What if our life on earth could be like what life in heaven will be?
What if every day was better than the day before? What if God’s original plan was to create an entire universe made to be a playground of exploration, discovery, invention, development, and dominion? What if life was meant to be a process of eternal growth and development? What if in the process of living our daily lives we regularly encountered some new facet or dimension of the glory of God? What if such insight brought new joy, fascination, and amazement that could be personally enjoyed and shared with others? And, most importantly, what if it consistently led to a deeper relationship with God? Wouldn’t that make for an everlastingly exciting life of living with purpose?
I want to explore this vision and compare it to what the Scriptures teach, not only about what God’s plans are for us in the future, but for what he would like us to be doing in the here and now. When we begin to study the Scriptures thoroughly, we will find that all aspects of our lives have a spiritual dimension. That includes our work, our play, and all of our relationships.
Before we begin, let me say that this is the result of two things that have influenced my thinking on the issue of how we should live in this world. The first is the central message of Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven. In that book, Alcorn argues that God literally plans to redeem His creation. As such, there is a connection between this world and the next. Heaven will not be something that is entirely unfamiliar. As Alcorn unpacks his thesis, he is careful to appeal to Scripture to support his case. I generally accept his thesis and wish to apply it to the question, what should we be doing in this world in light of what God has planned for the future?
The second thing that has influenced my thinking is the Bible’s teaching that we bear the image of God. Of course, a cursory investigation of the first two chapters of Genesis reveals the use of this phrase and many of us have studied the idea to some extent. As for me, I had studied a wide variety of theologians and what they had to say on the matter. However, it is an interesting fact that the phrase itself was commonly used in both Egypt as well as Mesopotamia at the time that Moses penned the words. However, unlike Moses’ use of it, it was generally reserved for only one person in society. It was reserved for the king or pharaoh. In other words, the common use of the phrase implied that what set the king apart from other people was that he bore God’s image and it was incumbent upon him to determine God’s will and to impose it on the people. Thus, when Moses wrote that everyone, both men and women, bear the image of God, he was literally saying that every last person is sovereign. Each one is seen by God as a king or queen and it is incumbent upon each of us individually to determine God’s will for our lives and to bring it about in this world.
In fact, this idea is embedded in the dominion mandate. This mandate is first given in Genesis 1:28. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” To accomplish this requires work. It requires investigation and the accumulation of knowledge about how things work. It requires us to discover what has been created, learn about the nature of the things of creation, and then decide how things can be used to accomplish the purpose of dominion. It requires choices about what to do and when to do it. Thus, God’s purpose for us as image bearers is a process of learning and change. Moreover, this was true before the fall, and it is still true now. We were never intended to live in a world of static existence.
This brings me to some of my main questions. Is the desire for material betterment wrong? Is it wrong to continue mankind’s historical expansion and development of planet earth? After all, don’t the Scriptures teach us to be content with what we have? Isn’t that Paul’s message to Timothy when he instructs him that,
…there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
On the basis of this statement, it would seem that the answer is settled.
Avoiding the Snare
However, I’m not at all sure this settles the matter. I do not believe that thinking we should abandon any desire for betterment is what Paul is really warning us against. It is certainly true enough that we will all die one day and whatever material goods we have accumulated cannot be taken with us. But the issue is not about whether material goods in the present world are good or bad, but with where we should find our contentment in life. Ultimately, contentment with whatever we have can only be found when we are content in our relationship with Christ. But this does not mean we should not strive for improvement. While we cannot take any of our possessions with us when we die, we can certainly leave them for our posterity. Wisdom teaches that a good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children.
To assume that the pursuit of any material betterment is bad in and of itself cannot be reconciled with many other passages of Scripture, nor does it do justice to a biblical understanding of human nature and God’s mandate for us to take dominion. To believe that there is something intrinsically wrong with living out our lives in a material world producing material goods that we use in the course of our lives is a gnostic heresy.
Gnosticism arose as a combination of Greek philosophy coupled with other religious ideas. Aristotle had argued that the ultimate reality was a singular, spiritual unity. He referred to this reality as the Logos and argued that everything that exists is something that emanates from the Logos. The Logos is not personal but is simply a spiritual force. In Greek thought, the further the emanation from the Logos, the more imperfect was the thing. For this reason, Greeks tended to have a low view of material things.
As Christianity spread and those influenced by Greek thought came to faith, they tended to introduce these philosophic ideas into Christianity. The Church fathers had to fight mightily against this effort in order to preserve the gospel. Indeed, many of the confessions were responses to various heretical influences that threatened to undermine the content of Christianity as it was preached by Jesus and the Apostles. The truth is, from its inception Christianity has stressed the physical resurrection of Christ and God’s ultimate plan to redeem His creation and return it to its proper order.
Again, we cannot take dominion over the world without doing better materially. Therefore, it seems to me that a proper understanding of Paul’s warning to Timothy, and to us, lies in understanding the nature of human desire, its ultimate purpose, and, finally, the nature of finding contentment in relation to desire. So again, is it wrong to seek a better material circumstance in life? It depends on your frame of reference. In this world there are thieves. There is hardship. There is rot and decay. Sometimes we build houses and we do not live in them. Sometimes we plant vineyards and are never able to eat their fruit. The presence of sin and the curse of the ground all imply that this world is fading away. Therefore, if we have set our hearts only on our material betterment in this world, we are not likely to find contentment.
However, that does not mean that we should give up on dominion. After all, we are physical creatures in need of material sustenance if we are going to survive. Moreover, if we are to thrive, it is better for us to have such sustenance in greater quantity and quality. Such a condition necessarily implies material betterment. Furthermore, this world is a training ground of sorts for the next. However, sinners that we are, we can and do set our hearts on the wrong things. For this reason, we are admonished to find our contentment in God even as we seek to take dominion in the present world, knowing that our plans may not be realized.
Paul speaks of this attitude when he wrote to the Philippians. He told them that he had learned to be content despite his material circumstances. Whether he enjoyed great material luxury or suffered from material deprivation, he was content as long as he knew he was pursuing God’s call for his life. His contentment did not spring from a desire for deprivation, rather from the realization that God was ultimately sovereign and had his best interest at heart. Therefore, he could readily submit himself to God and depend solely upon God’s saving grace despite whatever material circumstance he faced. Paul had set his heart on pursuing God’s call for his life, and he was encouraging Timothy and us to do likewise. Toward that end, we should all realize that God’s call on an individual life is not the same for all individuals. He has given us different gifts and issues to us different calls.
Our Primary Need
Before moving ahead, let me say from the outset that my greatest intention is for people to put their faith in Christ alone for salvation from their sin. Anyone who has not done so can have no expectation whatsoever that heaven will be their final reward. Rather, based upon our sinful nature, natural man’s destiny is eternal damnation in hell. For everyone who thinks that his own efforts are good enough to enter God’s presence and to enjoy his new creation, I have some awfully bad news. You are not that good! No one is. The only man who ever lived a righteous life before God was God’s own Son, Jesus.
If, dear reader, you have never made peace with God by placing your trust in Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice for your sin, let me encourage you to do it today. Actually, I plead with you to do it right now before you read another word. If you are unwilling to do this, all you will ever know of God’s grace is what you are experiencing right now. Whatever you may have suffered thus far in your life is nothing compared to what you will suffer if you do not bend your knee and throw yourself upon the mercy of God.
Having said this, let’s move on. Consider human nature. In particular, what was the nature of our first parents as designed by God? Since human nature is embedded in the very design of creation, it is crucial that we understand it. Notice that while Adam was created with a good mind, he did not possess perfect knowledge of his environment. This is pointed out when God brings Adam the animals and asks him to name them. In doing this he was engaging in the very essence of scientific investigation. Thus, it has always been the case that human knowledge expands through a proper theology coupled with a proper science.
However, the problem of sin and fallen human nature confronts us everywhere. To be sure, we have made a mess of things and it is important to consider how human sinfulness has impacted our desires. It is certain that sin has negatively affected our desires and undercut our relationships not only with one another, but more importantly with God. God cursed the ground and now nature itself works against us. In truth, our desires are awfully messed up. Nevertheless, human desire, in and of itself, is not necessarily bad and we should be working in this life to reform our desires in light of God’s Word.
This brings us to one issue that I believe is currently plaguing our culture. There is a utopian mindset spreading. There are various facets of this way of thinking and it poses one of the biggest threats to our culture that has its roots in a Judeo-Christian understanding of the world. It begins with a naturalist view of the world. That is according to this view, nature is all there is. Thus, it disregards the basic fact that we are creatures with a Creator. Among the offshoots of this starting assumption is the notion that nature should be worshiped. A result of that idea is the notion that humanity is destroying nature by pursuing our God-given job of taking dominion.
This has led to the rise of the environmentalist movement that would radically restrict human action. In addition, it embraces a socialistic political strategy aimed at economic stagnation. As such, this new way of thinking has significantly undercut our traditional understanding of taking dominion over the earth. In a sense, it is the modern form of pagan earth worship that was practiced when the Bible was originally written. For the most part it is anti-progress, anti-dominion, anti-human, and anti-Christ. If God’s call on our lives is to prevail, we must understand the nature of this movement and the threat it poses.
Desiring to Play God
Another problem associated with naturalism is the unholy desire to play god in other people’s lives. Such action can take many different forms, but the desire itself is as old as sin itself. Paul warned the Thessalonians about busybodies who were personally idle but wished to meddle in the affairs of everyone else. These people were simply annoying. Indeed, we can probably all identify someone like this in our own experience. Such people are nuisances and Paul admonishes us to ignore them and instructs them to go to work and take care of their own business.
However, the desire to rule over others can be far more than that. Coupled with naturalism, this can easily turn destructive on a massive level. Indeed, the problem of the abuse of government power in our day is one of the main problems that people face in attempting any endeavor at taking dominion. Of course, this has been true throughout the vast majority of human history, which is perhaps why it is so readily accepted. Just the same, we need to understand the problem and act accordingly.
Living with Purpose in Taking Dominion
I would urge you to consider the prospect of finding joy in the process of taking dominion. It seems to me that the meaning of salvation is found in God’s plan of redeeming his creation. The very idea of redemption is to restore something to its proper place and proper order. In the word pictures given to us about the new heaven and new earth we find descriptions of people doing ordinary sorts of things. For example, in chapter 65, the prophet Isaiah says that people “shall build houses and inhabit them, they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.”
If this be so, then there is a link between what we do now and what we will be doing then. As such dominion is a purpose for living not only for today, but one that will be ours in the future. We ought to meditate on this truth because it will change what we are doing today. As C. S. Lewis observed, “Aim at Heaven and you will get the earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
 Randy Alcorn, Heaven, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishing, 2004)
 1 Timothy 6:6-10, ESV.
 Proverbs 13:22
 Philippians 4:10-13.
 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12.
 Isaiah 65:21
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: Collier Books, 1960), 118.