From All Things New
I will devote a coming chapter to what our “work” will be in the kingdom, for we are said to “reign on the Earth,” (Revelation 5:10). Meanwhile, keeping in mind that it is our child-heart that receives the kingdom, let’s dream about what it will be like to play in the remade world!
I am enchanted by the legends of ancient Polynesian cultures like the Maori and their tales of the “whale riders,” mighty lords of old who had a bond so deep with nature they were able to ride on the backs of whales like we ride a horse or camel. Perhaps those legends are only mythic, but they speak of a wild and holy desire (there is the longing for the kingdom again). Or perhaps those legends were actually prophecy. We do see a small glimpse of this in the trainers who ride whales in theme parks. I am all for freeing Willy, but if that can happen in a fallen world, what lies before us in a world made young and innocent?
Creation wants to play. My dogs allow me about an hour and a half at the keyboard before they interrupt and insist on a romp. Perhaps you’ve had the joy of being on a boat in warm waters and seeing the happiness of the dolphins who come to surf the bow wake, making a deliberate choice to drop whatever it was they were doing and come to the sound, come to play on the fringes of our humanity. Nick Jans tells the story of a rare encounter with a black wolf in Juneau, Alaska, who came out of the woods one day on the outskirts of town and played with the dogs locals had brought to run there. Wildlife biologists consider one sighting in a lifetime a success. The wolf hung around for years, showing a keen desire to interact and even play with humans, as if he were a messenger from Eden.
I saw horses and riders in the kingdom. What else might we ride? People currently ride elephants, water buffalo, ostriches, camels, orcas, giant tortoises – why shouldn’t we play with all creation when we are reconciled, when happiness permeates every living thing and God himself is here among us? Of course we will swim with the whales, and in loving-kindness of course they will offer to take us on their backs. Yes, Revelation implies, “There was no longer any sea,” (21:1). But many scholars believe this is alluding to the fact that the ancients, including the Jews, held the sea to be a habitation of evil. Of course evil is gone. But the Earth cannot function without the oceans; they play a critical role in our water cycle, weather, and planet temperature. Besides – who can imagine a new Earth without the glorious ocean?
Perhaps more importantly, the Greek of Revelation 21:1 speaks of one world “passing away” so that a remade world may take its place. Therefore Eugene Peterson in The Message translates the passage, “I saw Heaven and Earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first Earth, gone the sea.” Gone only in the sense of the old passing, so the renewed can take its place.
The eagles carried Sam and Frodo to safety; Gandalf rode them several times. What if? A large golden eagle in our world can lift a sheep and carry it away. What load can a renewed eagle bear? I would love to ride a golden eagle, with its permission of course. And, friends – I have not even mentioned the angels. Heaven comes to Earth, and the angels shall walk in fellowship with man. What do the angels have to teach us? What sort of games do they play? The entire Earth will be our playground. I see massive games like lacrosse being played by angels and men across vast landscapes.
This is why you don’t need a bucket list. It’s all yours, and you can never lose it. Oh, how I long to wander the beautiful places, without a curfew, without the end of vacation always looming. You’ve longed to see the fjords of Norway? Done. You’ve secretly hoped to wander the jungles of Africa? Yours too. What next? The Amazon? Antarctica? And I am only touching on the Earth. What of the microscopic world? It is as vast as the world we call our own, and we shall explore its mysteries. What of the heavens? They, too, shall be ours. As Scottish poet George MacDonald wrote:
I do live expecting great things in the life that is ripening for me and all mine – when we shall have all the universe for our own, and be good merry helpful children in the great house of our father. Then, darling, you and I and all will have the grand liberty wherewith Christ makes free – opening his hand to send us out like white doves to range the universe.
Good thing we have all the time in the world that has no time to explore and come home and tell the tales. To take up new adventures with those who want to sail the seven seas or climb the peaks of the Andes or range the universe itself.
Remember – Jesus is the forerunner, the “second Adam.” All that he was, we shall be. We will have restored bodies like the body of Christ after his resurrection – able to walk on water and defy certain limits known to us now. “St. Peter for a few seconds walked on the water,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “and the day will come when there will be a re-made universe, infinitely obedient to the will of glorified and obedient men, when we can do all things, when we shall be those gods that we are described as being in scripture.” I love the picture he gave us of this very possibility toward the end of the Narnian tale, The Last Battle:
It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed and then cried: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Breee-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!” He shook his mane and sprang forward into a great gallop – a Unicorn’s gallop which, in our world, would have carried him out of sight in a few moments. But now a most strange thing happened. Everyone else began to run, and they found, to their astonishment, that they could keep up with him…. The air flew in their faces as if they were driving fast in a car without a windscreen. The country flew past as if they were seeing it from the windows of an express train. Faster and faster they raced, but no one got hot or tired or out of breath. If one could run without getting tired, I don’t think one would often want to do anything else…. So they ran faster and faster till it was more like flying than running, and even the Eagle overhead was going no faster than they. And they went through winding valley after winding valley and up the steep sides of hills and, faster than ever, down the other sides, following the river and sometimes crossing it and skimming across mountain-lakes as if they were living speedboats.
You think I am being fanciful. I am being utterly serious. I am being as serious as Jesus when he warned that only the child-heart can receive the kingdom. Do you really want to suggest sinful man can create stories and worlds that outshine the worlds God will remake? Careful there. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him,” (1 Corinthians 2:9). It was our creative Father who gave us our imaginations; the “visions” we tell in story are often prophetic glimpses into the wondrous realms, and his creative majesty will certainly do ours one better in the world to come.