Part Six: ARE THERE HINTS OF HEAVEN IN NATURE?
In last week’s blog we saw that the eschatological “New Earth” (Heaven) will surpass the Garden of Eden in wonder, grandeur, and beauty. In this week blog—the last of this six part series—we’ll see that God has given hints of what the New Earth may look line in nature.
God in the Wilderness
Most Christians familiar with Scriptures already know that God has revealed some of his essential divine attributes in creation (e.g. Romans 1: 19-20). This truth has long captured the imaginations and stirred the creative geniuses of artists, poets, and wilderness sojourners. Poets such as William Wordsworth, transcendentalists such as Henry David Thoreau, wilderness wanderers such as John Muir, Christian writers such as Philip Yancey, Annie Dillard, and John Eldredge, and theologians such as Alister McGrath have all sought to capture the spiritual dimension of nature.
There is a reason for this. God has graciously given the human race hints of Eden in nature—and therefore insight into what eschatological New Earth (Heaven) may look like. Although predators and poisonous snakes and stinging insects dwell in today’s wilderness, the ecological harmony and beauty of nature still show a remnant of the peace and tranquility of Eden—and the presence of our Creator.
Hints of a Future “Eden” in Creation
Wild nature is a privileged peek—like the tailor to a movie—into a future paradise awaiting God’s people, a place with all the joy and peace and unspoiled beauty of Eden. In God’s timing the wilderness—indeed, all of creation—will be transformed (Romans 8: 19-23), and the dim memory of Eden planted in the recesses of our minds will someday become a living reality. “We must see nature,” Oxford scholar Alister McGrath teaches, “as a continual reminder and symbol of a future renewed creation, a world that we do not yet know but believe to lie over the horizons of our human existence. It is as if we are homesick for a lost Eden, longing for a fulfillment that we know lies ahead of us but have not yet found. . . . We must learn to see the present beauty of nature as a sign and a promise of the coming glory of God, its creator.” (The Reenchantment of Nature, 183-184)
The idea of nature as a precursor or foretaste of Heaven is a concept McGrath reflects on in several of his books. In A Brief History of Heaven he writes: “For writers such as Augustine and Lewis, the memory of Eden lingers, haunting humanity with its longing to regain entrance to this forbidden realm. Nature itself becomes a parable, charged with a divinely imbued potential to recreate the memory of Eden, and make us long to return to its now-deserted meadows.” (78) And in Glimpsing the Face of God:
We appreciate the beauty of a glorious sunset, while wondering if the sense of beauty it awakens within us is somehow a pointer to another and more wonderful world that we have yet to discover . . . .
What if nature is studded with clues to our true meaning and destiny, and fingerprinted with the presence of God . . . ?
We possess a sense of longing for something that seems to lie beyond the created order, yet is somehow signposted by the creation. (9, 13, 112)
The wonderful, magnificent, breathtaking good news is that at the end of this age Jesus will return to gather His people to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. But there is also a tragic side to this. The future New Earth is reserved only for people who have received Jesus Christ as God’s acceptable substitute for their sins and rebellion against Him. Jesus said in John 3:17 that God did not send Him into world to condemn it, but to save it. But then He adds this somber warning: People who do not believe in Him already “stand condemned.” Why? Because they have rejected Jesus (18).
Everyone has the opportunity to spend eternity in the Peaceable Kingdom—Heaven. But everyone must first make a decision. As in the conclusion of Robert Frost’s memorable poem,
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
For people who choose the road to Jesus Christ, it will make all the difference. They are guaranteed eternity in a New Earth far more wonderful than anything we can possibly imagine in this world. Our redeemed friends and family—and yes our pets and wild animals—will be waiting there to greet us. ©
Today’s blog ends this six week series. As I’ve pointed out, this series has been adapted from my book, Will Dogs Chase Cats in Heaven?: People, Pets, and wild Animals in the Afterlife. For a more in depth study of this and other related topics, I hope you’ll consider reading my book.