Thursday, December 04, 2008

And they shall bring the glory and the honour of the nations

In my review of Paul Hem's Calvin: A Guide for the Perplexed (here), I touched on the writer's speculation that the products of God's common grace such a music and literature might be carried forward into the new creation. I suggested that there might be something in that suggestion, making reference to Revelation 21:24-26. Cornelis Venema has some interesting things to say about those verses in his excellent work on eschatology, The Promise of the Future, Banner of Truth Trust, 2000, p. 480-482. He writes,
"Every legitimate and excellent fruit of human culture will be carried into and contribute to the splendour of life in the new creation. Rather than the new creation being a radically new beginning, in which the excellent and noble fruits of humankind's fulfilment of the cultural mandate are wholly discarded - the new creation will benefit from, and be immensely enriched by, its receiving of these fruits. Far from being an empty and desolate place, the new creation will be enriched with the sanctified fruits of human culture. Nothing of the diversity of the nations and peoples, their cultural products, languages, arts, sciences, literature and technology - so far as these are good and excellent - will be lost upon life in the new creation. Life in the new creation will not be starting over, but a perfected continuation of the new humanity's stewardship of all life in the service of God.
Though some have argued that this reading of John's vision is speculative and unwarranted, the language of Revelation 21:24 can scarcely be read otherwise. The alternative - denying that life in the new creation will be enriched by the presence of these fruits of human culture - seems unlikely and problematic. Life in the crew creation will not be a repristination of all things - a going back to the way things were at the beginning. Rather, life in the new creation will be a restoration of all things - involving the removal of every sinful impurity and the retaining of all that is holy and good. Were the new creation to exclude the diversity of the nations and the glory of the kings of the earth, it would be impoverished rather than progressive. To express the point in the form of a question: is it likely that the music of Bach and Mozart, the painting of Rembrandt, the writing of Shakespeare, the discoveries of science, etc., will be altogether lost upon life in the new creation?"
It seems to me that Venema's position is exegetically warranted. He is also making a highly valuable theological point. The new creation will not be a rejection and annulment of the old but the renewal of all things by the transforming power of the risen Christ (Philippians 3:20-21). This is profoundly life affirming and is a firm denial of all Platonic views of the glory that see heaven in almost wholly spiritual terms. The future will be no less physical than the present. Our Lord's glorified humanity is the guarantee of that. Knowing all this, we understand that life in this present world is not a waste of time and energy. The best of what we achieve for the glory of God will remain. Our labours are not in vain in the Lord - 1 Corinthians 15:58.
What aspects of human culture would you like to see carried forward into the new creation? Venema mentions examples of classical music. But will we get to hear not only Chopin, but also Coldplay, not only Rachmaninoff, but also Radiohead? I suppose we'll have to wait and see.

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