About this series: As I shared in the introductory post, I believe “getting the gospel right” means telling the story well. This is what inspired me to write my book for kids, The Story of King Jesus. Over the next few posts, I want to share a few aspects of this story that I believe are key to telling it well.
It all began with God.
God made everything you can see.
(And even things you can’t see!)
God made the world to be his home.
– from The Story of King Jesus
Growing up, I thought this world was doomed.
Like many Christians, I thought it was destined for the furnace. I looked forward to the day when I would be evacuated from this world, along with my fellow believers, and ushered into an ethereal paradise.
Actually, I wasn’t looking forward to it all that much. As a teenager I would ask God to delay his return long enough for me to experience what life has to offer: getting married, having a family… OK, that’s a pretty noble way of describing what it was I didn’t want to miss out on.
Then I would beat myself up for praying this way, for treasuring “worldly” things over “spiritual” things. Maybe I didn’t deserve that one-way ticket to heaven after all.
My gospel was mainly about escaping this world.
I had the end hope of the gospel wrong because I didn’t understand how the story began. My gospel began with the world gone wrong—and therefore a world not worth saving—not the world as God made it.
If we understood how our story begins, we’ll end up with a very different view of where it’s going. (Plus I could’ve saved myself a lot of needless teenage guilt.)
So let’s go back to the beginning.
Many of us read Genesis 1 with an eye toward the mechanics of creation. But the biblical origin story is far more interested in the why of creation than the how.
Genesis 1 depicts God giving order and purpose to creation. The land is “good” not simply because it’s there, but because it produces vegetation. The stars, sun, and moon are “good” not simply because they’re there, but because they help mark sacred times, days, and years. They give light to the earth.
Created elements are introduced in order of increasing complexity and importance. Vegetation, then animals, then people. And then it stops. Chapter 1 comes to a close at day 6, with human beings seemingly the pinnacle of God’s creative work.
Except the story continues into the first few lines of chapter 2, which briefly mentions day 7 before turning to a second account of creation. But day 7 is more than an epilogue to the previous story. Remember, things have been moving in increasing order of importance, which means day 7 is the whole point of the story. The seventh day is the day God “blessed” and “made holy,” not days 1-6. The seventh day is what it’s all about.
The seventh day is when God rests—and that is the high point of creation.
Observing the parallels between Genesis and other ancient creation stories, Old Testament scholar John Walton notes that creation was typically followed by divine rest. In these stories, deities always rested in temples.
“Rest” in this case was not the cessation of activity but the beginning of something. It was like a king taking his seat on the throne after his coronation. The hard work of becoming king was done, but the even greater work of ruling was yet before him.
However, there was one crucial difference between Genesis and these other stories: other deities needed someone to build a temple for them. Their houses were crafted by human hands. Not so with God and his temple, to the apostle Paul later declared. God doesn’t need anyone to build him a temple because he’s already built one.
Where is God’s temple in the Genesis story? Where does God rest?
It’s all around us. The cosmos, heaven and earth, is God’s temple.
“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool,” God declares through the prophet Isaiah. Throne, footstool… these were temple artifacts. This is temple language.
In other words, God made the world to be his home, his temple. Then he invited us to share it with him.
(If anyone says the Old Testament is where we find law and the New Testament is where we find grace, remember what God did at the beginning when he invited us to share his home—his world, his temple—with him.)
This changes how we understand the gospel.
This changes the trajectory, the end goal, of the gospel: it’s about God dwelling with us again.
We see it over and again throughout the story. First, in the primeval garden, where God walks in the garden, his temple, in the cool of the day. Humans are exiled from the garden after the fall, but in some ways it’s as much an exile for God as it is for us. God’s creation—his very home—is turned against him. Heaven and earth are temporarily severed from each other. But God won’t give up on his creation.
God keeps coming back to earth—first to dwell in buildings made by Israelite hands. Initially he occupies a portable tabernacle in the wilderness. Later his presence fills their temple in Jerusalem. In Ezekiel, God departs the temple shortly before Israel goes into exile—a replay of the earlier scene in the garden.
But still God keeps coming back.
Next, he comes to dwell with us in human form, as Jesus—God in flesh and blood.
According to the scriptures, God will return to dwell with us again, this time bringing a whole city with him (which prompted an interesting conversation with my 4-year-old about how big God’s arms must be).
At the end of all things, God will mend the breach between heaven and earth for good.
This changes how we view the gospel. It means this world matters. It matters to God, so it should matter to us.
It means salvation is not just about me and where I go when I die. Salvation, as seen in the Bible, is all-encompassing. It’s “the renewal of all things,” not just individual human souls.
This is the story we should tell our kids—a story in which their lives, their choices, and their participation in this world matter. A story where, instead of pressuring them to renounce “worldly” desires for “spiritual” things, we help them to see and welcome God’s presence in all things. A story where the life of this world is not renounced but redeemed.
If we miss how our story begins, we’ll miss where it’s going. If we settle for an escapist gospel, we might just find ourselves moving in the opposite direction as God.
We keep trying to escape the world; God keeps trying to break into it.
God made the world to be his home. Starting our gospel here will make all the difference in the world.
Firmament image via Exploring Our Matrix. John Walton quote via Christianity Today.