We Christians are strangers and aliens in an unfamiliar world, citizens of the New Jerusalem which is above but has not yet appeared in its full glory. In the past three posts, I’ve explored the doctrine of how God keeps and preserves the world thanks to His providence and common grace. Now, I need to put all of this in full perspective.
It is true that the world is still an amazing place, full of wonder – but it is also terribly broken and full of death and suffering and injustice.
It is true that there is incredible beauty, but there is also unimaginable filth and perversion.
It is true that there are many nice and well-behaved people, but there are also scandalous, selfish, and wicked people.
It is true that there are many diverse activities and interests to pursue, but no matter how much fun we have, we still feel empty and unfulfilled inside.
The sad truth is, God created a wonderful world, but we sinned and cursed this world, so that we have a paradoxical mix of the beautiful and the profane. The book of Ecclesiastes well expresses the malaise that results from contemplating this paradox: what good is life if everything is irrecoverably tainted with evil? How shall we live in a world where we long for good, see tantalizing glimpses of it, and yet know that something is seriously wrong with everything, and that our own persons are horribly tainted and defiled with sin?
The Bible even says worse stuff for sinners: that we are so totally depraved by nature that we do not even want to be in fellowship with God. We see the good things He has made and enjoy them, but we refuse to honor Him. We suppress the natural order which He has revealed to us and established within creation – either by turning away from it in bold wickedness, or by twisting it to serve our own ends: a shadow of good, yes, but still wicked in that we use this order to exalt ourselves rather than our Creator. This is the sum of total depravity: not that we always do bad things, but that even the “good” things we do do not please God because we do not do them to glorify Him. This is the predicament of humanity in a paradoxical world.
We Christians have been freed from this deplorable situation through the sacrifice and perfect obedience of Jesus Christ, so that we no longer need to fear the imperfection of their good works, for we do them through Christ. Yet (as Romans 7 shows), we are still struggling with the remnants of the sinful old nature within us and are continually beset by temptations on all sides. We grow more and more sensitive to the evil that still lurks around us, and to the utter depravity of the world. Awe at the amazing creations of man is mixed with a profound awareness of the wickedness that flourishes in this world. We grow impatient at sin and evil, and long for perfect good to be established upon earth. Some professing Christians have even denied that there is any real “good” in this world, since perfection has not come. I submit that this is a mistaken view. Yes, good and evil are mixed together and cannot be fully separated, but God in His common grace has kept good in this world both as a testimony to His love and benevolence and as a foretaste of the perfection that is to come.
We must have a proper balance. We ought not to see the good that exists today as all there is, for it can sometimes be so wonderful as to fix our attention upon this present world, when it in reality exists as an anticipation of better things to come. We ought not to plunge into ascetic self-denial, as so many have done, nor to become indulgent epicureans, but enjoy the gifts of God within proper boundaries and patiently endure evil and suffering, knowing that better things are yet to come. This Age is now, and yet the Age to come is breaking in; we see through a glass dimly, yet one day full perfection will arrive. We are already citizens of the heavenly city, but it has not yet arrived in its shining glory. We endure paradox, knowing that one day there will be no more paradox forever and ever. The Age to come will be the Age that is now, all because of the finished work of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Praise be to God!