You likely know the satisfaction of dragging a wet rag over a surface caked with grime and watching the slick, shiny reveal of something clean. Something inside you trills at the spellbound delight sweeping over a child’s face when you return their broken toy in working order. Restoration is intrinsically gratifying. A fresh coat of paint, a new light bulb, a sewn button, a faucet that no longer drips— so simple, yet so good. Why?
When we set about the business of restoration, we are fulfilling a purpose that has been established as long as sunshine. We were given stewardship of this world and God’s intention is for us to work in it and care for it.
“The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it.”Genesis 2:15 CEB
You didn’t think God needed us to tend His creation, did you? He is more than capable. Yet partner with us He did, and we had the gall to question the whole Edenic arrangement. You would be right to suspect that is where the trouble started.
Humanity craved autonomy and chose it, sacrificing the unspoiled nature of the created world. “You will surely die” was a veiled and complex assurance of a reality our Parents didn’t even begin to grasp.
“And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring… Then he said to the woman, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” And to the man he said…the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made.”Genesis 3:15-19 NLT
Relationship with God was severed, and in turn our relationships with one another and with creation were fractured. In a world permeated by rebellion against “that life [that] was the light of all mankind”, darkness prevails (John 1:4). When the One who “is before all things, and by him all things hold together” packs up camp and vacates, where else does that leave us but barren (Col 1:17)? There is a disparity to our existence worth raising an eyebrow at. Once upon a time there was the familiar “sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day,” now: “the Lord says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool’” (Gen 3:8, Isaiah 66:1).
We live amidst a relational and spatial brokenness that cries out for repair.
Paul describes it like this:
“Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.”Romans 8:20-23
We wait, with everything to lose, for the first sign of ultimate relief. Creation’s deliverance will culminate in a restoration of God’s throne among us. This is what John looks forward to in his vision in Revelation:
“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”Revelation 21:3
John’s description is filled with imagery from Eden. Paradise restored. The first words from the one enthroned are “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:5). This is a present progressive verb, meaning the action is happening both now and continuing into the future. To illustrate my point, here is a personal example of a present progressive sentence: I am collecting table settings in the Arcoroc rosaline swirl pattern. I have quite a nice stack of this 1970’s dinnerware accumulating in my china cabinet, because I began this collection some time ago, and I continue to snatch up pieces to add to my collection. Jesus didn’t say “I have made all things new” (implying he is done), or “I will make all things new” (implying he hasn’t started). “I am making all things new,” begs the question, “Where has He already begun making things new, and how will He continue to do it?”
Since our banishment from Eden, humanity and creation have chafed under the oppressive weight of death. But when God the Son “made his dwelling among us” something new was ignited (John 1:14). He declared, “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10).
In Jesus the curse has been reversed and will continue to be reversed.
How will that take place?
The partnership between God and humanity which was broken through humanity’s rebellion is being restored through Jesus. In him we are restored to being God’s image bearers, His representatives to creation (Col 3:10-11). Through this restored partnership He intends to transform a defective world.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”Ephesians 2:10
Remember, we were created to work in and care for the world. If there was work and care for us to accomplish in Eden, then there most certainly is now. I don’t have to look far to see the evidence of creation groaning: decay, pollution, sickness, poverty, living paycheck to paycheck, peeling paint, rusting finishes, rotting wood, fading color. Derivatives of death. But for those who have been reconciled to God through Christ, this is where the work begins. The sentence of our separation is the front line for His restoration.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come! Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us.”2 Cor 5:17-19
We have been given a message to proclaim: God chose to reconcile the world to Himself, for our benefit, at His own expense! He has repaired what was dislocated by our rebellion. As firstfruits of a new spiritual reality, we are both a model and a catalyst for resurrectionary metamorphosis. Our ministry is to bring renovation to everything that has been tainted by the curse of death, infusing the life Jesus bought.
The Master has given us passions, skills, and resources to carry out this mission. The temptation is to shelve these gifts because we rarely see long term fruit from our efforts. The world currently runs according to the second law of thermodynamics, and renewal often feels futile. Isaac Asimov appropriately summarized our experience:
“The universe is constantly getting more disorderly. Viewed that way, we can see the second law all about us. We have to work to straighten a room, but left to itself it becomes a mess again very quickly and very easily. Even if we never enter it, it becomes dusty and musty. How difficult to maintain houses, and machinery, and our bodies in perfect working order: how easy to let them deteriorate. In fact, all we have to do is nothing, and everything deteriorates, collapses, breaks down, wears out, all by itself — and that is what the second law is all about.”
Asimov’s words bear witness to the curse of sin, but what they fail to take into account is the One who defied the laws of nature, conquered death, and “upholds the universe by the word of His power” (Heb 1:3). In the increasing reign of Christ’s kingdom, if we live with faith in His economy, what appears pointless, trivial, wasteful or meager, will bring about a harvest of righteousness thirtyfold, sixty fold, and hundredfold (2 Cor 9:10, Mark 4:20). Who are we to presume that our effort is better retained than expended?
We serve a King who has made the impractical His calling card, and He expects us to follow suit.
Pragmatism was never a qualification for disciples.
Jesus promises that “Whoever gives one of these little ones just a cup of cold water to drink in the name of a disciple, most certainly I tell you he will in no way lose his reward” (Mat 10:42). If even the meager offering of water will be recognized in the economy of this new kingdom, we have every reason to believe that not one ounce of our effort will be wasted, so why not get to work? Live in a way that announces the restorative reign of Jesus Christ.
Where is there deficit waiting to be filled by generosity? Hunger that you can serve a warm meal? Rough edges that can be greeted with a smile? When will friendship minister to isolation, comfort meet grief, forgiveness wash over bitterness and backbiting?
Put fresh wood stain on a sun-bleached fence. Leave a gas-station restroom cleaner than you found it. Pick up parking lot garbage and throw it away. We are investing now for a day when the work of renewal compounds into something God promises will be spiritually and terrestrially metamorphic.
Mankind was banished from Eden and cut off from the source of life. Effort was cursed, repair foiled, rehabilitation frustrated—and the very gateway to new beginnings (life) was eclipsed by an agonizing struggle. This is the cyclical futility of our exiled world. This is what Christ came to interrupt and reverse.
The inbreaking of God’s kingdom began when a multitude of heavenly hosts peeled back the skies to make a royal proclamation to a group of ragtag shepherds. Nothing was ever the same again. Now every day we have the opportunity to break into the hurt, need, and destruction that characterizes this world and transform it through actions that herald a better kingdom.
Each time we meet the offspring of death, we have an opportunity to introduce the life of the age to come.
We do have gardening roots after all—let’s sow seed producing a harvest of new life.