When God Sets Sunsets Free

Imagining the World to Come

We often think of creation — forests and oceans, tornados and earthquakes, lions, tigers, and bears — as wild and untamed compared with normal life. And we’re not wrong. When God placed Adam into the world he had made, even before that world fell into disorder through sin, he charged the man “to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Part of how humanity images God, then, is by bringing purpose and order to a feral world.

Look closer, however, or perhaps deeper, and we see that creation is not as wild as we typically imagine. Through the fall, Paul tells us, “the creation was subjected to futility” and suffers in “bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:20–21). It’s unfenced and yet now enslaved. It’s untamed and yet trapped. The wonders God has made are held back and smothered by sin. Even the deepest, most dangerous oceans are anchored and weighed down by the curse. Even the strongest, healthiest lions are weak and sick with judgment. Even the most brilliant sunsets are shadows of what they might be.

Of what they will be. One day soon, God will make all we know unmistakably new. Have you learned to long, and pray, for the wonders of a better world to come?

Country of ‘Not Good’

How many of us have reckoned with the glorious potential of a renewed creation — and with the devastating condition of the current one? When God made the world and called it all good, he wasn’t looking at the world as we know it. No, when mankind fell from glory, the oceans, mountains, and stars fell with us. Sin dragged continents of beauty and purity into the awful, nauseating swamp of the curse.

After Adam and Eve took and ate what was not theirs to eat, the consequences were felt far and deep and wide. “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,” God says to Adam, “and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17). Death and destruction, injury and disease, earthquakes and tornados, malice and treachery, droughts and floods, toil and trouble. Every inch of creation was warped and stained by sin. A cloud 25,000 miles wide fell over the earth, and centuries later it has not lifted. Were God to again survey the sun and the galaxies, the hills and seas, the trees and flowers, the birds and whales, the lions, tigers, and bears, he would no longer call it “good,” at least not in the same way.

Think about that. God meticulously (and effortlessly) painted a living, breathing mural of his creativity and worth, and then stepped back to admire and savor what he had made. It was breathtakingly beautiful. And yet before the first child was born, sin spilled oil over his masterpiece. Sin vandalized and leveled the dream home he had built for us. It was breathtakingly bleak. And that’s still our address today. We now walk and work and play on streets and corners of “Not good.”

We live in a wild and arresting world that’s been arrested by sin — for now. The creation violently treads water, thrashing and gasping for air, but only “until the time for restoring all the things” (Acts 3:21).

If Rocks Could Cry Out

When we think about that world to come, we may have an easy enough time imagining aspects of our new, glorified bodies. Eyes without glasses. Heads without aches. Joints without arthritis. Necks and backs without stiffness. Healthy blood pressures without pills. Organs without cancer. Never struggling to sleep. Never searching for a prescription. Never wondering what’s wrong.

The creation itself “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). If the rocks could cry out, they would go on and on about what God will make out of those who are in Christ, about the wonder of generations cured of sin, about how our holiness will reflect light and life into every corner of creation. Creation’s been let in on a secret about humanity that so many humans never learn: we won’t always be this broken, this tired, this opposed, this confused, this prone to wander. The glorious God will soon glorify us.

And creation’s not just waiting to see what we will be; Paul says it’s longing to see us — eyes fixed on the horizon, holding its breath, waiting for a glimpse of the sun. Why? Because when we become our new, immortal, glorified selves, “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). The glory of the new heavens and new earth will be our glory in Christ, to the glory of Christ.

What might a place like that be like? What will it be like to witness the regeneration, not just of souls, but of the whole universe? As easy as it may be to imagine some aspects of a glorified human body, we can have a harder time imagining God healing and renewing creation — but he will.

When the World Sheds the Curse

Imagine, for a moment, whatever you love about this world finally being set free and freshly charged with the glory of God.

What might the shores along O‘ahu look like glorified? What about the endless fields of tulips in the Netherlands? How beautifully might a choir of nightingales sing? Will we get to listen to rain fall and thunder roll without ever wondering what damage might be done? What might a Southern Californian orange taste like, right off the tree? How much sweeter will fresh strawberries be? Can you begin to smell the rose gardens, brighter than ever and stripped of their thorns? Can you see yourself canoeing glorified rivers, climbing glorified trails, biking through glorified fields, sitting beside glorified lakes? How soon will it all stop feeling like some wild, impossible dream?

Outside of Scripture, no one has whet my appetite for the new creation more than Randy Alcorn has. He says, “To get a picture of Heaven — which will one day be centered on the New Earth — you don’t need to look up at the clouds; you simply need to look around you and imagine what all this would be like without sin and death and suffering and corruption” (Heaven, 17). Do you ever do that? Few things are more lethal to worldliness than to imagine what this world might really be like when it sheds the curse, when God washes the oil spill from his painting and breathes it into new life.

And the light animating it all will be the nail-scarred, once-dead man on the throne. At the center will be the Lion of Judah, roaring over every mile and creature,the Lamb of God, slain to make it all possible and beautiful. John Piper writes,

We will never forget that every sight, every sound, every fragrance, every touch, and every taste in the new world was purchased by Christ for his undeserving people. This world — with all its joy — cost him his life. Every pleasure of every kind will intensify our thankfulness and love for Jesus. (Providence, 687)

Seeing the New Heavens Now

As stunning as that future day will be, what God will reveal about us then is actually already true. Listen closely: “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). We won’t become sons that day; we’ll finally get to see the fullness of our sonship. A few verses earlier, Paul writes,

All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs. (Romans 8:14–17)

The new creation, with our new bodies, will be a worldwide, centuries-long parade of what God has already done in our hearts through faith. If you are in Christ, you are a new creation — right now (2 Corinthians 5:17). The apostle John saw this same reality:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. . . . Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1–2)

Oh we will be changed, in the twinkling of the eye, at the last trumpet, but we won’t be born again again. If we are in Christ, the new heavens already live in us. And because his Spirit lives in us, everything that will make the new creation so captivating and satisfying is already ours in him.