Many Christians view the call to follow Jesus as some sort of out-of-body, other-worldly affair that shouldn’t occupy itself with this-worldly concerns. The Christian life is largely arranged around the concept of escape—we will one day leave this world for good, go to heaven when we die and forever live in some kind of angel-like existence.
Those who frame and understand salvation this way believe the Gospel looks something like this:
I am a sinner. Jesus died for my sins. I asked Jesus into my heart to forgive my sins. When I die I will be removed from this world and will live in heaven for all eternity.
Within this framework, the world is seen as a really awful place that God hates and salvation is viewed as God’s evacuation plan to one day get His followers out of it.
More than we realize, this understanding of the Gospel not only does a grave injustice to God’s cosmic redemptive story, a story that seeks to redeem and renew all of creation, but more closely resembles the second-century heresy of Gnosticism than Christianity.
Gnosticism and the New Testament
Gnosticism has many facets worthy of discussion, but one of its main features, and one that is particularly relevant to this conversation, is the idea that all matter is essentially evil. Our bodies are evil, the world is evil and both are without value, destined to be destroyed. The only important part of us that really does matter is our immaterial soul. Soul good, body and all matter, evil.
In the past, people who embraced Gnostic teaching treated their bodies poorly through malnutrition, even self-mutilation, on the assumption that it didn’t really matter what they did to their flesh because, after all, our bodies are essentially evil and destined for destruction.
For many, the body was something they needed to escape from, not something to be honored as a God-given gift, and certainly had no place in God’s future plan. The body was a temporary home and the earth was a place they were just passing through. Matter, in all of its forms, was evil, temporary and assigned for destruction.
However, the biblical storyline is quite clear that our bodies and the earth are not evil and destined for destruction. And that our bodies and world are not places from which we will one day escape.
God created the earth and called it good. God created human beings and called them good. God didn’t change his mind half-way through His project and decide to call all matter evil. In fact, if we believe this way, I think we’ve misread, misunderstood and misinterpreted God’s story altogether.
God’s Cosmic Restoration Project
My point in saying all of this is simple—matter is not evil, the body is good and the earth is good.
God has not abandoned his cosmic restoration project, a project that Jesus inaugurated and which he will one day bring through to completion in the form of a renewed and restored creation. (I highly recommend this post from Brandon Andress titled “A New Earth or a Renewed Earth: Reflecting on a Theology of the Last Things.“)