Thursday, July 05, 2007

Some thoughts on being heirs and New Creation people

nepotism is not a dirty wordOne of the things I’m interested in, and which makes sense to me both existentially and intellectually, is the already/not yet tension that we as Christians often experience. This is obviously reflected in the title of my blog! For those of you who aren’t quite sure what I mean, one good example is found in Jesus’ expression of the “kingdom of God”. Sometimes he says that it’s already here. Other times, he says that it’s coming. This has and is hotly debated in academic circles, but most New Testament scholars are now fairly settled, following the work of George Eldon Ladd, that in some sense Jesus’ coming to Earth meant that he established the kingdom, or rule of God, but that it will not be completed (consummated is the word people like to use) until Jesus comes again. On our day-to-day level, this is most clearly seen by the fact that there is still sickness and war in this world even if there is good being done and that many turn to worship the true God every day, as my friend did this week!

And I think this is really important on a practical level too, because how we view and negotiate this tension affects how we see the world, and subsequently how we live. You’ve probably seen me occasionally use the rather technical term “overrealised eschatology” (and less frequently, “underrealised eschatology”) on this blog. If we tend to the former, it’s possible that we get so consumed with the things of the here and now and we have unrealistic expectations of what the Christian life should be like, minimising suffering and forgetting that it will truly be a glorious future we’re waiting for. On the other hand, the less mentioned but equally damaging notion of an “underrealised eschatology” might mean that we isolate ourselves from the world now, and that our Christianity takes a "grit and bear it" mentality. I know I get this wrong often. In my younger days I tended to the former (one of the first Christian books I ever bought was called The Victorious Christian Life!) and nowadays I fall prey to the latter more regularly.

So I’m often interested in how we can try to express this already/not yet tension in a way that is helpful and biblical. I’m currently dipping in and out of a book, I will be your God, which is a book on the convenant, and last night I read this paragraph (in the context of speaking about covenant people and 1 Peter in particular):


We are a chosen people and a royal priesthood. We are the offspring of royalty. Our Father is the head of the dynasty that rules over all creation (Rev. 4:5-11). His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, has been made King of kings and Lord of Lords (Ps. 2; Acts 2:36). We are his offspring, We are destined to share in his rule.

Now this sparked a tangent and I put the book down, and began thinking of what it means to be an heir (Romans 8:17, Galatians 4:6-7). To be an heir means that we’re going to inherit something. It’s something that is future, something that we look forward to. At the same time, if we are heirs, especially co-heirs with Christ, then our conduct should be one that is becoming of an heir, Paris Hilton notwithstanding.

But firstly, how do we become an heir? It is only when we become a child of God, by the work of the Spirit, because of the work of the Son. One way this is described in the New Testament is that we individually become a new creation. At the same time, the Bible also describes that one day, there will be a time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, a New Creation where there will be no tears or sorrow, and where God himself will come to be with his people. Yet obviously this is not what it’s like now. Therefore, to be heirs is to be New Creation people in Old/Fallen Creation. To use an analogy, Paris has the Hilton surname, thus signifying her claim to her inheritance, but she hasn’t actually got it yet!

Now, what is expected of an heir? Back in Genesis 1-2, we see God instituting humankind as one who rules over creation. We are like a regent, a crown prince, under the True King, God himself. And so we go about engaging in the roles we originally were created for. This will affect our everyday work and day-to-day living, whether we are students or in the workplace or even homemakers. This will have an effect more widely, as in our relationships we seek to relate to each other. This inheritance is designed to be shared, as we invite others to join into the family. This will affect our affairs corporately, because we want to prepare the world, be it from a cultural or from a justice standpoint for the coming New Creation.

At the same time, the very word “heir” protects us from thinking that we can build a utopia now. It is a safeguard against falling into the trap of being too caught up with present-day uncertainties. It tells us that ultimately, we can’t change the world, or even ourselves on our own. “Heir” also suggests that we didn’t do anything to earn our way into this inheritance, but that it was given to us. And it reminds us that we are called to be spiritual philanthropists: asking and depending on the Spirit’s help to save us, and others we come into contact with. For what good is it preparing the New Creation from merely a cultural or justice perspective if people themselves are not re-created, by the death of Jesus in our place, to share in the New Creation? Genesis 3 needs to be put to rights.

These are not conclusive thoughts, but it seems to me that thinking about ourselves as heirs is a helpful way of thinking and living our way through this already/not yet tension. (To be fair, this turned out to have more of an emphasis on creation/recreation/New Creation than I thought when I first began typing!). If you have any further thoughts, do let me know. And remember, tension is a passing note to a beautiful chord!


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