Life & Death(?) in the New Creation

Here’s a radical idea; fasten your seat belt.  Will there be death in the new creation?  ‘Of course not’ (we think), and our minds instantly turn to Rev 21:4, ‘there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’.  Hmm…

Are we perhaps taking liberties with how we interpret this verse?  It seems pretty clear, but who is it addressing?  In the previous verse we have, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with people, and he will live with them… he will wipe every tear from their eye…’  So it’s talking specifically about people – not the whole of creation.  Not animals, plants, flowers, microbes.

It’s easy to overstate humanity’s effect on the whole created order.  We sometimes assume that Adam and Eve in the Garden are responsible for death coming into the whole created order!  They had immortality and lost it when they sinned and ate the fruit.  A better interpretation is that they were given an opportunity for eternal life, and they missed it.  But all creation was not immortal, and Adam and Eve were not representing the whole of creation.  Death (for them) meant separation from God (a spiritual dilemma).  Physical death was not the problem – it was already present.

Think about it.  Everything eats to live.  Every living thing eats other living things.  Predators eat prey, animals eat smaller creatures, insects eat plants, plants absorb nutrients…  All life depends on other life, and death is the necessary component (Gen 1:30).  Death was a part of God’s ‘good creation’!  

If death were removed, there could be no eating.  No ageing.  No growth.  No birth.  (New things replace the old; if old trees never die, there’s no space for new trees).  The world would be an entirely static place, nothing could ever grow, change, or reproduce.  That’s not the picture we have of a thriving, abundant, new creation, vibrant with life.  Rather, life arises from death!  And that’s a GOOD thing.  It was God’s design from the beginning.

So what of Rev 21:4?  If ‘no more death’ applies specifically to human beings, and more narrowly to God’s redeemed people, it’s telling us about resurrection.  Resurrection overturns the old order of things, but there’s no reason why we ought to apply it to the whole of creation.  And plenty of reasons why we should not! 

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