Between Eden and Eternity: The Unwritten Story

Harriet Reed Congdon

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Lichtenstein illusion: Eden and Eternity

Eden. Perfect man and perfect woman created in the imago dei to live in a perfect world.

Created to rule and steward the earth together. Created to love perfectly both in friendship and if married, in one-flesh union. Created for community with God and with a world of perfect men and perfect women imaging a creative, loving God who sits on a heavenly throne and walks in a lush garden.

Stop. Fast forward.

 

Eternity.

A new heavens and a new earth converge as the Holy City, the place of the heavenly throne, comes down to dwell among the community of the imago Christi. The Second Adam comes for his Bride and wipes the tears from her eyes. No death, no mourning, no pain, no night. Instead there is dazzling beauty, shining glory, and thirst-quenching, healing life from a river and from a tree. The new earth is not the old Eden restored. It’s replaced by a far more glorious creation.

The old has passed away; Christ makes everything new (Revelation 21:4-5).

In the meantime we live in the middle between Eden and Eternity, bookended by perfection in creation and recreation. The challenge lies in trying to anticipate the story to be written. Those who consider themselves to be characters in God’s story tend to want to write the future based on the past, especially the sacred script.

But God is not one to be scripted by any human.

God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts; his ways higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9; Job). God may change the rules (Deuteronomy 23:1 to Isaiah 56:3-6; Old Covenant to New). God will dismiss former things to do a new thing (Isaiah 43:18-19).

The sacred script is often silent on social issues, which begs the question, “Why, if the text is inspired, did God not make his thoughts more clear from the beginning?”  Thoughts concerning polygamy or slavery or the treatment of women.  Some who care about these issues and read the script at face value conclude it is flawed and therefore God is an imaginary character.

I think on these things and wonder if the sacred script is ambiguous or deeply complex on purpose. Perhaps the flow of the story is indicative of how the script will progress throughout history. Perhaps God intends ambiguity and has inspired more descriptions than prescriptions. For a good reason.

God continues to give us choice in this middle place of grace.

I wonder if God’s intention is to invite us to obedience rather than demand it, to give us enough clues about his heart and character so that we choose to obey out of love, not law. I see this in the story of Jonah, which has an unwritten ending. Did Jonah ever repent of his anger and choose to love the repenting Ninevites? Not knowing how Jonah’s story ends forces us to examine our own and consider where we fall short. It allows us to write the rest of the story based on who God is and how he acts.

Christ came to reveal the Father through his teaching and his works. He gave us enough clues to figure out what following him entails, what it means to love a community and to love God. But not everything is laid out. Not every question is answered.

So the early church has to figure out the rest of the story. It’s rough. It’s messy. Things have to be figured out on the fly. Adjustments are made and roles are created. The church evolves. I think we forget that the church was an infant needing time to grow up and wrestle through the implications of Christ’s Kingdom in their cultural context.

The priority was not to get everything right the first time. It was to listen to the Spirit for what the next step should be.

History tells me we are still on the journey of understanding God’s thoughts and ways. Otherwise we wouldn’t have needed the Reformation. History tells me silence does not mean God’s approval. Otherwise we would be supporting slavery today. History tells me God gives space for our broken social structures to change over time. Otherwise we would still be engaged in polygamy and concubinage.

As each generation reads the words of the sacred script, a different perspective on the story may emerge. This requires discernment of God’s invitation to a more mature faith, a more loving community, and a more powerful witness to the gospel. This is what the Jews understood when the author of Chronicles rewrote Israel’s history in light of their post-exilic context. The changes are subtle but they are there. Israel needed to move on and adopt new practices in their new situation.

A new perspective always invites a new reading.

Otherwise seminaries would quickly become obsolete. This principle was pictured for me by a modern sculpture I encountered in Washington, DC. The sculpture is an optical illusion in which the artist created a 3-D image of a corner of a house. But as you walk from one side to the other, the house appears to move and change in perspective. Each step forward requires reinterpreting what you are observing. Perhaps the sculpture is a metaphor for Scripture. The words on the page don’t change but their interpretation may with each change in perspective. And each new, Spirit-illumined interpretation gets closer to the “new thing” Christ is making.

In this middle time between Eden and Eternity I believe God allows ambiguity, contradiction, unanswered questions, and changes in perspective because he wants us to wrestle with the unwritten script. It forces us to ask important questions of identity, both of God and of ourselves. It requires that we seek the Kingdom of God and not our own kingdoms. And if Christ is the one who most accurately represents God, then it demands that we see life, both people and circumstances, through the lens of Christ’s, life, death and resurrection. It is the gospel that guides us through the unwritten script of the middle place.

Perhaps in this middle time between Eden and Eternity, God the Father is growing humanity toward maturity so that the systems, cultural dynamics, and patterns of the past are not what write our script but only Christ and his Kingdom. It is the vision of eternity that drives our story forward.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is heaven.

It is a Kingdom vision that drives my passion for mutuality and equality on earth.

I believe it is time for the church to grow up into what has always been present in heaven. It is time to reread the sacred script from our current perspective and take a step closer to our new creation.

Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. He is also the Middle.

In the space between Eden and Eternity, our story is still being written. Who is writing it for you?

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Your Turn: What should the Church “look like” in this time between Eden and Eternity? How should the greater themes of the Bible impact thinking on gender roles?

Originally posted @ storyinthemiddle.blogspot.com.

Harriet Reed Congdon

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8 Comments

  • “The words on the page don’t change but their interpretation may with each change in perspective.”
    This is so true! I am learning to grow comfortable with my own “evolving theology” and am more and more comfortable NOT knowing the answers to all the questions out there.

  • This is so great and refreshing. I often wonder about why some texts in the Bible are so ambiguous. Sometimes it can make me uncomfortable, but the realization that it leaves room for God’s complexity is what gives me peace.

  • Thank you for this wonderful perspective of living in the in-between. I think often times, we forget how challenging it is to be in such a space to re-view the sacred text in context to how God is moving us towards His justice for this broken world in a time and manner that is uneasy but applicable under His grace and mercy. I think we prefer to follow the rules even though Christ clearly fulfilled the rules. It’s much easier and less complicated. Yet Jesus did come to make things complex so that we may discover his simplicity.
    My prayer is that we continually view our purpose for justice with more integrity and uncompromising grace. To be accepting that we are not only to wrestle in our personal journey to follow Christ and live by his example, but to wrestle as a community.

    • Thank you for the reminder that we are to wrestle with it all IN community. We truly do need God’s grace to sustain us as we move forward as a Church!

    • Yes, thank you for that reminder! I just wish there were more examples of churches that did wrestle together with grace and flexibility instead of split or resort to top down (usually male dominated) conclusions of theology and practice.

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