Some of us have grown up in a cultural environment in which it was commonplace to hear religious talk about "the end of the world." Whether such language left us feeling chagrined or convinced, we did assume that the message of the Bible is that it is God's will to bring the world to an end.
It is the message of the Bible that the present "form" of this world will end. As the apostle Paul said, "For the present form of this world is passing away" (1 Corinthians 7:31). This means that the old order of evil, sin, and death is destined to be overcome through God's act of reconciling the world to God's self through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit who brings God's act in Christ to actualization in God's own way and time. Yet the "passing away" of the present "form" of the world does not mean that the world itself will be destroyed.
It is not the message of the Bible that it is God's will to destroy the world. The message of the Bible is that it is God's purpose to transform the world which God created and God loves. Jesus's message of "the kingdom of God" is a promise of a coming new future for this world, and Jesus' teaching instructed his disciples to pray for the coming of God's kingdom so that God's will may be done on earth as in heaven. The prophet Isaiah and the seer John on the Isle of Patmos both spoke of a coming new heaven and new earth. Indeed, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, which was not a mere resusitation, but a transformation of his mode of being, is the sign of God's ultimate purpose to transform all of creation.
The Eastern Christian tradition has maintained the biblical focus on the promised transformation of the whole creation more than any other part of the Christian tradition. Orthodox theologians always place an emphasis upon the cosmic salvation God has begun in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Only in recent years have those of us in the Wesleyan tradition become fully aware of the teaching of John Wesley and Charles Wesley about the transformation of the world. For example, in his commentary on Romans 8:21 in his Notes on the New Testament, John Wesley points out that the apostle does not say that the creation will be "destroyed," but that it will be "delivered," which means that it will share with saved human beings a restoration to God's original purpose for all that God has created. Dr. Theodore Runyon's The New Creation (Abingdon, 1998) is a key text for placing Wesleyan teaching in the context of the larger Christian, especially Eastern Christian, tradition of emphasizing the cosmic purposes of God's salvation in Jesus Christ.
The recovery of the biblical message of a new creation is critical in this time when we are aware of the ecological crisis we are facing, and its connection to global povery and the continuing challenge of the existence of nuclear weapons. Because God's salvation has a cosmic scope, we who have received grace to be God's people have a responsibility to care for all of God's creation.
The coming new creation can occur only as God's gift, but we must remember that God chooses to work synergistically with human beings. Hoping for God's creation does not mean we do not do anything. Hoping for God's creation is actively living in accordance with God's ultimate purposes for the creation. We are not left to care for the creation by our own strength, nor are we permitted to shrink back into apathy; no, we are called to the synergy of working with our God whose active purpose is the transformation of the world.
At the 2009 Florida Annual Conference, we began a focus upon cherishing the creation. I pray for all of our congregations as they find ways in which they can creatively participate in God's work of tranforming the world and bringing forth a new creation.