God, Humanity, the World — and Ukraine

When I read the news this morning, my heart broke.

My heart broke, thinking about innocent people losing their loved ones, their homes, their lives, because of needless violence. So much suffering and pain and injustice.

With this grief, I could only turn to God. But how does God relate to all this?

In this article, I want to discuss three interrelated topics: God’s relation to the world, humanity’s role in the world, and God’s future for the world. In other words, monotheism, election, and eschatology, to use N.T. Wright’s terms.[1] Finally, I will apply this to our times.

Monotheism — God and the World

God is the Creator of the world. There are no gods beside him, no powers equal to him (Isa 40:12–31). Only he is King. All other powers that exist in the world derive their authority from him and are accountable to him ( Psa 10; 94).

As Creator, he is committed to this world. He provides and cares for creation (Psa 104:13–30). He has made a covenant with promises for humanity and the world (e.g., Gen 9:9–17; 12:1–3). Our most fundamental belief is that God is faithful to these promises.

Election — Humanity in the World

When God created the world, it was not finished. God’s ultimate purpose is that the whole cosmos becomes his Holy of Holies, filled with his glory (Isa 11:9; Hab 2:14).

Therefore, he created humanity “in his image” (Gen 1:26–27) to complete his purposes. The image of God means that we humans are intermediaries between God and the world; we represent God to the world and we represent the world to God:

  • As kings, we share in God’s just rule over the world.
  • As prophets, we speak God’s words to the world.
  • As priests, we mediate God’s blessing to the world and offer up worship and prayers on behalf of the world. [2]

As image-bearers, we center ourselves in God’s loving presence, but we also go out into the world, because God has given us a mission: to further the realm of his life-giving presence into the chaos around us, like Adam and Eve subduing the lands around the garden and thus extending Paradise.

The Problem

But things have gone wrong. We were unfaithful, we didn’t trust God, and therefore we were exiled, out of God’s presence, away from Life, into the realm of Death. And with us, the world was exiled (cf. Rom 8:20–23).

This is the major problem of monotheism and election. God has made promises; he has given humanity a vocation, but everything seems to have gone wrong. What’s next? Will humanity, and the world with it, still be restored? And will God be faithful to his covenant promises?

Eschatology — God’s Future for the World

The answer of God in Jesus is a big ‘yes’ (2 Cor 1:20). God has begun to deal with the brokenness of this world, to heal and restore, to put things to right, in the cross and resurrection of the Messiah.

But the great paradox of his eschatological plan is that it is two-staged, stretching over the first and second coming. And not much seems to have changed after the first coming. Suffering and death still pervade the world. Sin still wreaks havoc. Satan still roams the lands (1 Pet 5:8).

However, if we look below the surface, the fundamental structure of the universe has changed. The destructive and dehumanizing powers of Sin and Death have been broken at the cross. The oppressive rule of Satan and demons has been crushed. In the resurrection, Jesus has become king (Rom 1:4). The new-creative Spirit now indwells believers, uniting them to the Messiah and renewing them to wholeness.

The Eschatological Role of the Church

For this in-between period, God has called a people to himself in the Messiah. He has made them new creations who are being restored in the image of God (Col 3:10) and begin to live out their vocation again:

  • As kings, we spread the restorative and just rule of the Messiah. We proclaim Jesus as king. We work for justice and reconciliation. We liberate people from the enslaving and dehumanizing powers in the world.
  • As prophets, we speak God’s hope-giving words into the world. We speak God’s truth and call on humanity to see God’s faithfulness in Jesus and respond with obedient faith.
  • As priests, we bless the world with God’s words of love, and bring the brokenness of the world to God’s throne. We represent the hurting world before God. We pray and cry out to God to bring about healing.

As image-bearers in the Messiah, we are indwelled with God’s very presence. We are God’s presence in the world, micro-temples from which God’s life radiates out into the world (1 Cor 6:19), changing chaos to new creation. We are monuments of God’s love in a world that so desperately needs him.

Times of War

So how can we live out this Messiah-vocation in times of war?

We know that, behind the oppressive and God-dishonoring world powers, lurk the demonic and satanic forces of evil (Eph 6:11–12). But we also know that the Messiah has decisively defeated them at the cross. He has called them to account at the cross and judged them. In the resurrection, he has been established as Lord of the world (Eph 1:20–21). [2] One day he will return to consummate his judgment, his putting-all-things-to-rights work.

Until that day, his Spirit works in us to transform us into his image and through us to spread his rule around the world. The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us (Rom 8:11), power beyond imagination (Eph 3:20). By that resurrection-power, we work for justice, we speak truth, and we pray with tears in our eyes for God to be faithful and bring deliverance.

Endnotes

[1] See Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress Press 2013), for Wright’s analysis of Paul’s reworking of these essentially Jewish categories around Jesus the crucified and risen Messiah.

[2] For a similar application of these three offices to Adam, Israel, Christ, and the church, see B. Gladd, From Adam and Israel to the Church: A Biblical Theology of the People of God, in the series Essential Studies in Biblical Theology (ESBT). The whole series is recommended reading.

[3] Our problem is bigger than we could imagine, but so is God’s answer. This reminds me of a quote from Tim Keller: “The gospel says you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, but more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.” For the cosmic proportions of our problem, see Beverly Roberts Gaventa, When in Romans.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store