When I started writing on this blog about two years ago, I was a student at Faith Builders. I did a great deal of writing in the classes I was taking, and I envisioned sharing some of those writings on this blog, especially for friends and family back home who were interested in what I was learning. Well, that never happened. I had plenty of excuses. Probably the main excuse was that the majority of my readers would likely find it boring.
But a few weeks ago while looking through some old homework assignments, I came across this essay that I wrote for Worldviews class a little over a year ago. And after debating for awhile, I decided to post it–for whatever it’s worth–just because this concept has been so formative in my perspective on everyday life.
Is Physical Existence Permanent?
“And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good (Gen.1:31).” God looked at the physical world He had created and called it not only good but very good. But then sin invaded this perfect creation, twisting and distorting the goodness of the physical realm. Thus we live in a world that is tainted with the effects of sin, and this tainting sometimes leads us to feel that something about physicality is inherently bad. We imagine that death will deliver us from the “evil” of physical existence and will transform us into some sort of mystical spiritual creatures. But this is not what the New Testament teaches. Because God is in the business of restoring all things to Himself, I believe that physical existence is permanent. We will be changed, yet our new existence will maintain a connection with the old.
Though it does not give many details, the Bible does give us some ideas about the future of the physical creation. The book of 2 Peter recounts the story of the flood and compares it to Christ’s second coming. The flood did not destroy the old world completely; it only wrought a vast change. Peter tells us that the judgment of God at Christ’s return will be similar—only this time the world will be destroyed by fire instead of water. “[T]he heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:12-13).” The earth will burn, but this does not imply complete annihilation. Just as the world after the flood had a close connection with the old world, so I believe that the new earth of the future will be closely connected with today’s world. Just as gold endures the refining fire, all that is good will endure while the evil is burned away.
Romans 8 also speaks of the remaking of creation: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8:20-21).” These verses indicate that the rest of the physical creation will be redeemed along with humanity.
Then in this redemption we will be given new bodies. Paul goes to great lengths to explain this in 1 Corinthians 15, and he likens the old body to a seed that is planted in the ground and dies. “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44).” We do not know exactly what our new bodies will be like, but one thing is clear in this passage: We will have bodies. We will not be formless creatures completely separated from our previous physical existence.
How then should we think about and value material reality? In light of the resurrection, Paul tells us, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).” Realizing the glorious future of our world injects new meaning into every area of life. What we do here and now has value! We are not merely biding our time until we can escape this world altogether. The good that is done here on earth will have a lasting impact on the future.
Seeing physicality in this light frees us from the perception that the physical is somehow inferior to the spiritual. It frees us to enjoy the good things God has created. It also places dignity on physical work. The job of a farmer or a plumber is not inferior to that of a pastor or a missionary. All things done in the name of Jesus with a heart of love and service have a part to play in the kingdom of God; one job is not bigger or better than another.
God has not told us nearly everything about our future existence, but what He has said makes me really excited! If the glimmers of redemption that I see here and now are glorious, what will the future be like when Christ’s kingdom is here in all its glory and God redeems all things to Himself?