This is the third small group study for the Christianity series (By Dave Miles).
To research read Cornelius Plantinga, Engaging God’s World, p12-16... the section on ‘Hoping for shalom’... here’s an excerpt:
Biblical hope has a wide-angle lens. It takes in whole nations and peoples. It brings into focus the entire created order - wolves and lambs, mountains and plains, rivers and valleys. When it is widest and longest, biblical hope looks forward toward a whole "new heaven and new earth," in which death, and mourning, and pain will have passed away (Revelation 21:1, 4), and in which the Son of God receives the treasures of nations who parade into the city of God (Revelation 21:22-26).
Hope on this grand scale is just what we find in the visions of Isaiah, Joel, and the other prophets. We often think of prophets (including modern prophets) as people who cry out against evil. And so they do. They do what Martin Luther King Jr. did. Then they go to work, organizing people to fight evil and to pursue justice. They follow through on their dream so that the Spirit of God may blow upon it and make it live. Faith without works is dead (James 2:17), and the same goes for hope. Without costly action, hope can soften into sentimentality. With costly action, hope may harden into reality. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life in the struggle for justice, and a whole nation's modest gains in racial understanding have become unthinkable without him.
Prophets understand evil because they also understand good. They know how many ways the world can go wrong because they also know how many ways (higher up and further back) the world can go right. And they keep dreaming of a time when God will put things right again.
Thus, the biblical prophets dreamed of a new age in which the wilderness would bloom and the mountains would drip with wine. They dreamed of a time when people would convert weapons of war into tools for harvest, of a time when a child could romp with a lion. In this coming time God would rejoice in his creation all over again. People could work in peace and work to fruitful effect, secure in the knowledge that no one would plunder their houses and vineyards. God's servants would minister justice in the earth, and all the earth would be full of the knowledge of the Lord (e.g., Isaiah 2:2-4,11:1-9, 32:14-20, 42:1-12, 60, 65:17-25, Jeremiah 33, Joel 2:24-29, 3:17-18).
This webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfilment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets called shalom. We call it "peace," but it means far more than just peace of mind or cease-fire between enemies. (As a matter of fact, the area over which two armies declare a cease-fire may be acres of smouldering ruin.) In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight - a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, all under the arch of God's love. Shalom, in other words, is the way things are supposed to be.
1. Start off
- If you could change 3 things about our world or community to make it more like the shalom of the new earth described in Dave’s talk and in the excerpt above, what would you change? Share with the group and make a master list on a whiteboard.
2. Getting into it
Read Revelation 21:1-11, 22-27
- What features of the new earth do you find particularly comforting or inviting? Do any of these things match up with the changes the group suggested in ‘Start off’?
- What bible-wide promise of God comes true in verse 3? To whom was this promise first made (Gen.17:7)?
- What are some of the words in verses 9-11, 22-27 that suggest light, brilliance, or glory? What gives the city of God these characteristics and is the key, central feature of the new earth, the secret of its glory and power?
- Verses 24 and 26 mention kings and nations. Why will these be brought into the new earth?
- The bible goes not give us a great deal of specific information about the new earth. What are some of the things that remain a mystery, that we simply won’t know until we see them for ourselves?
- Given what the bible does tell us about heaven, what do we still need to keep in mind? 1 Corinthians 2:9.
- What are some other views of heaven that this passage suggests need to come down to earth? Why do you think some Christians hold to these other views of heaven?
3. More personal
- What other questions about the new creation would you like to discuss?
- What difference does it make to you that heaven may not be ‘up there somewhere’ but right here on this earth?
- How would you complete this statement: ‘When I think about living in the new earth, I...’? Share your completed statement with the group.
- How will today’s discussion and the readings about the future of creation make a difference in your day-to-day life?