A few months ago, I had an interesting discussion with my Twitter friend @TheDish13 (Ty Dishman). In conversation was the relatively new song “Where I Belong” by Building 429. The sentiment of the song is that we are not ever really comfortable in this world. We know we belong somewhere else. The line that bothered Ty that day was “Take this world and give me Jesus.” He very cleverly amended the song “Take this world and give it Jesus.”
Ty–and Ty is certainly welcome to come on here and speak for himself–had been influenced by N.T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope, in which Wright takes to task the idea that God is annihilating this world and the next world (heaven) will have no connection to this one. This leads to an escapist mentality for the Christian. Instead of engaging this world, the Christian sees it as one big future bonfire, but we get to “fly away.” Or as we sing in another song, “This world is not my home, I am just a passing through.”
I defended Building 429’s song, but not because I disagreed with Ty’s concerns or N.T. Wright’s criticism of a heaven totally other than this present creation. I actually find those concerns to be very valid. As I read Scripture, I do not get the impression that God is abandoning this creation to destruction. Oh, he intends to destroy it (cf. 2 Pet. 3:3ff), but the purpose is not annihilation, rather renewal. Peter gives the flood in Noah’s day as the type for the ultimate judgment (anti-type). Yet, even in that destruction the earth was not replaced, but renewed.
Scripture’s clearest passage in describing the renewal of this creation is found in Rom. 8, especially in verse 21, “that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Maybe Peter’s writing on the future of our world is a little ambiguous, but not so with Paul! He clearly looks for creation to be liberated so that it might share the same fate as the children of God. So, why did I defend the song?
I did so because there is a tension in Scripture that accords well with the emphasis of that song. This world, as we know it, is not our home. Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon wrote a book, based mostly on 1 Peter called Resident Aliens, in which they argue persuasively that we are not citizens of this present world order.
It is the book of Hebrews that I believe most ostentatiously reminds us Christians not to be too at home in this world. In chapter eleven, the famous “hall of the faithful,” the believing saints of the past had endured specifically because they were “longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”(11:16).
In his epistles, John warns that we cannot love the world and say we have the love of the Father in us (1 Jn. 2:15). In 1 John, the “world” is decidedly negative, because the world with its desires and lusts is a competing loyalty to God. “World” is not always negative in Scripture, but in 1 John it is the domain of Satan (5:19) and is something to be overcome through Jesus (5:4).
Yes, it is true that the people of God need to have a vision for the renewal of creation at the end of time, and this has practical implications for how we live today. We do not live by a “scorched earth policy.” We care about the environment. We value this creation just like we value our earthly bodies; for they will be raised, and this creation will be redeemed and renewed!
On the other hand, we are pilgrims here. Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). We are on our way to a better country and to a city prepared for us by God. Yes, I believe the Bible teaches that this “better country” and “new heaven and new earth” will be related to this creation, but we must set our sights on something better than this present world. We live with eschatological anticipation.
When we say “take this world and give me Jesus,” it is a confession that we have rejected the world and its kingdoms and embraced Jesus and his Kingdom. When we say “take this world and give it Jesus,” we, too, speak truth. For we have not given up on this world, because God has not. In each dark corner of this world that is invaded by Kingdom light a little more of this creation is made ready for renewal on that great and glorious day when our Lord shall return.
Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.