Trouble in Paradise

There are always people who hate this world. And I don’t mean because of the Fall–the fact that we suffer because the world has been broken by sin. I mean they hate that God created the world according to His Wisdom rather than their sinful preferences. Sinners being sinners, that shouldn’t be too surprising. The world hates Christ, after all, so why not his creation too?

But hating creation gets trickier when you claim to be Christian. We’re all sinners, of course, so we still have parts of God’s Word that we don’t like. But we also have the Holy Spirit. We’re empowered to respond to our own sinful reticence with faith seeking understanding. We can trust that God’s design is good, have sufficient humility to admit our errancy, and seek His wisdom to eventually understand why. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

But what if you don’t really trust God and refuse to humble yourself? What if you’re only interested in “understanding” why your opinion is good and try to get God on board with it? In that case, self-deception is your only option.

One particular rationalization is becoming popular lately: If there’s something about creation you hate, claim that it won’t be part of the New Creation–that it will cease to exist after Christ’s return. That will give you all the license you need to get a head start on God and either try to remove it now or pretend it’s unimportant now.

It’s an appealing deception because Scripture doesn’t give that much detail about Paradise. And we do know for sure that there are certain staples of our current lives that will not continue in the New Creation (e.g. pain, suffering, death, etc.) The unknowns provide the prideful with fertile ground in which to plant their own inventions.

But limited detail is not that same as no detail. Oftentimes, even the given details are sufficient to disprove hubristic speculations from those who hate God. Let’s look at a few popular false claims about the New Creation:

Hierarchy/authority won’t exist in the New Creation; equality will reign.”

Americans have a bigger problem with authority than most peoples. In fact, we’ve made an idol of equality and enslaved ourselves to it. Naturally, many of us would expect hierarchy to be destroyed along with this sinful world and never show its face again.

But American’s problems aren’t God’s problems. He created hierarchy in the first place. He put man in charge of creation (authority), and gifted Eve to Adam as his helper (hierarchy). Adam and Eve no doubt would have held authority over their children even if the Fall had never occurred. Such authority was entwined with responsibility, but that makes it no less real. All this, God called “very good.”

The new creation will not be bereft of this very good gift. Consider what Jesus taught: In the Upper Room, he told his apostles that in his kingdom, they will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. In his parable of the 10 minas, the faithful servants are given authority over cities according to their labors. Revelation describes kings bringing their glory into New Jerusalem. Based on the Biblical descriptions, authority and hierarchy seem like a normal part of the next life, just as in this one–only without any abuse, negligence, or any other sin that can gives authority a bad name.

Yes, there are times when Jesus corrects his disciples because they were treating authority as a prize to be won for their own prestige. He also taught that hierarchy in the kingdom of heaven is distributed differently than on earth. But if the first shall be last and the last shall be first, there will still be first and last. If the greatest among us would be the servant of all, there is still a greatest. If the humble are exalted and the exalted humbled, there will still be humbled and exalted. Hierarchy and authority endure because Christ remains a king who delegates.

“Races/Nations won’t exist in the New Creation. All human distinctions will pass away.”

The racial divisions in the United States have lead us to a very weird belief. Americans tend to think that race doesn’t really exist as anything more than a prejudice imposed on raceless humans. We believed it because we hoped embracing it would end our racial strife, but… Well, let’s just say it’s not going too well.

How that belief plays out depends on politics. Conservatives try to be consistent about this foolishness. They’ll aspire to be color-blind and embrace the “there’s only one race, the human race” sophistry. They think race is a distraction from “real” issues.

Liberals also think race is superficial, but they don’t bear the burden of consistency. For them, race absolutely exists with respect to their hierarchy of grievance; it helps to determine whether you’re oppressed or oppressor in their narrative. At the same time, how dare you think race means anything at all! They basically think race is adamant when discussing reparations but fungible when discussing immigration.

So both sides associate “nation” with “conflict” and therefore exclude nations from Paradise. But that’s not what God’s Word tells us. As was mentioned, the twelve Apostles will be judging the twelve tribes of Israel, so clearly that nation will persist. And it’s not the only one. John says of New Jerusalem:

By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gate will never be shut by day–and there will be no nigh there. They will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Notice how the nations are even implicitly affirmed as holy, for their glory and honor are brought into a place that nothing unclean will enter.

There will be peace in paradise; there will also be nations because nations are good creations of God. That’s why, a few verses later, John talks about the leaves of the tree of life for the healing of the nations. They will not be obliterated. They will be restored.

“The sexes will pass away in the New Creation; humans will be gender-neutral.”

Given the desperation of the degenerate, it should be no surprise that this one makes the list. Many people think Paradise means they’ll finally become the (imaginary) androgynous human they idolize. But the lie is directly contradicted by clear Biblical testimony.

Christ’s resurrected body is the one we’re most familiar with. It’s a good example because when we are resurrected, we shall have glorified bodies akin to Christ’s. As Paul writes in Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” We all know the verse, but don’t sleep on the pronouns: “His glorious body. ” As in male. That is likewise how Jesus is always referred to in the Gospels after his resurrection–as male. There are personal neuter pronouns in Greek that the Holy Spirit could have used but did not. This is God’s deliberate word, just as it was for the Father and the Holy Spirit.

So clearly, the male sex will continue in the New Creation. By analogous reasoning, it’s safe to conclude that the female sex will persist as well. The only real alternative is to teach (as some gnostic heretics did) that because women are inferior, God will have to transform them into men to save them. Needless to say, most people pushing this lie won’t go for that.

Now, like most false teachers, they try to overturn the clearer parts of Scripture by means of the more difficult parts. In this case, they’ll refer to Jesus’ words in Luke 20. The Sadducees attempted to disprove the Resurrection by presenting Jesus with a conundrum that would make it ridiculous–an elaborate circumstance in which a woman ended up marrying each of seven brothers during her life, all legally and morally on the up-and-up. Then, they asked Jesus whose wife she would be in the resurrection. Jesus responded, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”

Now, this comment has often been interpreted to mean that there will be no marriage in paradise. I’m dubious of that interpretation, but let’s just go with it for the moment. The liars here go a step further and speculate that because there will be no marriage, there will be no sexes either. But speculation is all it is. We have many examples of people called to celibacy–who never marry–but are nevertheless men and women. On top of that, Jesus uses both the active “marry” (men) and the passive “be given in marriage” (women) for those in paradise, implying the presence of both men and women. C.S. Lewis has a good examination of this in Mere Christianity if you want to explore it more. But regardless, we do not get to ignore Scripture’s clear testimony in favor of our own speculation.

But as I said, I’m dubious that Christ’s comments are intended to state that there will be no marriage at all in the new Heavens and new Earth. There are a number of textual and theological problems with that explanation. It implies that marriage is only needed because of death, which contradicts Genesis. It fails to explain why Jesus changed verb tenses from future to present. It makes the angel comparison effectively meaningless.

Now, I don’t yet have an alternative explanation that’s better. Maybe I’ll explore this more in a future blog post, but for now I have to be humble and admit that I simply don’t know. It wouldn’t be the first time Jesus said something that’s over my head. Nevertheless, explanations that problematic usually aren’t correct. Therefore, I don’t even concede that marriage will be absent in Paradise. But either way, neither this understanding nor the common one imply an end to the sexes.

There is a lot about the hereafter that we don’t understand now. We know that the new heavens and new earth will be paradise–perfect in every way. As sinners, however, we don’t always recognize perfection when we see it. And the more we refuse to repent of our sins, the more we’ll see perfection as hostility. So be guided by the Spirit rather than your sinful flesh, and refuse to play this petty game of dissecting creation until it’s more to your liking. What God has in store for us will be good, and at the Resurrection we’ll be able to understand precisely why it’s good. In the meantime, we ought to fulfill all of our vocations with respect to our sex, our nation, and our place in God’s hierarchies, for we are without excuse.

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3 Responses to Trouble in Paradise

  1. Matthew Etzell says:

    Well said; I agree.

    A related error is when people try to instantiate some feature of the New Creation in this world, despite the absence of the conditions upon which those features are predicated. For example, those who advocate total pacifism/disarmament in this world based on Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3. The reason there will be no need for weapons in the New Creation is because there will be no need for individual or collective self-defense, because there will be no sin, because God will have fully sanctified us. Of course, this world is thoroughly sinful, and mere human effort cannot change this. Therefore, there is still a need for self-defense (both individual and collective), and the weapons used to facilitate self-defense.

    • Matt says:

      YES. That is a huge issue too. I remember a brief interaction with a radically utilitarian philosopher who wanted to genetically alter every organism on the planet to end predation. Wasn’t Christian, but he tried to use Isaiah 11:6 as a justification. (https://matthewcochran.net/blog/?p=635).

      We should never confuse what God promised HE would do with what we ought to do ourselves. We’re not God.

  2. philip says:

    I agree with your interpretation of Jesus’ words on marriage. The other zinger to throw out is “there’s at least one marriage in heaven, since it’s the wedding feast of the Lamb” (Rev 19:6-7)

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