When I started writing a story a few years ago, I didn’t know everything I would be writing about. As the characters evolved, I realized I shared the hope of my protagonist. Subliminally, a personal desire became the main theme — a longing for restoration.
I had been writing about the thing I wanted to happen to me. Ultimately, this is a desire we all share. Everyone wishes that things could go back to the way they used to be, whether it be in relation to our childhood, a friendship, or a show that jumped the shark after a few seasons. Our wish isn’t simply for things to be good again, but for them to be whole again, for them to be as they were supposed to be. Often, it’s nostalgia that triggers in us a longing for things to return to their former glory. Whether it be a momentary desire or a long-term fantasy, everybody wants restoration of some kind.
In a sermon I recently heard by Jon Tyson from Trinity Grace Church in New York, he talked about a Bon Iver concert he attended not too long ago. In the middle of the show, Justin Vernon gave a short talk on how he believed a lot of the world’s problems can be traced back to the church’s focus on heaven instead of on earth. He was saying that the church shouldn’t put so much energy into the future if they don’t put any care into the day-to-day, and that it’s a major reason our society isn’t well.
While many criticize religion for focusing too heavily on what is ahead and not what is ongoing, Tyson pointed out that Vernon’s desire for earth’s renewal is a Biblical desire. It isn’t an idea that was originally proposed by humanitarian movements, but a promise declared in scripture. As Tyson stated, the Bible begins on earth in Genesis when sin first came into the world, and ends on earth in Revelation when sin is finally cast out of the world. The renewal of creation is at the core of the gospel. It’s why Christ came to die on the cross and it’s why He will come again.
Clearly, this desire for the world’s restoration isn’t just a Christian desire, but a human one. We all know this life isn’t the way it should be. Instead of peace, there’s conflict. Instead of justice, there’s corruption. Instead of joy, there’s unrest.
“The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men 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. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”
-C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I don’t quote Lewis to excuse being kind or charitable, but to give reason to why we ought to be. As believers, the heavenward mindset we have shouldn’t be used as justification for us to sit back and wait for the Lord’s will to be done. Instead, it should lead us to partake in His will. Since we’ve experienced the presence of Christ and know that one day we’ll experience His full presence, we have an endless joy and peace worth expressing in everyday interactions.
Around this time last January, I started to consider going to a different church than the one I grew up in. As I thought about the kind of church I saw a future with, I noticed that many younger churches emphasize something that older churches seem to more or less disregard. Plenty of contemporary churches apply a phrase from the Lord’s prayer, “on earth as it is in heaven” as a tagline of sorts. Some replace “earth” with where they’re located like, “in Los Angeles as it is in heaven.” The verse is Matthew 6:10, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
By using it as a mission statement, churches put emphasis on God’s plan of renewal while also directing focus on the church body. The Lord has given us the purpose of living out His will so that Christ’s name would be glorified through our actions. His will is to be done through us.
“We are best employed when we are actually doing something for this fallen world, and for the glory of our Lord. ‘Thy will be done’: we must come to actual works of faith and labors of love. Too often we are satisfied with having approved of that will, or with having spoken of it in words of commendation. But we must not stay in thought, resolve, or word; the prayer is practical and business-like, ‘Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven’… Many might wish that to think and to speak were to do the will of God; for them they would have effected it very thoroughly.”
-Charles Spurgeon, a sermon titled “A Heavenly Pattern For Our Earthly Life” (April 30, 1884)
It’s easy to forget that it’s by acting according to His will that we can begin to grasp His will to come. Although we’ve known a spiritual renewal through faith and repentance, it’s often difficult living in a culture that tends to be bent against God to imagine the future reality of a new heaven and a new earth in which God is at the center. In times when things are increasingly regressing instead of progressing, I return to this passage to remember what lies ahead:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”
When a story introduces a conflict, it tends to be an indicator that there’ll eventually be a resolution. In the story I referenced writing at the beginning of this entry, my main character longed for renewal and likewise, his desire was fulfilled by the end.
Since the Bible is a story of restoration, we can also say it is about God’s promise of restoration, and He is a God who keeps His promises. Reconciliation to our Creator has been foretold since the fall of man in Genesis. The one who has tried to condemn us will eventually be condemned, and those enslaved by sin will be liberated from it.
“‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.’ It was so once. Perfect obedience to the heavenly upon this earth will only be a return to the good old times which ended at the gate of Eden. There was a day when no gulf was digged between earth and heaven; there was scarce a boundary line, for the God of heaven walked in Paradise with Adam. All things on earth were then pure, and true, and happy. It was the garden of the Lord. Alas, that the trail of the serpent has now defiled everything… Those who desire to set up the kingdom of God are not instituting a new order of things; they are restoring, not inventing. Earth will drop into the old groove again. The Lord is king: and he has never left the throne. As it was in the beginning so shall it be yet again. History shall, in the divinest sense, repeat itself. The temple of the Lord shall be among men, and the Lord God shall dwell among them.”
-Charles Spurgeon, A Heavenly Pattern For Our Earthly Life
When Christ was crucified, people wept because they thought God’s mission to redeem them from their sin had failed. Many even assumed their messiah had been proven a fraud. But it was through what seemed to be the ending of all hope that He gave us everlasting hope. This is how our Lord works. When Christ rose from the grave, God’s will for us was revealed in a way it had never been before. The cross is no longer recognized as an ancient death sentence, but a reminder of eternal joy.
As matters in our world get worse, we can take comfort in knowing that we aren’t approaching an end, but a new beginning. What was previously a sign of death is now a sign of life. Where there was once reason to dread, we now have reason to anticipate.
Everything that has been lost is being called back to Him.