I was raised in the Dominican Republic and learned as a child that I would spend eternity flying around praising God forever. The idea wasn’t very attractive (although better than spending eternity in flames), and biblical concepts like “new creation” and “new heaven and new earth” became abstract and scary. I found it difficult to reconcile the “heaven forever” and the “new earth” ideas. As a good Catholic Dominican, though, I recognized it was probably better not to try to make sense of all those mysteries in the Scriptures.
Mystery was familiar anyway. The religious experience of Central and South American countries is deeply marked by a colonial theology. My uncles and my parents (just one generation ago!) attended the Catholic Church and were not allowed to have a Bible of their own. They heard the mass in Latin, and their leading priest kept his back to the audience. The whole worship service was a mystery.
Nevertheless, many important Charismatic Christian movements generated an unprecedented interest to know the Word of God. New church plants all over the country took the Christian faith to a new level. But, even with this new learning, a mystery remained: How do I connect my daily activities with the spiritual realm? We still saw death as a bridge to eternity far away from this earth.
My studies at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary stretched my thinking on this and challenged those old assumptions. When we die we do expect to enter a new dimension (heaven), but that doesn’t necessarily refer to outer space, and it doesn’t mean we’ll stay there forever as I learned in Catechism and Sunday School. The Bible tells us that the trip to heaven is only one leg of a round trip journey. We will come back to occupy a new earth where Jesus will reign over his redeemed people. This new earth will be renewed—without corruption, sin, or pain in perfect harmony as God intended.
Consider God’s original intention for creation: At the very beginning, God established three responsibilities for humanity: worship the Creator, serve one another and subdue the earth (Genesis 1-2). This original design was ruined by Satan (Genesis 3), and God’s world was corrupted by humanity’s exploitation and abuse. So, Jesus came to reestablish God’s desired order (His Kingdom) and to reestablish the values of that Kingdom.
What do we make of this? The analysis above encourages me to respond to Jesus’ announcement with responsibility. After his resurrection, Jesus said he was going to prepare a place for us. He announced that God’s Kingdom is near but not yet, urging us to live out the values of the Kingdom while we wait for him to complete the promised new earth (Revelation 21). The prophet Isaiah also describes this new heaven and new earth, referring to the very same physical activities we do today (Isaiah 65).
In other words, in the new creation we will have the opportunity to develop and use our gifts and talents without the brokenness of our world, in a place inhabited by men and women who respond favorably to Jesus Christ—no abuse, no humiliation, and no tears.
This vision of new creation explains God’s heart for the needy and abused among us, and has convinced me of my responsibility toward those around me.
Jesus announced a Kingdom reserved for the poor in spirit, humble and merciful in heart, who forgive others and suffer injustice. He offers them promises and hopes for a life without suffering. Despite present difficulties, Jesus has equipped his followers to experience the joy of salvation in the midst of misery as we live out the values of the coming Kingdom now.
This kingdom is near us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and it should be reflected in every aspect of our lives: work, play, walk, etc. A kingdom mentality is not limited to religious or spiritual events on certain days of the week. That’s one reason why our church has committed to coming alongside the immigrant community in Grand Rapids to provide daily needs as basic as food to help them flourish, while also offering the ultimate hope of eternal life with Jesus Christ.
Whether we drink a glass of water, mow our lawns or share a meal with friends, these everyday activities can become true worship to the Lord. Personally, I see myself mowing my lawn on the new earth under a new heaven—a new creation. Thy kingdom come!