I grew up in two worlds: the postmodern culture of my public education and the isolationist culture of my church. Although I was not consciously aware of the secular culture in which I grew up, it influenced me all the same, both implicitly shaping me and as I explicitly reacted against it. On the positive side, postmodernism taught me to value individual experiences and to look on the world with wonder at the multitudes of cultures and belief systems around the world. On the negative side, I internalized a belief that I could never fully be sure of anything. This applied to friendships, family members, and truth. I became a cynical person who doubted people’s love and wondered if I had any purpose in life. Although I was a loud-and-proud Christian at my public school, the theology I parroted rarely took root on an emotional level to counteract these fears.
In fact, although my church tried to offer hope in the face of a “sinful” culture, the theology I learned only exacerbated the loneliness and detachment of postmodernism. I was taught a theology that was centered upon the cross in hope of a future in heaven. I learned about the depth of love Jesus had for us by dying a horrific death in atonement for our sins. I had a guilt-based relationship with God in which I feared every new sin I committed would crucify Jesus all over again. The only hope, I believed, was in heaven. This world was entirely awful, and I certainly was not capable of making things better. Therefore, I looked forward to the day when I would be dead and blissfully happy in heaven, a nebulous place of whites and golds where I knew my sin-stained self would be able to see Jesus face-to-face.
Sometimes I looked forward to heaven a little too much. I was depressed in middle school. I felt alienated and alone. I carried anxiety deeply, and I took on the emotions of others as my own. The world was broken and full of horrific things, so I wanted nothing to do with it. I was too cowardly to act upon my depression, but for two years, I regularly prayed for God to kill me and end my misery. I had no experience of Peter’s exhortation, “even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” I did not see Jesus, and I was filled with doubt and despair, not inexpressible joy.
God saved me from my depression. On an otherwise normal day, I suddenly realized that I did not like my life. I wanted something more, and I knew pursuing Jesus was the way to find it. I have been stumbling after him in the fifteen years since, and as I grow in understanding God’s big-picture plan, my existential anxiety fades. Jesus’s work on the cross is incomplete without his powerful resurrection. The brokenness of the world is incomplete without acknowledging God’s good creation and eventual recreation. As I began to understand God’s full plan, I found a theology that gave me meaning and hope.
The story of the world is one of creation, fall, and recreation. This is the larger metanarrative of history, and it is also the smaller, repeated story of our lives. Put another way, we are all in the process of creation, death, and resurrection. Postmodernism does not allow for the deeper implications of this metanarrative. If this is only a truth that applies to me, it is not a truth I can trust in. Similarly, when I believed in a theology that was centered on the cross, I still did not experience the fullness of God’s story. I was stuck in the “death” part of eschatology. My life was defined by guilt and shame. But when my perspective broadened to include creation and recreation (or resurrection), I felt a new emotion: joy. Knowing God’s intentions for recreation brought me joy, and interestingly enough, joy made me excited to participate in recreation. Philip Yancey says, “Great joy carries within it the intimations of immortality. Suddenly I wanted to live, even to live forever.”
The joy produced by a complete theological story changed everything for me. The fear-based evangelism of my teenage years was replaced by a peaceful trust in a powerful God at work in the world. I no longer feared that my friends and family members would go to hell if I misspoke or kept silent about Jesus. Instead, I fell in love with a God who created a beautiful world, continued to love it despite people who consistently thought of themselves as greater than him, and works at recreating broken people, systems, and environments both now and later in a totally redeemed new earth. Loving God made it easy to talk about Him. I did not need to explain Him or defend Him to people; instead I could share what I was learning from Him, how I saw Him working in my life, and what particularly drew me to Him. God’s call to go into the world and make disciples was transformed from a chore into a delight.
I also learned to see the world with clearer eyes. I used to focus primarily on the ways in which the world had gone wrong. I was obsessed with avoiding sin and, therefore, I saw it everywhere. A fuller understanding of eschatology allowed me to keep a deep disgust for sinfulness, but it also allowed me to see beauty in the world. Pain, loneliness, and injustice still existed. But they were no longer the entire story. I learned to mourn the broken relationships in my life while trusting in a God who makes all things new. Knowing God had created good things and is constantly working to recreate their broken pieces into something better allowed me to face the world with hope and joy rather than disappointment and anger.
Holding to a fully realized theology that rests on the truth of God’s plan to recreate his fallen creations has revolutionized my outlook on life. No longer do I have to succumb to the doubt and fear of an isolated postmodern existence. No longer do I have to crumble under the guilt of a partial theology based only on fallenness. Of course, there are times when I revert back to the mindsets of my upbringing. But I do not have to stay there. Now I can cling to the truth that this world is created good and people are beautiful. I can acknowledge that so much has gone terribly wrong: in the environment, in political systems, in families, and in myself. And I can enjoy the recreation that occurs right now in all those same places while also looking forward to the day when the recreation will be complete and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.