On planes I always take a window seat if I can.
I stack my bags, buckle up and focus on the land and cloudscapes unfolding around our jet. Local cotton plains blend into burnt red canyons, and bright shafts of sunlight crisscross powder-blue skies. England’s yellow rapeseed fields become green dales; Jamaica’s grey-blue mountains tower into mist and America’s cobalt waters wash into white-sand coasts.
I’m awed every time. Earth is a beautiful planet. And yet the prophets Isaiah and John tell us of a new earth that surpasses this beauty (Isa. 35; 65; Rev. 21).
As we descend from 30,000 feet and land on tarmac, however, I see more. The beauty that entranced me from the air doesn’t fade, but I also see some shadows with it—evidence of conflict, inequity and abuse against people, creatures and land.
In view of these shadows, the Bible’s new earth teachings can comfort and challenge us. Through them we learn that God will perform a full-service renewal right here on our planet. The prophets’ visions don’t burst with meaning just because they show perfection. They are also meaningful to us because they show us the beauty that we once had, will have again, and with which we are called in Christ to align our hearts today.
Sky pies and daily bread
Jesus sets this challenge in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7). Between the Beatitudes and the house built on rock, He asks us to move from worry-driven daydreaming to trusting, spirited action; from pie-in-the-sky to daily loaves of bread. This attitude shift is not a suggestion. Jesus instructed us to pray for our “daily bread,” and to walk in love with others each day as a testament to our relationship with the Father (Matt. 5:38-48; 6:11).
So each time I read Christ’s teachings, I pull myself from the future into the present. As Jesus teaches us about the coming transformation, what does He challenge about our lives now? Which aspects of the new earth are currently “under construction?" By shifting our approach to today, how can we line up with some of God’s building plans?
The prophets’ visions suggest two aspects of our lives that will be transformed in the new earth: how we understand time and space, and how we relate to nature and each other. Careful attention to these two elements can help us deepen our relationship with God—the timeless Creator and Savior of all (Rev. 21:3, 4). By reconsidering how we treat time, space, nature and other people on this earth, we can show our commitment to the coming reconstruction.
Time and space have governed our lives since God established rhythms, times and seasons to regulate earthly activity (Gen. 1; 2). He “set the bounds of our habitation,” and then prompted us to populate the whole land (Acts 17:26; Gen. 1:28; Isa. 45:18). Through our lifework, we learned to honor finite patterns: day and night, summer and winter, activity and rest. Herders worked with mating and milking cycles, gardeners respect planting and reaping times, and our societies formalized timekeeping through clocks and festivals.
We remain bound by time and space today. In industry and recreation we save or stretch the time we have. Our flushed and sprawling metros force us to be conscious of space as well, and even our worship services have become structured around these two measures. Our dependence on time and space reminds us that we are finite. And this may be why eternity and infinity fascinate us—we hope for what we lack. The Bible said that God has “set eternity in the hearts of men” (Eccl. 3:11, NIV). John also saw that “the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,” along with sun and moon; there was no more dividing sea, and there was joy and gladness forever (Rev. 21:1, 23-25; cf. Isa. 65:17, 18).
How can we understand these images in a world of transience and limits?
The Greek word "kairos," or “the opportune moment,” is one way to approach the new earth’s eternity and openness. Theologians and rhetoricians contrast kairos with chronos, or finite clock-time. For us, kairos describes any situation in which we sense God acting among us purposefully and in appropriate measure. A kairos-sensitive mindset stamps our time-space with God’s signature, and underscores His purposeful authority over time, order, and place.
Throughout our lives, this sense stretches us beyond our own finiteness and connects us with the eternal, infinite God who has drawn us close. We become able to see God working in our world at all times for us and with us. As a result, all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). He is with us “always”; we are His people and He is our God (Matt. 28:20; Rev. 21:3).
But visions of the new earth shouldn’t only suggest a different approach to time and space. They should also suggest a different approach to nature and other people. The Bible tells us that nature groans under the current order and “waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed” (Rom. 8:19, NIV). Thus the prophets describe creation restored to its original glory, balance, and peace: “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox…. ‘They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,’ says the Lord” (Isa. 65:25, NIV; cf. 35:1, 2).
According to Genesis, that harmonious peace among all of earth’s systems existed from the very beginning. Genesis 1 and 2 describe humankind as in charge of creation and as part of it. God built us from the “dust of the ground” and then tasked us to till that ground, designing us to work with nature and in its context (Gen. 2:15). All parts of creation worked in cooperative harmony, because human dominion was not limitless. Nature has cooperated with its human stewards as much as we’ve respected the living networks that comprise it. As we’ve learned since the garden, when we do not respect the order and connections of creation, all of nature suffers—including us.
This same interrelation and responsibility apply to our human networks. The new earth family’s loving productivity and thriving relationships reprove by contrast all destructive human relating (Isa. 65:19-24; Matt. 5:21-48). Jesus unambiguously taught that in loving God we must also love one another. This means we cannot disrespect our siblings without disrespecting our Father (1 John 3:11-18; 4:7-21). In the new earth there is “no more sea”: no more separation between us and God, and none between one human and another. An intimate knowing between God and His people replaces double standards and division of all kinds because all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26-29; Rom. 12; Eph. 4).
A world of beauty without shadows—that’s the world you and I plan to live in. It’s the world that, in Christ, we have committed to building and occupying. He asks us to let our lives serve as bricks for the building. And we can build confidently because His foundation is firm.
This article originally appeared in Adventist World magazine, May 2009.