Once upon a time…

Once Upon a Time…

The last verse of an old love song ponders the discontinuous nature of all human experience.

“Once upon a time The world was sweeter than we knew Everything was ours How happy we were then But somehow once upon a time Never comes again”

With nostalgia we look back to good times and we discover that the best of life’s experiences are unrepeatable. And with increasing years we find that woven into the fabric of these good times there are disappointments and sadness. Perhaps this is particularly true for those who have left the past behind by moving to another country. International church people have made more of a break with the past than most and so there is that extra distance for the memories.

My father occasionally repeated: “Things aren’t what they used to be, but then again, they never were.”

Our memories tend to flavour the details by quietly leaving aside the hard things. Yet we return to past places and wonder why the moment of nostalgia feels like something is missing. We attempt to duplicate these special moments but it never quite seems the same.

As Barkley Cole said to Karen Blixen in the movie ‘Out of Africa’ when he recognised the perfume she was wearing, “It’s not the same.” The perfume stirred the memory of a lost love of long ago, but the moment of love is past and nothing associated with that past can bring it back.

Paul Minear wrote in ‘Christians and the New Creation.’

“Those who want most desperately to return home find that they can’t go home again. The goodness of the beginning and the evil of alienation from it are twin recognitions, born in the same moment. To deny either would be an act of self deception, dishonesty and defeat. When one draws up a transcript of current human experience in any major human endeavour, one finds an analogue to the Genesis accounts of Creation and Fall—and to the messianic hope of a new beginning.”

All of life’s experiences contain some mix of both the richness of God’s most excellent Creation and the dying of the Fall that followed. (This is not to ignore the terror that fills some lives as if there is nothing good at all.)

In most things, the life of the first Garden is present and it is right and good to feel the grace and warmth of God’s gifts and His presence. But the brokenness and corruption that has followed the rebellion against the Creator, has infiltrated into everything. Our imperfection and the curse of judgement strip away the best of things leaving us with unreliable memories and unfulfilled longings.

Everything human, even when at its best, is often a disappointment.

This would be a weary reality to live with year after year if it were not for one profound truth. God has powerfully declared that it will not be so forever; not because He will destroy but because He will restore and renew through the rule of His Son. There will be a New Creation; new heavens, new earth; all things reconciled to God through Jesus and filled with peace.

This new day has already shone into the world; first on the cross of Jesus and then in the resurrection life granted to all who believe in Him. And beyond that we wait for the day of final liberation when all is revealed and the curse of death no more. Another way of saying this is that we now live eschatologically: we live towards the future and the future flavours the everyday experiences as well as our memories of the past. There is nothing in this of the escapist form of faith that we often hear in which it is all about getting away from the earth into heaven. Where will heaven be when Jesus returns with the New Jerusalem? It will be here: heaven and earth integrated as one and fully cleaned up for the full presence of God.

International churches are to be shaped in every way by the eschatological realities that have already commenced in Jesus. As leaders of international churches our calling includes facilitating a way of life and discipleship that is eschatologically driven. Too easily faith can become a self-indulgent thing as if it’s all about God blessing me now. True faith is far less self-oriented and far more caught up in the vision of God’s glory filling the earth as the waters cover the sea. International church leaders have the challenge of working against the various ways the future is lost from our perspectives and to persist in envisioning the people of God with a rich and deep appreciation of what God is doing with His whole creation including His people.

“Morning has broken like the first morning….” such is the life of Jesus risen within us. We are even now His New Creation. Like the first Creation in its early days, as yet not fully formed; not yet the completeness planned by the Creator. But already our transfiguration has commenced.

Barkley Cole may never find his lost love but he would find in the resurrection life of Jesus that there is a hope of new things even more excellent than the original Garden (or the memory of his love).

So even as we see both Creation and Fall present in everything every day, we also find in Jesus new Kingdom beginnings. We make sense of our lives as we hold these three together (even in the worst of hard times); as we see the realities of Creation, Fall and New Creation in the everyday experience of life. Creation enables us to see more fully what will come eschatologically. Eschatology facilitates appreciation of God’s creation project. Understanding the Fall brings appreciation for the cross and resurrection of Jesus as the key for seeing creation’s fulfilment in the eschatological new creation.

As Minear states, to neglect any one of these is to risk defeat. To appreciate the significance of all is the hope of a new beginning that will not disappoint.

Graham Chipps

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