to call that new creation "heaven" I won't argue with you, as long as you realize that it's on terra firma, not up in the clouds somewhere.

So what does this have to do with a sinking ship?

The mandate given to Adam and Eve to cultivate and care for the garden (Genesis 2:15) is still in effect. God's intention was that they would continue to extend the boundaries of that garden until it filled the whole earth. Our care for the planet is part of the role God has given to us until that time when he renews it all for eternity. Rather than expecting to be caught up to another dimension of reality, we can anticipate God's transformation of this world. And until then, it's our job to take care of it. Environmental concern is not for its own sake, but is part of extending his just rule in every place.

If there is a sinking ship, its name is Pride. Yes, to nurse our own pride is a wasted effort, because pride won't get us where we need to go. But the idea that "this world is not my home, I'm just a passin' through" can be dangerous. God is glorified when we give our best efforts to reducing pollution, cleaning our waterways, protecting endangered species, and anything else that ensures that our great-grandchildren will be able to enjoy God's beautiful and bountiful creation. In other words, keep on polishing that brass. This ship's gonna be around for a while!

If I've piqued your interest, here are a few resources you can check out for more on this subject:

I've said some controversial things here, and no doubt some of you disagree. My hope is to get us all thinking about how our theology affects the way we care for the earth as well as how we share the good news about what Christ has done for us. Getting saved is not so much a ticket out of here as it is permission to stay for a really long time . . . uh . . . like forever!

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