Monday, May 3, 2010
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Then the One seated on the throne spoke – see I am making all things new. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of life.”
Last year I received an envelope in the mail that said “don’t miss out on a once in a lifetime opportunity.” And upon opening the letter this is what I read. “Congratulations John, you’re invited to discover more.” The letter was from a credit card company. It seems I had pre-qualified for a Discover Card with a credit limit twice my annual salary at an interest rate four times my age. I declined their offer but I appreciate their marketing skills. Why? Because they’re tapping into the deepest desire of the human heart. We are desperate to discover “more.”
Now, I know that you know what I’m talking about. Even the most carefree among us still get that feeling from time to time that our world is supposed to be different, even if we are incredibly blessed. Yes we have friends and family and perhaps even meaningful work. Yes we live in a country where there’s freedom of religion and freedom of speech. And yet, we don’t always feel free. We get this inner gnawing every now and again that tells us this world isn’t quite our home and because of that we thirst for something more.
And anything can spark this thirst, this profound sense that things aren’t exactly right. We get in a fight with our best friend. Someone we love dies. We get sick or get anxious or we don’t measure up to what other people expect. We turn on CNN and find war and famine and hurricanes and disease. Anything can spark this deep desire of our heart, this inner gnawing that thirsts for more – something more for ourselves and something more for our world.
What’s amazing is that we’re born with this thirst. NT Wright points out that the most frequently repeated mantra among children is: “that’s not fair.” We’re born with the ability to know what’s fair and what’s not. Nobody has to teach it to us. A desire for justice is embedded in our DNA. We all grow up wanting to make the world a better place. Why? Because we intuitively sense that we were made for something more.
And so we start asking questions. Will the world always be this way? Will it be rescued? Will we be rescued?
In today’s reading from Revelation, we see the fullness of our Christian hope. We see a definitive answer to those questions. We see that a glorious future awaits our world – that this earth will one day be a place where death is abolished, where mourning and crying and pain are gone, where God will make His home with us as He wipes away our tears. The vision from today’s reading is clear. “Things will not always be this way. Our world will be rescued. We will be rescued.”
Now, I know that this traditional Christian hope isn’t always easy in our world. It can be hard to believe that death will be abolished, that relationships will be restored, and that Jesus will wipe away our tears. After all, our modern world denies what isn’t seen and rules out what can’t be proved. We’ve all been told, “if it seems too good to be true it probably is.” And yet, we find ourselves unable to silence our thirst or satiate our thirst because we want something more. And so while maintaining hope in a restored world is hard, not hoping – well, that’s even harder, because we know in our hearts that this world isn’t our home. We thirst for something more.
According to CS Lewis, our thirst for “something more” tells us something profound about why we exist. This is what he writes in Mere Christianity. “We are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A ducking wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. People feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
What CS Lewis is claiming, quite simply, is that the reason we feel estranged in this world is because this world – at least in it’s present form – isn’t our home. We want something more because we exist for something more. Staking our lives on this belief – that something more is coming and that it’s the basis for our existence – that is the essence of Christian hope.
So let’s get practical for a second here. What should we do with today’s reading – with the classic, Biblical hope that a glorious future awaits our world? Well, I think we have two options. We can either abandon our hope. Or we can anticipate our hope. We can abandon our hope or anticipate our hope – but we cannot do both.
On the one hand, we can abandon our hope. Now, I’m not talking about pulling a doubting Thomas and refusing to believe in the new heavens and new earth. That’s not our great danger. Our great danger is that we’ll say we believe in God’s restored world, but will then try and find our life and our meaning and our purpose and our mission and our identity in this world – the world that Revelation tells us is “passing away.” I take for granted that our thirst for “something more” is the deepest desire of our heart and that each one of us in our own way has embarked on a quest to satiate that thirst. The question we need to consider is, in what wells are we looking? In other words, around who or what are we building an identity? Our bank account? Our job? Our appearance? Our reputation? A relationship? Is there anything in our life that, if taken away, would completely undo us? Are we building a foundation that is passing away? If we are, then we have abandoned our hope.
But there’s another way – a much more joyful and fulfilling way. We can anticipate our hope. The word anticipate means to realize something ahead of time – it means thinking, speaking, and acting a certain way now to prepare for what’s coming. For example, if I’m wearing a raincoat when the sun’s shining because I’m anticipating that it’s going to rain, what that means is that I’m dressing now in a way that’s appropriate for the future so that when the rain comes I’ll be ready. Our Christian hope says that the rain – it’s on its way. A day will come when God’s truth and mercy and grace and justice and love will fall like rain and flood this earth, and on that day our true home – the one we were made for – will be established forever. Anticipating that hope means dressing now to prepare for that great event so that when the rain comes it’ll actually feel refreshing.
And so anticipation requires action. That is, after all, why hope is a virtue. Like faith and love, hope costs us something. Looking to God’s future isn’t a form of escapism or wishful thinking. No, authentic hope is about God’s future breaking into our present lives. It comes from an understanding that this old, broken creation – this place of tears and death and mourning and crying and pain – it’s already in the process of passing away. In Jesus, God’s restored future is already breaking in. Hope is about acting now to anticipate God’s future – not in order to make it happen, but because it’s already starting to happen.
I have to say, one of the greatest ironies of human history is that the people who did the most for this world were the ones who thought most of the next; like William Wilberforce, whose anticipation of God’s future made him work to abolish the slave trade; and the apostles, whose hope in God’s future led to the conversion of the Roman Empire; and Jesus, who as Hebrews tells us, “endured the cross and it’s shame for the sake of the joy that was before him.”
Are you beginning to see why the invitation to follow Jesus is a once in a lifetime opportunity? Because He knows how deeply we thirst for something more than this world can give. And so listen again to what Jesus says in today’s reading – “to the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of life.”
And so let me end by saying this. A glorious future awaits our world and in that world we will find our home, the very reason we exist. The good news of the Gospel is that this future world is already breaking into this one. And so let me add, “congratulations!” – because you’re all invited to discover more.