Futility and hope

So. What is true?

Confession: At this moment, the conversation moves above my head. I feel like a little child, bewildered and jerked around. It’s not so easy trying to unravel a core philosophy from the fabric of your beliefs. A lot of good threads get twisted by mistake, and there are holes.

But I will say this: I don’t believe anymore that Jesus created matter as a temporary inconvenience. I believe He has a plan for it that supersedes time and mortality. I think there’s something crucial and permanent about the fact that God put His Spirit in our earthly bodies and took our flesh upon Himself.

I think physical stuff belongs to Jesus. He uses it, both to accomplish his purposes and to remind us of his presence. He became part of it, taking on the weakness and tears, the blood, the breath, the sweat of mankind. And astonishingly, he is going to redeem it. Scripture says “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption” (see Romans 8:18-25).

We’re leery of the physical because we fear its tendency to distract us. Following our analogy of the sweetheart who is given roses, we know girls who get so lost in smelling the flowers that they fail to notice the lover when he walks into the room.

We can hardly imagine anything so silly. Yet it’s a very real concern.

This Lover is braver than most. He has the courage to remain invisible Himself while giving His Bride a dazzling and oh-so-tangible cosmos in which to play.

But wouldn’t we be equally foolish to stick His roses away in the back closet, afraid to touch them lest we begin to love them? We try to minimize them, to put them in their place, to remind ourselves how quickly they will fade anyway, but instead find them filling our minds. I must not love the roses. I must not love the roses. Yet they are just the right shade of red, and their petals are so velvet, and when we pass the closed closet door, the aroma is breathtaking. I must not love the roses! With this mantra, we find it shameful or impossible to admit that we really do love the roses. A lot.

Who doesn’t love His gifts—falling leaves, newborn babies, the delightful scent of coffee, a warm house on a cold night, the feel of carpet underfoot, a sip of hot tea, a crackling fire…

The earth is the Lord’s.

There is absolutely a place to take a break from the roses in order to turn your eyes on the Lover. That’s what fasting is all about. But not because food isn’t good!

The earth is the Lord’s.

When a girl tucks the roses into the back closet, downplaying them as insignificant, she misses the whole reason why He gave them. He wanted them to brighten her eyes, warm her heart, draw her to Him. She is so busy not loving them she forgets Love gave them.

I think Satan probably doesn’t care much how he distracts us. He’d like to twist this good gift of physicality one way or another—obsession or guilt.

Here is a song I find beautiful, but do not understand—

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.

What if He doesn’t want them strangely dim? What if He wants them sparkling, radiant, dripping with His glory and grace?

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'” — Abraham Kuyper

The earth is the Lord’s!


For further reading, I recommend a book I just found—Surprised by Hope: Rethinking heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the church, by N. T. Wright

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11 years ago

GREAT post, Shari. One time I said I loved something, like chocolate chip cookies or whatever, and a friend said, “I only use ‘love’ for God and people.” Well, good for you. It doesn’t mean I have a devotion to chocolate chip cookies and I want to marry them and have them take away my sins, but the way YOU put things makes complete sense. It’s all from God. Same way the the verse in Thessalonians says “In everything give thanks” – that means the good, the bad, and the ugly. I no longer will feel guilty delighting in gifts because ultimately they are all from the Giver. Thanks for this ~

11 years ago

Julie and I were just talking about this the other day! And while I agreed with her, I didn’t understand it like I do now – she didn’t use the roses-from-a-lover word picture.

This is what it explained for me…

If any girl would disregard a dozen roses we would assume that she either:

(1) didn’t want to encourage the guy, and was trying to ignore him (or possibly hurt him)


(2) had severe difficulty accepting love/affection and the vulnerability that goes with both.

…and last of all, ANY time roses are romantically given, it is an understood rule that if they are ignored, pushed aside, or generally downplayed, the relationship is on very shaky ground.

Now, if we would consider the “physical” things of this world as roses sent from a lover…

That changes everything doesn’t it?

Instead of people wondering, “Why in the world would you make such a big deal about a gorgeous little waterfall?”, they would stop short and ask if you are even on *talking* terms with God if you DIDN’T stop to revel in his gifts/love.

Word pictures speak so well – thanks!

11 years ago

I find myself in the midst of this journey as well, my dear friend. Thanks for sharing the vulnerability of it all….my heart feels very broken right now and I am not sure how badly the threads are tangled….

11 years ago

Dear Shari,
I have been following this series of posts on your blog and a lot of my own thoughts have been swirling and twirling inside my little brain. I am not much of a philosopher, so as I attempt to share my swirl and twirl of thoughts, please bear with me. 🙂

1) The earth is the Lord’s. He created the whole universe and when He was finished, He said it was very good. (Genesis)
2) God made the earth, with all of its beauty and pleasures, and He gave it to us to enjoy! (Psalm 115:16)
3) The heavens declare the glory of God. (Psalm 19:1) Creation was created for the ultimate purpose of bringing the Creator glory!
4) Romans is clear. “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen.” (Romans 1:25)

You said: “But I will say this: I don’t believe anymore that Jesus created matter as a temporary inconvenience.”
At the risk of sounding simplistic, I say: “Of course. Doesn’t He have a plan for everything?”

I think….
1) That everything belongs to God.
2) God can use anything to accomplish His purposes and to remind us of His presence.
3) I agree with the Word that says God can identify with our humanity.
4) Redemption is one of my favorite words and the hope of complete redemption is empowering and enabling!

You said: “We’re leery of the physical because we fear its tendency to distract us.”
I am not leery of the physical – of the beautiful world that God created to give Himself glory and gave to us to enjoy. I am leery of my flesh and its tendencies to take every good and perfect gift from above and use it to glorify myself and satisfy the cravings of my flesh.

I passionately believe that the physical world that God created, He gifted to His children and entrusted to them from the start (the dominion mandate from Genesis!)…but not for their personal glory, their gain, their fame, their pleasure, or to establish their own earthly little kingdom… and I say this at the risk of being labeled what I am not.

I will never argue that creating beauty and enjoying Creation in the physical is wrong or ungodly. I will, however, argue that the highest joy and pleasure we can ever receive in the physical is giving it away and using it to serve and bless others. At the end of the day, I do believe that everything we do in the physical only matters if we have done it to the glory of God in service to mankind.

I believe that the church of Jesus Christ does not take the words of Jesus Christ seriously enough…that when he said…
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” Matthew 6:19
….he meant it.

I wrangle with Jesus directive to the rich man:
“Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21

I believe, that at the end of the day, what truly matters is people, above all other earthly thing. That we have been called to toil and labor for the glory of God and His Kingdom.

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” – 1 John 2:15-17

Blessings of love,

Shari Zook
11 years ago
Reply to  Renee

Thanks, Renee!

“The world” – twisted by man, scripturally not of God – is to me different from “the earth” – lovingly crafted by God. You’re right–Realizing that the riches are His frees me from the need to make them Mine.

11 years ago

So many great thoughts to ponder… thanks, Shari, I especially enjoyed this series.

11 years ago

Oh my! These are the very things my husband and I have been going around and around on in the last few days. He has hugely shaped my views and brought me to greater understanding of the physical world. I’m usually digging in my feet and “arguing” against his position. 🙂 Fortunately, he finds this helpful to sharpen him and he respects me for it. I think that functionally I’m where you are, sis, but philosophically, I’m still leery. 🙂 Renee, I want to say that the things you said definitely clarified some of my underlying concerns and thoughts. I think one of the biggest things in all of this is giving, like you said, Renee. I also think that gratitude is equally important. If I receive the good physical gifts God has given me with gratitude then I think I am worshiping and honoring Him. I can imagine that God feels towards us as we feel towards children when we give a gift and watch them delight in it. (You can tell if a kid is selfish and bratty or grateful by how they receive a gift).

11 years ago

I have found this series and the discussion very intriguing. A few things that come to mind… in our day of plenty, perhaps we forget the hardships that many of our forefathers experienced that increased their longing for heaven and made this earth a quite dreary place. There are other places where Christians are presently not experiencing many physical evidences of God’s love, but His spiritual riches are their abundance.. I guess I’m just saying that while I want to be grateful for the many gifts around me, and Yes! I do see the Creator in His creation, we don’t depend on the tangible as the most confirming evidence. Does that make sense?
It is His life in us that makes these physical blessings so great… the ability to enjoy them is from Him, and it is His life in us that helps us see past them to things much better and richer… the ability to experience His life and love when the gifts are taken away.
Randy Alcorn’s book on heaven suggests that the New Earth may not be so “unfamiliar” as we sometimes believe.. kind of comforting sometimes.:) But it will be much, much better, yes! Even so come, Lord Jesus.

Shari Zook
11 years ago
Reply to  Alisa


11 years ago

I’m not a philosopher either, but I enjoy it put into laymen’s terms. =) I think for Jesus to have come in real flesh in real time shows that He values the physical. I agree with how you differentiate between the earth and the world.

11 years ago

Good stuff . . .
Since I’m “over the hill”, I shall speak frankly . . . I have never longed for heaven as deeply as I have the last number of months. But on the flip side, it’s the “roses from My Lover” that have kept my sanity here on earth, and been the bright spots that speak to me of His Love and Care, even in this “weary land”. Jesus is truly a “rock in a weary land, a weary land, a weary land! Oh Jesus is a rock in a weary land–a Shelter in the time of storm!” As in all things, I think, balance.

Julie Glick
11 years ago

I like this series! I think you’ve done a good job of sketching the issues in a very understandable way. I think there is more to do, as well. I think where we often tend to get caught is how to live afterward. If matter is not bad, then is it ok to get as much stuff as I want? If beauty is good, then why shouldn’t I spend lots of money looking beautiful? Or making my surroundings beautiful? If my body is important, then how should I dress and act to reflect that? Where does money fit in? Is it a part of God’s creation? If I can honor Christ in my work, does that mean all work is good? That all work can honor God? How does the example of Christ fit in? Just some scattered questions that begin to pop up when we reject the sacred\secular or matter\spirit split.

Because you have to admit that the split is useful. It does help us to see that we do some things that really aren’t a part of the way we are called to live in the kingdom, and some things we do really are. I think the falseness of the split comes when we put up a wall so that we can keep right on doing those things that work against or at least not with God and still feel ok about ourselves. We often throw physicality on the “wrong side” of the wall right along with all our evil desires and practices. Breaking down that wall should lead us to abandon those things that are contrary to God; instead, all too often we attempt to sanctify them, since they tend to be mixed in with a lot of rather innocent pleasures and experiences that honestly can be sanctified.

I keep coming back to the Jews. Seems that they might have a lot to teach us in this area.

Thanks again for this series. I think it’s beautiful!

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