God recycles. The Christian experience can be characterized as renewal in Christ, healing that comes from God taking us and makes us into something new, healed of our wounds and freed to serve God. Why then, when we’re so eager to talk about how God “recycles” our lives, do many Christians assume that God doesn’t want to recycle the created world? Yes, recycling is a crude metaphor, but what if the creation is to be born-again just as we are?
I remember reading the Left Behind series in high school. Naive as I was, I actually believed then that (as the books suggest) the rapture would come during my lifetime, the world would be incinerated, and Jesus would return (though to what I’m not sure). About six books into the series, though, I started to question its theology. For some reason the depiction of the “Trib Force” – the faithful Christian heroes of the books – running around with machine guns battling the antichrist’s forces just didn’t seem very . . . well . . . Jesus-like. Thankfully, I came to my senses, and now (almost a decade, much reading, and a seminary degree later) I have a much different view of the the end-of-the-world. Yet books like these, for many in contemporary Christian culture, are still promoting an eschatology that denigrates creation. (Eschatology = fancy word for theology of the end of the world.)
But where do books like that come from? I think that the Left Behind series is much more a product of American consumer culture than it is of any sound or biblical theology. Its sixteen volumes, numerous spin-offs, and endless merchandising are indicative of the greed and consumerism that are rampant in American society, religious or non-religious. But more importantly, its eschatology is reflective of our own consumeristic assumption that once something is used-up, it gets thrown-out.
For a fun and educational take on American consumerism, please watch this video: The Story of Stuff. As one portion of the video explains, we’re caught in a cycle of consumption where, held captive to advertising which leaves us working to buy more meaningless junk we don’t need. Most of that meaningless junk really is junk because it’s designed to wear out in six months. This is called planned obsolescence. As a result, we produce on average 4.5 lbs of trash per person per day. No wonder we make God in our own image and assume he’ll throw this used-up piece of dirt into a garbage can at the end of time. Ironically, that assumption actually speeds the day when the earth will be nothing more than a used up piece of dirt. In my last year as a Religious Studies major at the University of Colorado, I took a class about apocalyptic thought and its portrayal in contemporary culture. The most thought-provoking (for me) video we watched in the class talked in all seriousness about the apocalypse being brought on through advertising. (It’s available here, or in snipits on YouTube – just search for “Advertising and the end of the world”.)
But the truth is, despite what advertisements tell us, that God did not create the earth with a model of “planned obsolescence”. Rather, numerous portions of the Bible suggest that the world will be “remade” or “made new” at an end that isn’t so much an end as a new beginning. Parts 2 and 3, to be posted in the next couple days, will explain more.