In my early years, I did not “look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” My acquaintance with the Creeds came late in life. This unfortunate omission was one of many factors in the development of my escapist attitude toward what I thought was an evil earth. Lyrics also shaped my thinking. I grew up singing the old song that says, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” Every Christmas I sang the well-known words of “Away in a Manger”: “and fit us for heaven, to live with thee there.” If heaven is of first importance, why should I care about this third rock from the sun? Another factor in the development of my “escapatology” was the jargon of my childhood denomination. Though I am very grateful for the emphasis we placed on evangelism, I suspect the stress on “soul-winning” contributed to my vision of cosmic evacuation, Christians floating off to heaven as unadorned spirits. Long this idea lingered. Charles Spurgeon once said that he kept his old sermons so he would have something to weep over. Regrettably, I can say the same. Scanning some of my first sermons, preached in my teenage years, I found the following dualistic rejection of physicality: “You do not have a soul. None of you do. You do not have a soul. You are a soul, and you just happen to have a body!” Father, forgive such a broken testimony to our cosmic Redeemer.
Instead of the physical, I valued the spiritual; instead of down here, I wanted up there. This sort of cosmological dualism is common in our churches. N.T. Wright and a handful of others have argued this point at length. Richard Bauckham, in his book, The Bible and Ecology, captures the problem: “So often, in the Christian tradition, we have thought of the non-human creation merely as a stage on which the drama of the history of God and humans is being played out—and a temporary stage, at that, due to be dismantled and removed when the story reaches its final climax. Even worse, so often, in the Christian tradition, we have thought of human embeddedness in nature as a fate from which humans need to be liberated” (145). The widespread confusion over the ultimate hope is, well, confusing, especially since the NT is crystal clear on the matter: God’s people are promised a new type of bodily existence in a physical place. As C.S. Lewis puts it, we will come back to earth, not as floating wraiths, but as solid people who eat fish, cast shadows in the sunlight, and make a noise when we tramp the floor (Miracles). Indeed, we should follow Lewis’ lead in The Great Divorce, imagining bodies that are more solid than our present ones.
Just yesterday I finished reading The Last Battle with my boys, so I’ll leave you with this thought from Lewis. At the end of the book, when the characters inhabit the new Narnia, Lewis offers a number of descriptions of this new creation, descriptions that focus specifically on how it is both different from and similar to the old Narnia. Here’s one of my favorite lines:
The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more … It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right forehoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried: ‘I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this’ (196).
Compared to the old Narnia, the new Narnia is “more like the real thing.” Spot on, Jack. Spot on.