The Westminster Larger Catechism in modern English question number twenty-three:
Q. 23. Into what state did the Fall bring mankind?
A. The Fall brought mankind into a state of sin and misery.
Once upon a time, God destroyed the face of the earth by the waters of a worldwide flood. Some day in the future, God will destroy the face of the earth by raging fires. I know that many Reformed people believe that II Peter 3 compares the literal Flood to a figurative burning that ushers in the new heavens and the new earth. I don’t exactly see why it can’t refer to a literal fire…but it really isn’t that important whether it is literal fire or figurative fire. With that in mind, here are just a few thoughts (and questions) on the matter….
Is it any more difficult to believe that the God who once judged and cleansed the earth by destroying it with water will not once again judge and cleanse the earth–but this time by destroying it with fire? God most certainly shall not discard his creation at the last day because the creation itself has also been redeemed by Christ. Yet, until the end, it remains defiled and under “the bondage of decay” (Romans 8:19-22).
Surely God will purify this earth to the extent that it shall be called “new”–for we are told that a new heavens and a new earth is the inheritance of the saints. The example of God’s dealing with his elect is that when God makes something new, he changes it. My questioning little mind wonders why should we not expect the same thing–change–about the literal earth. (For it is clear that the resurrected saints shall have corporal bodies and dwell in a physical location, i.e. in the redeemed earth.) Of course, change can happen without fire…yes, and God could have executed judgment on the world before the Flood without using water, too…
The earth has already been redeemed by blood, just like the saints, but it remains defiled and under bondage until the end, unlike the saints. We know that nothing unclean can dwell in the presence of God, because he is “a consuming fire”–figurative language for his holiness (Hebrews 12:29). Also, fire, like the water that purged the earth in Noah’s day, can have the connotation of purifying or cleansing, burning away unholy things.
When the wicked are gathered and the dead are raised, why should we not expect this vast graveyard that is the earth to be purified by fire? Peter is clearly comparing the Flood to something greater that shall happen in the future in order to urge us on to obedience–because the future is why today matters.
Anyways, whether we expect a literal or a figurative burning up of the world and the things in it to prepare it for eternity, this remains true: “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (II Peter 3:13).
God can change and make the earth new. And he will do just that, because he is faithful and will complete the redemption of the earth, freeing it forever from the bondage to which it was subjected due to the iniquity of mankind.
Westminster Larger Catechism in modern English question number twenty-two:
Q. 22. Did all mankind fall in that first transgression?
A. Since the covenant was made with Adam as a public person, not for himself only, but also for his posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation sinned in him and thus fell from innocence with him in that first transgression.
Westminster Larger Catechism in modern English question number twenty-one:
Q. 21. Did mankind continue in the state in which God created them?
A. Since our first parents were left to the freedom of their own wills, they transgressed the commandment of God, through the temptation of Satan, by eating the forbidden fruit; and thus they fell from the state of innocence in which they were created.
A Christian’s life is like that–naturally supernatural.
Peter found that out one memorable night. After watching five loaves of ordinary bread and two fish become enough for over 5000 people, he saw his Master walking on rough seas. Hearing Jesus bid them to take heart and not be afraid, Peter asks for confirmation. So Jesus calls him and Peter steps out into a perilous situation and begins to go to him. It was only by the power of God working against natural forces that Peter keep his feet for a short way, until, seeing the power of the elements, his heart quailed. Then God allowed him to begin to succumb to the natural forces of gravity, wind, and water. In reply to Peter’s cry of faith, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately lifted him up and restored him to more normal circumstances, bringing him into the boat with the others. But even there, Peter was just as dependent upon God to uphold him as he was when he was standing on the surface of the Sea of Galilee. (You can see the whole story in Matthew 14:13-33.)
This reminds me of Jesus’ very simple reply to the Pharisees on one occasion: Is it easier to forgive this man’s sins or to cause him to walk? Both require the power of God working outside of and against natural forces. (Matthew 9:1-7)
God does not need natural forces to keep us alive. Indeed, we are kept in existance by the word of his power every second–regardless of outward circumstances. It doesn’t matter what our situations are–it doesn’t matter if we are literally or figuratively stuck between a rock and a hard place–God keeps us. Even as our very coming to life in salvation is dependent upon the direct activity of the Spirit, so is every detail of our daily existence. Everything is in his hands–why is it so difficult for us to really believe that God is doing something supernatural in our lives? Is it because we are all autonomous empiricists at heart? That self-sufficient pride is the root of our fear, as it was of Peter’s, to trust our Father and God who is already doing so much for us.
But the same power that raised Christ from the dead is the power that is now at work in us. (Ephesians 1:19-20) Let us not forget this. We need not fear anything in life because the same God who worked against nature to enable Peter walk on the water and then saved him when he doubted is the same God who has called us. For his name’s sake, he will preserve us and save us with that same power with which he raised up our Lord from the dead.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Westminster Larger Catechism in modern English question number twenty:
Q. 20. What was the providence of God concerning mankind in the state in which they were created?
A. The providence of God concerning mankind in the state in which they were created was this: He put the first man in paradise, appointing him to care for it, giving him liberty to eat of the fruit of the earth, putting the creatures under his dominion, ordaining marriage for his help, granting him communion with Himself, instituting the Sabbath, entering into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, of which the Tree of Life was a pledge, and forbidding him to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil upon the pain of death.
Westminster Larger Catechism in modern English question number nineteen:
Q. 19. What is God’s providence concerning angels?
A. By His providence, God permitted some of the angels to willfully and irrecoverably fall into sin and damnation, His decree limiting and ordering that fall and all their sins to His own glory and establishing the rest in holiness and happiness. By His providence, He employs them all at His pleasure in the administrations of His power, mercy, and justice.
Westminster Larger Catechism in modern English question number eighteen:
Q. 18. What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful acts of preserving and governing all His creatures, by which He orders them and all their actions to His own glory.
All men are sinners, guilty before God and sentenced to eternal death, including you.
God has sent a righteous Mediator, Christ Jesus, to bring some into eternal life.
Christ has completely fulfilled the justice of God, which is revealed by his rising again and demonstrating that he could not be bound by death.
Christ Jesus the righteous is Lord of all things right now, having ascended to the right hand of the Father.
His Kingdom is a kingdom of righteousness, but you are still a sinner in rebellion against the Lord of all that is.
So, what will you do?
Will you continue to ignore his authority and run from reality–or will you repent and believe him?
Westminster Larger Catechism in modern English question number seventeen:
Q. 17. How did God create people?
A. After God had made all other creatures, He created mankind male and female. He formed the body of the man out of dirt of the earth and the woman out of the rib of the man. He endued them with living, rational, and immortal souls. He made them after His own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, having the law of God written in their hearts, ability to obey it, and dominion over the creatures; yet they were able to fall from that state of righteousness.