It wasn’t your intention to send some of your garbage on a tropical vacation. Nevertheless, there it lies, basking in the sun as it floats near Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. In an odd twist, some of its toxic chemicals may wind up back in your home and on your plate, courtesy of the fish that bathed in the same waters.
This is one reason that Dutch inventor Boyan Slat is on a mission to remove the garbage and make the oceans like new again. In late 2019, Slat announced the first major success of his ocean cleanup device. His company plans to take the trash they successfully removed and give it a second life as something that won’t wind up in the ocean. He’ll have plenty of material to work with. Right now, there is enough garbage in the ocean to cover the state of Texas. Twice.
Slat isn’t the only one who is in the business of making old things new.
Genesis 1 and 2 laid the foundation for God’s goal for all of creation. It started with God setting aside a small plot of earth as the hub for an expansion project. Eden was an oasis in the middle of an untamed land. That garden was the place where two human priests reflected God’s character and ways onto earth, and God dwelt among them. When we hold Genesis 1:28 with Genesis 2:15, a picture emerges of these priests expanding the garden, thus reconciling the untamed wilderness to God’s care. Eventually God’s dwelling place would fill the entire earth.
Accordingly, what do we find in the final chapters of the Bible? God’s dwelling place filling the entire earth.
Despite popular teachings of escaping earth to live forever in heaven, helping humanity escape earth has never been God’s mission. Rather, God’s mission has always been for humans to cultivate the entirety of earth into a cosmic palace that is fit for a King. This palace is intended to be aesthetically beautiful, and the community within it will relate to one another in love.
New creation, new humans
God’s mission took a detour when humanity balked. The evidence is still all around us that humans don’t want God to be King over the earth. Rather, we want to run earth our own way. Our way, not God’s, results in hunger, slums, sex trafficking, smog, and garbage-filled oceans. Is it any wonder that “creation groans” (Romans 8:22, NASB)?
Because “God so loved the [cosmos]” — not just humanity — “He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16, NASB). Accordingly, what John invited us to picture in Revelation is a renewed heaven and a renewed earth, all made possible through Jesus. Renewed humans are part of this renewed creation, but we don’t constitute all of it.
Jesus was a new type of human. He reflected God’s care for the world in a way that had never been seen. When you are born again in Jesus, it is another way of saying God is re-creating you in Christ’s image (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:29). Paul put it this way: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
However, Paul continued, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the [cosmos] to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19a).
A huge component of this ministry of reconciliation is helping our fellow humans be reconciled to Christ so that they too can become part of new creation. However, new creation doesn’t end with humanity. We are where it begins.
Rejoining God’s mission
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he wrote of how creation “waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (8:19). Yes, creation has been waiting on you. And on me. Why? Because we subjected creation to decay. But as we reflect God’s care into the world, we also play a role in its renewal.
In yet another letter, Paul explained we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). However, we have been re-created to do not only good works but works “which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
This is covenant language. A covenant is a partnership with God. What has human partnership with God been about from the very beginning? Reflecting God’s character and ways and reconciling the world — and the communities within it — to God’s care.
Living alongside God
Is your congregation or business working to feed hungry people? Pay off debts? Clean up roadsides? Ransom slaves? End gun violence? This isn’t just outreach. This is living alongside God and reflecting His care to reconcile the wastelands of this world to His rule. Through Jesus, we get to invite others to live alongside Him, become part of the new creation, and join in God’s mission.
Like removing garbage from the ocean and transforming it into something beautiful, these spiritual tasks can seem huge and impossible. Even as we do good, the world continues to do evil. Even as Christ cleans up the messes inside us, we find new ways to falter. The good news is God assures us that one day all the remnants of evil on this earth will be gathered up and melted away, while the beauty of the kingdom of God will remain. Then, like a true covenant partner, Christ will finish the work He began — and is continuing to do — in and through us. And His presence will finally fill the entire earth.