By using only a few broad-brush strokes, a skilled artist can paint an outline of a picture allowing you to visualise the scene while omitting the details. This is akin to how the Bible represents its teaching on the new heaven and new earth. It is an essential consequence of our Lord Jesus Christ’s return, but the details are sketchy. What a prospect a new cosmos, free from all sin and corruption, is! But who can imagine what a universe liberated from the curse of sin with no sorrow, pain, and death will be like? Who can explain how climate change, diminishing fossil resources and natural disasters will vanish like the morning mist when nature’s groaning ends? Come to think of it, are we speaking about this universe renewed and transformed or a completely new one to replace the old one to be destroyed?
Such opaqueness concerning the future renewal (Matthew 19:28) is of course in line with ‘eye has not seen…nor entered into the heart [that] which God has prepared for those who love Him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9; Isaiah 64:4). God has promised a new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22 ; Revelation 21:1) but faith’s walk of certainty and conviction about that ‘day’ goes hand-in-hand with a lack of clarity on the details of what that ‘day’ will usher in. As Augustine wrote, ‘that day lies hid, that every day we may be on the watch.’
What we look for
This lack of perspicuity does not mean that the consideration of the new universe is a province exclusively for seminary students or an invitation for wild speculations by those we may kindly call Christian cranks! Peter, in his second letter, explains how the cosmic renewal has a very practical impact on our daily lives. His first concern is quite simply that we do not lose sight of the fulfilment of God’s promise to renew all things. Christians are those who are ‘looking for’ or ‘waiting’ for that day of God. The same Greek word is used four times in three verses (2 Peter 3:12-14). It is translated in Acts 3:5 as ‘gave…attention’. Like the child eager for their birthday or the bride anticipating her wedding day, so Christians are to be eagerly expecting that day. The repetition suggests one’s thoughts being constantly re-directed towards the prospect in keen anticipation of what this new environment will mean for them.
Can God be rushed?
Christians are also to ‘hasten’ the coming of the day (2 Peter 3:12). As the shepherds ‘hurried’ to see Jesus (Luke 2:16), as Jesus told Zacchaeus to ‘hurry’ and he ‘sped’ down from the tree (Luke 19:5-6), so Christians are urged to speed its coming. It may be asked how can one hurry up the day of Christ’s coming? God has his own unchangeable programme. Peter is not saying God can be rushed but in light of the letter’s concern about false teachers and their folly (2 Peter 3:4) who pour scorn on a new cosmos, believers, in contrast, are to make the renewal of all things the daily diet of their spirituality.
We cannot hurry God’s programme, but we can live our lives in readiness for that day and in so doing the time will speed by till that day comes. In setting before ourselves the final horizon to which we are heading we do not get impatient (2 Peter 3:9) with God’s programme, but keep it alive in our hearts by meditating upon it, telling others, praying ‘your kingdom come’ and seeing the urgency of missionary endeavour.
The reality of such a prospect is to transform our persons as it calls us to holy living before God and our fellow creatures. Quite simply, faith in the promise of a new earth hangs a question over our lives, one to be taken into every corner of our existence. In the light of its certainty, what sort of people should we be? Peter’s answer is we are to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16), we are not to live depraved lives as the false teachers do (2 Peter 2:19) but rather lives of godliness (2 Peter 3:11).
Christian morality is a product of its theology, and the contours of theology are shaped by eschatology, for what we know about God (theology) finds its terminus in faith’s eschatological hope. Faith grasps that the Lord has certain expectations of those who look for a new earth. They are people with holy agendas who ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’ (Matthew 5:6) because they expect to inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). Those redeemed by Christ’s precious blood are to be blameless and live spotless lives (1 Peter 1:19) for, as Michael Green states, ‘The look of hope must produce the life of holiness.’
A balanced spirituality
This cosmic perspective of God’s redemptive purpose gives a balanced spirituality bringing a quiet confidence to our daily lives through the hope to be revealed. We are not to allow this hope to be buried under lethargy (2 Peter 3:4), neither are we to blur its reality by frenzied speculation or ecstatic expectation by predicting dates. It will, however, affect how we use this world and our attitude about its future. Our motto will be, ‘in the world but not of the world, we use the world by not abusing it.’
This present world
In April 2019 eco-warriors reclaimed the streets of central London, while Extinction Rebellion are threatening drone strikes on Heathrow airport, with their great concern for the future of the earth’s environment. As stewards of God’s world, Christians must have a concern for the environment. They care about its future, but they are not naive in believing its conservation is the end of the journey. For their sure and certain hope encompasses a passing of this present decaying universe and a renewed, pristine one, which shall be the ‘home of righteousness’.
This balanced spirituality allows the Christian to live with the dilemma of being ever optimistic about their personal salvation while being ever pessimistic about the future of the world as they know it. God’s promises (2 Peter 3:9) are not fickle and elusive like the world’s we live in; they are ‘precious promises’ (2 Peter 1:4). By these, Christians will escape the corruption of the world being united to the divine nature, by which they are made fit for their dwelling place in the new heavens and earth.
Reviving our hope
The promise of inheriting the new cosmos (2 Peter 3:13) for those struggling to live as new creatures in a sinful body in a corrupt world is a glorious hope. What a thrilling and tantalising prospect to explore a cosmos we are familiar with, but that will be entirely new to us! Freed from the vanity ensconced in life in a fallen world – to see futility banished, the end of all human conflict and nature’s red tooth and claw washed clean as the leopard and the young goat lie down together, while the wolf and the lamb will live in peace (Isaiah 11:6).
The hymnodist, John Fawcett, got it right when he wrote, ‘This glorious hope revives our courage by the way, while each in expectation lives and longs to see the day.’