If we are going to fully embrace the work God has called us to do, then we will need to say goodbye to what Paul Marshall aptly describes as “lifeboat theology.” Lifeboat theology views this world as if it were the Titanic. God’s good world has hit the iceberg of sin and is irrevocably doomed. There is nothing much left for us to do. It is time to abandon ship and get as many people in as many lifeboats as we can.
In this theological perspective, God’s lifeboat plan of redemption is concerned only with the survival of his people. However noble and well-meaning our efforts to salvage God’s creation may be, at the end of the day, our work on this doomed earth only amounts to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
But God is deeply concerned with the crown of his fallen creation and has initiated a glorious plan of redemption through his Son Jesus. He has not abandoned this world.
Toward an Ark Theology
Paul Marshall wisely calls us to abandon a lifeboat theology for what he refers to as an ark theology. The Genesis writer tells of humankind’s deep dark plunge into sin. The corruption of God’s good creation and the wickedness of sin were so unimaginably horrific that God seriously considered wiping out his creation. In Genesis 6 we read, “So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them” (Gen. 6:7). But rather than annihilating what he had made and starting completely over, God extends gracious favor to a man named Noah. God makes a covenant with Noah and commissions him to build an ark. Rather than blotting out all of creation, Noah and his family and a host of living creatures are rescued and preserved in the ark from the destruction of the flood. God remains committed to restore the earth and to continue on with his original creation. After Noah exits the ark, God makes a covenant with him, promising to never destroy the earth with a flood again.
The story of Noah and the ark reminds us that God has not given up on his good world, even though it has been ravaged by sin and death. In a burst of rapturous praise, the psalmist in Psalm 24 declares that the whole earth, and everything in it, belongs to the Lord. God still loves his world. A glorious future awaits the earth.
Not Unmaking, but Remaking
The fallen world we now inhabit is still our Father’s world. C. S. Lewis speaks of God’s new creation as not unmaking but remaking. He writes:
The old field of space, time, matter, and the senses is to be weeded, dug, and sown for a new crop. We may be tired of that old field: God is not. . . . We live amid all the anomalies, inconveniences, hopes, and excitements of a house that is being rebuilt. Something is being pulled down and something going up in its place.
Does your daily work reflect that you and your work are a part of God’s new-creation redemptive rebuilding project? Do you grasp this world’s future destiny, and have you thought about your important place in it?
Much of our daily work is caring for our Father’s world and those who call it home. We make things. We fix things. We care for things. We serve others. What you do here is not a waste. The skills and abilities you are developing now in your workplace will not be wasted; they will be used and further developed in the future work God has for you to do in the new heavens and new earth. Your time here in our Father’s fallen world is preparation for an eternity of activity and creativity in the new heavens and new earth. Your work matters not only now but also for the future.
Continuity and Discontinuity
John’s vision of our future home reveals both a real continuity with our present home as well as a good deal of discontinuity. John describes a new earthly city that “comes down” out of heaven. He gives us the name of the city, the New Jerusalem. Throughout Revelation 21, John’s language brings with it a earthly continuity. For example, the New Jerusalem is built with walls and gates utilizing “earthly” precious metals such as gold, jasper, and pearls.
Yet while this future new home has a kind of earthiness, it is also different from our present home. There is delightful and mysterious discontinuity. This new earthly home will be a place where there will be no more tears, death, crying, or pain. As God was with Adam and Eve in the garden before their rebellion against him, now God will be with his redeemed people in New Jerusalem. John describes the dazzling beauty of this new earth city whose light is not the sun but God himself. John writes, “And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5).
Our Work Is Not a Waste
If we are going to do God-honoring work, if we are going to be a faithful presence in our workplaces, then we must grasp in a compelling way that our present work fits into the future that awaits us. So often I hear from well-meaning people in the marketplace that their daily work seems so boring or to be such a waste of time. I am not minimizing the seemingly inefficient and mundane aspects that can be part of our work. Every job has a host of tasks that don’t really excite us or unleash our creative energies. But if we will look at our work through the lens of Holy Scripture, our work, no matter what we have been called to do, is imbued with great meaning and significance.
A robust theology of work both now and in the future brings fresh perspective to our lives. Our vocational callings become rich with meaning. Our attitude toward work is transformed. A new creativity and diligence emerges. A sense of anticipation of a glorious future in the new heavens and new earth fills our souls. Tim Keller breathes hopeful wind into our sails when he writes:
At the end of history the whole earth has become the Garden of God again. Death and decay and suffering are gone. . . . Jesus will make the world our perfect home again. We will no longer be living “east of Eden,” always wandering and never arriving. We will come, and the father will meet us and embrace us, and we will be brought into the feast.
Hear from 83 speakers in 49 workshops when you register for “Coming Home: New Heaven & New Earth,” The Gospel Coalition 2015 National Conference, April 13 to 15 in Orlando.
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.
Editors' note: 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.