TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a weekly column that publishes some of the best writings on vocation from the past. Our hope is to introduce you to thoughtful literature that you may not have yet discovered and, as always, to encourage you to know and love Christ more in all spheres of your life. This excerpt is adapted from Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work by Tom Nelson. Copyright © 2011. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.org.
As a kid growing up, I was intrigued and curious about heaven. I was told that heaven is a place far away where loved ones who had died had gone, and that I, too, would join them one day. That sounded pretty cool to me. I remember lying on the cool green grass in my backyard watching the puffy cumulus clouds lazily float by. As I stared upward into the seemingly endless blue sky, I wondered exactly where heaven is and what people do there. Since I loved ice cream with a passion, I imagined heaven as a place where you can eat ice cream all the time. The ice cream would be the best, and it would never run out. And guess what? You would never get full; you could just keep eating banana split after banana split and then start in on some other delicious ice cream treat.
I guess you could say my idea of heaven at that time in my life was a never-ending, gluttonous eating frenzy—eating ice cream with reckless abandon and utter indulgence.
Thankfully, as I grew older, my conception of heaven became less personally indulgent. Yet what I thought about this future place and what I understood about my present home on this sin-scarred earth seemed universes apart. The earth was merely my present home. I did not realize that it was to be my future home as well. I perceived Scripture to teach that heaven is in a far-off place and that this world we live in will one day be abolished, completely destroyed by fire.
But was my understanding in line with what the Bible really teaches?
Is It All Going to Burn?
The apostle Peter devotes a considerable time to the future consummation of redemptive history. Peering down the corridor of time, Peter describes a day of future judgment he along with the Old Testament prophets refer to as the “day of the Lord.” Peter writes, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Pet. 3:10). Many translations of this text emphasize the earth being “burned up.” While this translation can be supported, this particular linguistic rendering tends to project the idea of a fiery judgment of complete annihilation and destruction rather than one of purification and healing.
As he peers into the future, Peter does not see a complete discontinuity with the past as we so often tend to think. He does not suggest an infinite chasm between the old creation and the new creation. Rather, Peter says that the unfolding future will have a significant degree of continuity with the present earth and the heavens. With hopefulness anchored firmly in the promise of God, Peter looks ahead to the future and writes, “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).
Peter’s point is that the present earth and heavens will be purified from the ravaging effects of sin. Like fire and its purifying effect on precious metals such as gold or silver, so too will God’s original creation be purified. The apostle Paul also saw the fire of future judgment through the lens of purification rather than annihilation. Writing to the church at Corinth, Paul applies the imagery of fiery judgment to individual human works done in the name of God. Paul writes, “Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done” (1 Cor. 3:13).
The fiery future judgment of our world, as well as our individual works, seems to suggest there will be a considerable carryover from God’s original creation to his new creation of the new heavens and the new earth. God’s original creation will not be wasted, it will be purified. N. T. Wright emphasizes this continuity between God’s original creation and the new creation. “The transition from the present world to the new one would be a matter not of destruction of the present space-time universe but of its radical healing.”
Radically Healed Work
When we begin to grasp the transforming truth that the future destiny of our work and our world is not complete annihilation but radical healing, it changes how we view our daily work. If we believe that the earth—everything about it and everything we do on it—is simply going to one day be abolished and disappear, then the logical conclusion is that our work is virtually meaningless. Why should we work hard, make a tasty meal, learn a new skill, run a business, write a piece of music, or design a building if everything will one day be consumed by fire? It would make sense to work only enough to survive and to simply get by.
But if our daily work, done for the glory of God and the common good of others, in some way carries over to the new heavens and new earth, then our present work itself is overflowing with immeasurable value and eternal significance.