Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The New Creation

The risen Christ is no resuscitated corpse. His new body has properties that enable it at will, to appear and disappear within present history. Nor will the redeemed universe be a mere repetition of its present state. This current universe is a creation endowed with just those physical properties that have enabled it to 'make itself' in the course of its evolving history. A world of this kind, by its necessary nature, must be a world of transience in which death is the cost of new life. In theological terms, this world is a creation that is sustained by its Creator, and which has been endowed with a divinely purposed fruitfulness, but which is also allowed to be at some distance from the veiled presence of the One who holds it in being and interacts in hidden ways with its history. Its unfolding process develops within the 'space' that God has given it, within which it is allowed to be itself. This is a theme that has been developed by particularly by Jürgen Moltmann. He draws on the kabbalistic notion of zimzum, the divine making way for the existence of created reality. One may sum up this insight by saying that this creation is the result of a kenotic act by the Creator, who has made way for the existence of the created other. The physical fabric of such a universe must take a particular form, but there is no reason to suppose that the Creator cannot bring into being a new creation of different character when it is appropriate to the divine purpose to do so.

The world to come will indeed have a different character. Just as Jesus was exalted to the right hand of the Father after his resurrection, so the world to come will be integrated in a new and intimate way with the divine life. I do not accept panentheism (the idea that the creation is in God though God exceeds creation) as a theological reality for the present world, but I do believe in it as the form of eschatological destiny for the world to come. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, God will then be 'all in all' (I Corinthians 15:28). The Eastern Orthodox speak of eschatological fulfillment as being the attainment of theosis, not meaning by that that creatures will become gods but that they will share fully in the divine life and energies. This world is one that contains the focussed and covenanted occasions of divine presence that we call sacraments. The new creation will be wholly sacramental, suffused with with the presence of the life of God. In his great vision of the End, the seer of Patmos saw the holy city as one in which there was no longer a cultic temple 'for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb' (Revelation 21:22). God's presence, veiled from us today, will be open and manifest in the world to come. Moltmann has his own way of expressing this hope, in terms of the descent of the divine Shekinah.

John Polkinghorne
The God of Hope and the End of the World

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