A little over fifteen years ago I composed “A Poem of Apocalyptic Emancipation” which I decided to post on this blog a few weeks ago. It was the narration of a struggle I had been having for some time as I wrestled with the clash of two worldviews that seemed to be colliding in my conscience. The struggle is epitomized in the title/subtitle of the poem:
“…And the things of earth will grow strangely dim.”
(A Poem of Apocalyptic Emancipation)
The first worldview was the fundamentalist Christian worldview that I encountered in the Christian culture I inhabited, which is epitomized by the words from a fundamentalist hymn, “and the things of earth will grow strangely dim.” The second worldview was what I believed was being manifested to me as a more biblical worldview that consists of a more balanced relationship between the earthly and heavenly realities.
The more biblical worldview had been making its impact upon me through reading the Bible and many books with different views about “the end times”, through observing the attitudes and actions of my co-fundamentalist Christians, and through much meditation about these things. Of all the literary sources I read, a short excerpt from C. S. Lewis identified and effectively harmonized the issue for me. The context of Lewis’s comment is the subject of a person’s love for other persons or even self-love that rivals a person’s love for God, and the “radical”command of Jesus that implies that all other loves should be “hate” in comparison to our love for God. Lewis simply “hit the nail on the head” regarding the essence of the real issue underlying my bewilderment and what I believe was my eventual enlightenment.
“It is dangerous to press upon a man the duty of getting beyond earthly love when his real difficulty lies in getting so far. And it is no doubt easy enough to love the fellow creature less and to imagine that this is happening because we are learning to love God more, when the real reason may be quite different. We may be only ‘mistaking the decays of nature for the increase of Grace’. Many people do not find it really difficult to hate their wives or mothers. Mr. Mauriac, in a fine scene, pictures the other disciples stunned and bewildered by this strange command, but not Judas. He laps it up easily.” (C. S. Lewis, “The Four Loves” p. 118)
My poem was thus my own effort to not “mistake the decay of nature for the increase of grace” and to achieve “apocalyptic emancipation” regarding the relation of creation to redemption in my own life that “lives and moves and has it’s being” within God’s plan to redeem his creation.
Regarding the hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus“, written in 1922, from which the words in my poem’s title come, the context of the song is actually that of suffering, and I do not wish to deny that sometimes the things of earth rightly need to grow “strangely dim” through the hope of heaven away from the present earthly “vale of tears.” But that “hope” is really only the “intermediate place” of departed believers between the time of the present earth and the time of the new earth to come. Also, the song can too easily become more negatively anthemic and become a general worldview of all earthly “things.” The song does seem to lean in this direction with the last line especially:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!
I believe it is more biblically accurate to see the world not as “dying” but as being redeemed, although the “dying away” of some present “things” occurs in that process.
“…but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:26-29)
What “remains” following God’s “consuming fire” process of “shaking” is “a new heaven and new earth.” Heaven and earth are pictured as becoming united at the end of the Book of Revelation. It is the new heaven and earth that we are waiting for. (See 2 Peter 3:13) It is for this reason that I added the painting of “The New Earth” by Cliff McReynolds, because something like the creational existence portrayed in that picture is the true biblical hope, rather than a spiritualized “heavenly” existence, (which is not actually Christianity, but ancient Gnosticism.)
Since the time in 1998 when I wrote the poem, several popular level books have been published that deal with the questions I had struggled with. In 2004 Randy Acorn published his massive book “Heaven” which included an appendix that critiqued “Christoplatonism,” the mixture of Christian and Platonic views that has been prevalent in Christianity. In 2008 N. T. Wright published “Surprised by Hope” which also critiques the rampant philosophical Christoplatonism, although he used the older religious term of Gnosticism. These are both excellent books, and here are two short videos by these two authors on these subjects:
I believed then, and still do, that we need to understand the relation of creation to redemption, otherwise we will not only be unbalanced, but we fall too easily into not valuing the things of the world that are meaningful and important to all people. I wrote the original poem to work out this balance, and believe that redemption understood, results in my “Revisited” version of the poem:”
“…And the things of earth will grow strangely vivid.”
Bryan M. Christman
March 20, 2013
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Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2013. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.