Andrew Watson: The beginning, ending and in-between
As a new year begins and we look back on the end of another, Rev Andrew Watson reflects on another beginning and ending - the first and last pages of the Bible...
THE world wasn't always broken like it is today, as we enter 2022. Nor will it be like this forever.
Let's consider God's plans for His creation as they're revealed in the first and last pages of the Bible.
In the beginning of things as we can know them (Genesis 1 and 2), God created the heavens and the earth. We did not evolve randomly, we were specifically designed and carefully crafted by one who delights in us.
A vast universe of galaxies and a splendid earth, bursting with life to reflect something of his glory and his greatest masterpiece - human beings to display and continue his creative image. God assessed all He had made and said, "It's very good."
This planet was originally blessed with a God-given order and fine tuned to promote life. Even atheist scientists marvel at this.
We're given a picture of skies, seas and a garden in which every plant and creature may thrive. It appears no-one ate meat and no animal was carnivorous, there was no killing or death at this point. Things were ordered to promote harmonious, productive relationship.
This is further seen in God's blueprint for human society, the man and his wife as equals, from their loving union producing children. From love comes new life - what a beautiful stroke of genius on the part of the Creator.
Perhaps most wonderful of all at this point was the open relationship between the Creator and his creation, specifically the human beings he had entrusted as managers of it.
We read of God blessing them, talking with and instructing them and we're given a beautiful picture in Genesis 3 of the Lord somehow walking in the garden, prepared to simply enjoy the fellowship and company of the people he had made and loved.
Things would go badly wrong but it's important to realise and acknowledge that God's original creation was wonderful.
How encouraging it is to move to the end of the Bible (Revelation 21:1-8) and discover that the Creator promises new heavens and a renewed earth to be enjoyed when Christ returns in majesty to reign.
Mankind has been busy abusing, wasting, destroying the environment and resources we've been given but our selfish failures are not to be the end of the story.
Towards the end of the 1st century AD Vesuvius had erupted, Jerusalem had been destroyed, the Church was growing but faced brutal persecution.
Jesus appeared to one of his last living apostles, John, and gave him an encouraging vision to share with Christian believers.
The disasters and atrocities are painful but they're not the end of the world. That is safely in His hands and God's people who keep the faith are promised resurrection glory.
John is inspired to develop an Old Testament vision from Isaiah 65 where Jerusalem is pictured as a garden city in which people from all nations live and thrive in peace with each other and in peace with God.
There will be healing; here will be wholeness in body, mind and spirit. No more killing or death, sickness, disability or pain, therefore no more crying or mourning.
There are two crucial things about the age that is to come as John describes it in the vision he's been given.
First, evil is excluded. There will be no more disobedience to the maker, no more twisting or abusing of his given order. Life will not be spoiled by selfishness, greed, pride or folly.
Second, note also how fellowship will be fully restored for those who have turned from sin and trusted in God's grace in Christ. Our salvation will be complete in that day as we are perfected to see God face to face and live with him for ever.
So much for where we have come from and where we are looking forward to - what about the here and now?
How might we describe this present time? How would we describe our current experience of life? Perhaps the simplest word we could use is 'mixed'...
Life in between the beginning and end can be very wonderful at times. We can experience many beautiful, enjoyable things.
We can know, love and play music and invest our creative energy in all kinds of worthwhile projects. But it is also unspeakably frustrating as wars continue, slavery thrives, sexual crime escalates and human beings continue to assert their proud independence from God.
Once again the Bible gives us important balance. The rest of Genesis describes a world that is tragically fallen, with disastrous consequences but not without the possibility of salvation. The Old Testament will unfold a history that is broken, frustrating and cursed with death.
But while our sin distances us from God, he refuses to abandon us, offering hope in the covenant of grace with Abraham, Moses and Israel.
The New Testament will resound with the invasion of light and hope and promise in the life, atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
For now it can certainly feel complicated and distressing but it's far from hopeless, because the Light of the World - whose birth we celebrated just days ago - has come to our rescue.
The Rev Andrew Watson is minister of the Presbyterian congregation at Cairncastle, Co Antrim. He blogs at wordsurfers.com.