“And it shall be said, ‘Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.’ For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.'” ~Isaiah 57:14-15
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.
“O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old; you with your own hand drove out the nations, but them you planted; you afflicted the peoples, but them you set free; for not by their own sword did they win the land, not did their own arm save them, but your right hand and your arm, and the light of your face, for you delighted in them.” Psalm 44:1-3 (ESV)
Stories from our fathers–the grist and gist of history–should not readily be forgotten by Christians. For the stories from our Christian forefathers are full of the work that God has done for his people…and that is what caught my attention this morning….
Not by their own sword have the people of God been freed over and over again. Time after time, God had saved his church by seemingly impossible coincidences of events. Why? The Psalm says it was because he delighted in them.
God delights in us? In us? This far-too-often squabbling motley multitude made up from all backgrounds, from all continents, from every imaginable error…(kind of like our little church…but we don’t often squabble–we debate…). The wonderous thing is that GOD–the Sovereign of the universe–delights in us enough to put forth his powerful arm and save us by his own providence….
Yes, he does. But not for our sakes. He delights in us and saves us for his name’s sake. Not because we deserve his protection. Not because the collective merit of the people of God have built up enough to somehow obligate God to save and plant the church. Not because the congregation of the saints is beautiful to him in itself, for we are a struggling mass of humanity, constantly finding ourselves lured away from the love and fear of the holiness of God by the flitting lusts of the world.
Yes, God delights in his church, in us, in individual believers, for his name’s sake. We were given to Christ by covenant–we have become, coporately, the body of Christ. He delights in us because we, as the people of God, are under his name, under the covering of the Triune God of Scripture–we are HIS. Therefore, he extends his special care and providence over the church, all the way from Adam up to the millions of believers that now tread upon this fallen creation. His beauty is poured out on the church–his holiness covers her blemishes.
Yes, he delights in us because we are being comformed more and more unto the image of his Son, into the likeness of Christ Jesus, our Head. And we should want this. We should want to be continuing in sanctification that God would delight in us. By the Spirit of God within us, we are also enabled to delight in him, to trust in him to save us, to work for us, to deliver us, for his name’s sake. We do not need to look to our own plans as the way of salvation. God has clearly shown us in Scripture and in the events our lives that our own arm cannot and will not save us. We may plan prudently or foolishly, but it is the work of the Father–the Father who delights in us–that is accomplished.
A nearby Psalm contains this thought, also. Lest I wax even more loquacious than usual, this shall be my conculsion–I shall avoid all temptation to mention the many things that could yet be said from these beautiful passages…
“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!” Psalm 57:1-3 (ESV)