Selections on New Creation Week 7
Vocation and Calling: Isaiah 60; 65:21-25; Revelation 21:1-5, 22-27
By John Terrill
Former Director, Center for Integrity in Business, Seattle Pacific University
Read this week’s Scripture: Revelation 21:1-5, 22-27
“After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” (Revelation 4:1, NIV)
Begin with the End in Mind
In business and organizational life we often begin by thinking about the end. What do we hope to accomplish? How will the world be different if we’re successful? Developing a vision statement aids in this process by helping an organization imagine its desired future and frame its actions accordingly.
What if, in comparable fashion, our understanding of God’s vision and final plan for the world similarly shaped our lives today? Imagine how different our actions might be if we understood that everything will fully reflect God’s perfect purposes at the end. Eschatology, or the theological study of the world’s and humankind’s destiny, invites us to peek ahead to the final chapter God is writing to restore all that is disfigured, twisted, and broken in our world. Scripture assures us that nothing escapes God’s reconciling work (Colossians 1:15–20). Of course people matter in this equation, but so do culture and the things people create while on earth. [Author’s Note 1]
Points of Continuity and Discontinuity
In this week’s Lectio, we focus on passages in Isaiah (60; 65:21–25) and Revelation (21:1–5, 22–27) that invite us to glimpse the glory and mystery of life beyond this life. [Author’s Note 2] Many theological questions remain on this side of heaven, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV), “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” Yet Isaiah 60, Isaiah 65, Revelation 21, and similar eschatological passages pierce through the fog that obscures our way. And reflecting on our ultimate destiny often leads us to discover something both wonderful and perplexing: there are points of discontinuity between our experience today and what awaits us in God’s recreated order (e.g., no more violence, devastation, mourning, or tears); but there are also important threads of continuity (e.g., culture-making and work that persists). [Author’s Note 3] Both aspects reflect good news, inviting us to reorder our priorities, tasks, and how we engage our vocations in the world today.
Eschatology and its Relationship to our Work and Calling
First, contemplating the final destiny of God’s restorative work in the New Jerusalem [Author’s Note 4] serves as a powerful source of spiritual encouragement, reinforcing our individual and collective hope that all ends well. Not only will each Christ-follower be fully restored — frailties, weaknesses, and hurts all made whole — but creation itself will be healed. A second reason is for vocational encouragement. Glimpses of the new creation reveal that our earthly work matters for eternity. [Author’s Note 5] God has called humanity to fill and steward the earth (Genesis 1:28). [Author’s Note 6] By doing so, our good work also fills the new creation with tangible building blocks for the world to come. Every moment of life carries kingdom potential.
The New Creation through Parable
In business education, case study is a popular and practical teaching tool in which students apply management principles to issues faced by a leader or company. Case analysis encourages good clinical work but doesn’t always lead to personal transformation. We often learn best when we get wrapped up in a story that moves our hearts as well as our minds. [Author’s Note 7] For this reason, consider the following parable of what economists and business types might call a widget — an ordinary thing. The story draws especially from Isaiah 60, Isaiah 65, and Revelation 21, and sheds light on both our work and our culture-making today, and their connections to our final destiny in the heavenly city. The tale is told by…
“Praise.” Please call me “Praise.” I didn’t always have a formal name, but I do now, and I rather like it. My name perfectly fits this place. [Author’s Note 8] I’m neither male nor female, but I’m as real as can be, and as useful and beautiful as a metal object can be. I was crafted with purpose and for a special purpose. And I still have an exceptional role to play, though it’s a bit different than in the past.
I’m made of brass, 6.5 inches long and 1.2 inches wide, with multiple parts — springs, plates, a shaft, and ball bearings — that work together in perfect harmony. My body was forged at 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s 760 degrees Celsius) in a gas-fired furnace. After I had been cooled, trimmed, tempered, and polished, my parts — which came from the far corners of the earth — were assembled with care and precision.
As though it was yesterday, I recall the careful hands that formed me. The craft of those artisans is hundreds of years old, and they were proud of their work — and of me. After some tapping and prodding (what humans call “quality control”), I was on my way. For years, I adorned an elegant fence that was ten feet high and surrounded a stately looking building.
If you have not already guessed, I am a gate latch. I am beautifully and wonderfully made. I am not merely a widget. I was made to fulfill an important role on earth, for I had the privilege of opening doors to friends and visitors, and the responsibility of protecting against intruders. I was crafted with good intentions and for noble purposes. To call me a widget is to cheapen the work that created me and the faithful service that I have given. It is right to respect me on both counts.
Back to my story. For years beyond counting, people turned my sturdy handle to enter my courtyard. I hope you know the simple pleasure of a good job done well, and the deep satisfaction of meaningful work. You may also know the strain that attends responsibility for the well-being of others. I was charged with keeping away unwanted guests. Strangers would pick, rattle, and shake me in the night, looking for a breach. I often dreamt that this aspect of my work would someday cease to exist (Romans 8:19–22 tells us that creation itself cries out for release from sin’s bondage). Through night and day, in snow and in rain, the good work of those who created me enabled me to carry out my tasks.
Late one night, when all was still, a mighty voice pierced the dark. “I am making all things new. […] It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” [Author’s Note 9] And in a split second, the world changed. Everything in it was somehow more real, alive, and brighter. [Author’s Note 10] There were no shadows, and an indescribable glow emanated from everywhere and nowhere, as a new city — the city! — descended from the sky.
I no longer knew if time had ever existed. I felt strength without force, and purpose was as visible as color or shape. The air vibrated with presence. I was laid bare and tested, but not in the way of the artisans’ tests. Upon examination, deposits of delight were detected among my innermost parts, placed there at the time I was made and cultivated through service; a tiny seed of faithfulness I’d forgotten about had grown into a strong and graceful tree. The final test was a measurement of my capacity to contain life and joy. At some point I was back in the furnace in which I was formed. I do not remember pain, only a brilliance illuminating a record of what I had done. [Author’s Note 11] Deeds done with joy, love, or obedience grew clearer as I watched; the others faded away [Author’s Note 12], and it was over. I recognized the landscape before me, but now it was cast in gold, jewels, and pearls, with cypress, juniper, and pine trees lining the streets. This new city was radiant, full of majesty, and pulsing with joy.
I became aware that I was wide open, welcoming others in. My handle was still in its proper place, but the locking mechanism was gone. Looking around, I could see that every gate was swung open. [Author’s Note 13] I saw friends — park benches, street signs, and other worthy objects I’d known before — who were also present. Some were as I’d known them, and others were barely recognizable. [Author’s Note 14]
The sun and moon were no more. The city’s only source of light was the great glow, known freely by all. Steeples no longer dotted the landscape, for the whole city had become a place of worship, service, and work in the very presence of God himself. [Author’s Note 15]
The city bustled with people and activity. A parade like no other — a great homecoming — began as entire nations and their rulers entered in humility and reverence toward the great light. Gone were the arched backs that used to announce strength and power. Former enemies locked arms as friends, intent on their shared interests and work. Rulers who had abused and used others now served the city as faithful stewards.
Commercial activity was everywhere. Great trading ships brought riches for enjoyment and service. The wealth of the seas, of the land, and of the kings of the nations were gathered as a proclamation of worship. Resources, goods, and services were exchanged for God’s good pleasure. The warm glow bathed the city in light.
I think I was most surprised by the nature of work itself. Peering into the city, I could see painters painting, architects designing, farmers planting, and entrepreneurs creating. [Author’s Note 16] And I was still carrying out my own work of welcoming others. But the work was different in that I no longer yearned for more, and could scarcely remember the pains of my previous work. Others also appeared to have discovered a similar joy. No more toiling or unjust taskmasters. Everyone received and enjoyed the full fruit of their efforts. [Author’s Note 17] There’s much more to tell, but words fall short — and there’s joy in unanswered questions. So let me end with this: heaven and earth may be closer than you think. [Author’s Note 18] They may actually touch. [Author’s Note 19]
Our Work in the Restoration of All Things
Our work in the world — not just our church work — has immense intrinsic value. Our daily tasks are steeped in eternal possibility. In fact, when we examine life in the new creation, some of the predominant images are of people working, creating, and serving amidst the rich tapestries of human culture. Our earthly work is vital for what’s to come. As M. Eugene Boring notes, “Every ditch dug, every brick laid, every vote cast, every committee decision that has contributed to the decency of human life is preserved, and built into the eternal city.” [Author’s Note 20]
And yet most Christians think about an ethereal heaven devoid of any material expectation. This leaves the community of faith with a shadowy understanding of God’s restoration work — shalom with a small “s.” “Why polish the brass on a sinking ship?” we may ask. The physical things of this world will not last; all that matters is souls saved. This perspective seriously misreads the grand scale and scope of reconciliation, and inevitably leads to a distorted understanding of God and the Scriptures.
Hear this clearly: people matter. God is the Great Shepherd who pursues the one so that none are lost (see Matthew 18:10–14). We are called to tell God’s story, giving verbal witness in every season and sphere of life (see 2 Timothy 4:2). Yet, Shalom with a capital “S” is much more than evangelistic proclamation. It is living with our imagination wholly stirred to serve as ambassadors for the city that is coming and will fully come (see 2 Corinthians 5:17–20). And we see it in vivid color in the full-scale transformation of the New Jerusalem. Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and justice for the oppressed (see Luke 4:18–19; Isaiah 61:1–2). In the New Jerusalem, Jesus rights every wrong and ushers in an everlasting jubilee. And he invites us into that process today.
Our work in this world, even the most mundane tasks, is ablaze with eternal possibilities. One day we’ll experience the full joy of such work, devoid of the thieving and twisting power of sin. J. R. R. Tolkien’s fictional character Niggle, who works tirelessly on painting his great tree, doesn’t experience the full fruit of his efforts until he is in the other land. Only then does he see that “All the leaves he had ever labored at were there, as he had imagined them rather than as he had made them.” [Author’s Note 21]
Moreover, our work patterns, habits, and vocational choices are preparatory for the kind of activity in which we’ll be engaged in our final city of residence. As Dallas Willard notes, our ultimate destiny is not as heavenly bureaucrats. Rather, “we should think of our destiny as being absorbed in a tremendously creative team effort, with unimaginably splendid leadership, on an inconceivably vast plane of activity, with ever more comprehensive cycles of productivity and enjoyment.” [Author’s Note 22] Jesus Christ is reconciling all things to himself — the things on earth and the things in heaven (Colossians 1:15–20) — and we, as heirs, citizens of the Great City, are called to enter fully into this process today.
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