No Turning Back
Does it get any better than this?Wednesday 13 February 2019 by Ad Taylor-Weekes
It’s common for Christians to talk about heaven in terms of "Eden restored." This is understandable, given that the Bible begins and ends in a garden, and that the garden in Revelation is largely styled on the garden in Eden, as recorded in Genesis. However, the main idea of this book is that the life to come is so much more than a return to Eden. It’s going to be Even Better than Eden. In the book, Nancy Guthrie takes 9 themes found in Genesis 1 and 2 and traces them through the Bible showing, ultimately, how they will be fulfilled in the life to come. But, more than that, and as the subtitle says, it shows us, “9 ways the Bible’s story changes everything about your story.” These are themes that find their partial fulfilment even now, today, in this present age in which we live, in anticipation of the life to come.
One thing that clearly comes through in this book is that these are no mere theological truths, but are, as all true theology is, deeply practical. In writing, Nancy shares some of her own story, and how these truths have sustained her and given her perspective to persevere in the hardest of times.
The 9 themes are: the wilderness, the tree, His image, clothing, the Bridegroom, the Sabbath, offspring, dwelling place and city.
Nancy writes this book leaning heavily on the scholarly work of some well-known theologians (she acknowledges the following: Greg Beale, J.V.Fesko, Ligon Duncan, Michael Horton and Lane Tipton). She takes their work and places it into the arena of everyday life. In that way, it’s a great example of showing the implications in reality of the work done in the seminary. On the other hand, there is a particular telling of the creation story which will sound new to some readers, I think.
The story goes that what we see in Eden, prior to the fall, in Genesis 1 and 2 was a probationary period for Adam and Eve after which, if they obeyed, they would gain something better. As I read somewhere recently, eschatology precedes soteriology: which is to say that before there was ever a need for salvation, there was a future consummation of God’s plans that was not attained merely by creation. In the words of Geerhardus Vos (quoted in the end notes to the introduction), “There is an absolute end posited for the universe before and apart from sin. The universe, as created, was only a beginning, the meaning of which was not perpetuation, but attainment...The goal was not comparative (i.e. evolution); it was superlative (i.e. the final goal). This goal was not only previous to sin, but irrespective of sin.”
If these things are new to us, the end notes are great at pointing us where to read further. I can personally recommend T.D. Alexander’s book From Eden to New Jerusalem and on my reading list is Greg Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology.
Will we be naked in heaven?
This might be a question you’ve either been asked by a child or even asked yourself. Perhaps some of us would feel compelled to answer, “I guess so”, whilst secretly hoping it isn’t true! Perhaps others of us try to get the images out of our heads! In which case I’m sorry to have planted them there!
In Guthrie’s book the answer is an emphatic, “No!” However, it’s not based on an aversion to imagining everyone walking around with no clothes on, but rather on theological conviction. She writes: “We might think of being naked and unashamed as wonderfully freeing, but by stating that Adam and Eve were naked, it’s as if Moses intended to prompt some questions in the minds of his readers – not so much whether Adam and Eve would be clothed, but how and when they would be clothed.”
And: “…Adam and Eve were meant to rule as royalty over the kingdom of Eden. They were also to serve as priests in the cosmic temple of Eden. Had they passed the test of the tree, God would have clothed them in garments appropriate for this priestly duty.”
The rest of the chapter, then, traces the theme of clothing through the Bible under the following headings: the possibility of being clothed (Genesis), the preview of being clothed (priesthood), the promise of being clothed (Isaiah), the priest who was stripped of clothes (Jesus), the process of becoming clothed (Colossians) and the anticipation of being further clothed (2 Corinthians 5:1-4).
She ends the chapter in this way: “My friends, our future is not a return to the nakedness of the garden of Eden. Instead, Christ has made it possible for all who are joined to him to be clothed with immortality. We’ll be holy through and through, so glorious we’ll need new eyes to be to look at each other. We’re going to be so, so beautiful – beautiful like Jesus. When the man of heaven, the glorious risen Christ, returns to this earth, we’re going to be wearing the same thing he’s wearing. And we won’t be embarrassed by it. We’ll glory in it. and until then we sing:
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.”
Regardless of whether you are convinved by this way of telling the Creation story, the book is very heart-warming and encouraging as it sets our hearts on the life to come whilst strengthening us to live that life in part, now.
You can hear Nancy discussing her book with the members of the Mortification of Spin podcast team here.