Creation, Providence, and Eschatology
David, faced with enemies, an uncertain future, and costly moral choices, prayed earnestly:
1. Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul.
2. O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me.
3. Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause.
4. Shew me thy ways, O LORD: teach me thy paths.
5. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day. (Ps. 25:1-5)
Man, having been created not only by God but in the image of God, lives in terms of an inescapable purpose which is basic to his being. Man was created to serve and glorify God and to become a working citizen of the Kingdom of God.
Man thus has a given nature by virtue of his creation. This nature the fall cannot alter. The fall is a moral, not a metaphysical, fact. Fallen man cannot evade the nature of his being. He is God’s creature, created in God’s image. His moral rebellion against God does not alter man’s being; it simply perverts the goals thereof. Thus, to state the matter theologically, fallen man substitutes for God’s eschatology his own man-centered one.
Eschatology is defined by the dictionary as the branch of theology which “treats of death, resurrection, immortality, the end of the world, final judgment, and the future state.” The root of the word is eschatos, last. This definition is accurate yet limited. Eschatology is much more than a concern about the end, or the last times. Eschatology sets forth the goal of man and history and is thus inseparable from purpose.
Eschatology is thus a very intensely practical concern. Questions such as, Why am I here?; What is the meaning and purpose of life?; What should we do, and why?; and, How will it all end?; all have to do with eschatology.
The eschatology of fallen man is humanistic, man-created and man-centered. It seeks to give meaning to an otherwise meaningless world, to establish a thin edge of meaning against chaos and the void. Not surprisingly, humanistic eschatologies end in despair. Having no doctrine of theistic creation, man for them begins and ends in the void. Again, having no doctrine of providence, their brightest eschatological hopes operate against the frustration of brute and meaningless factuality. Often, on borrowed, Biblical premises, humanistic eschatologies will flourish briefly. Thus, the belief in progress was a secularized version of the doctrine of providence, and it flourished for a time on that borrowed capital. In time, of course, it was apparent that any belief in progress, without the presupposition of the God of Scripture, is rootless and futile, and the faith has waned accordingly.
Humanistic eschatologies regularly appear as the great hope of fallen man, but, in due time, they give way to defeat and despair. Socialism, the state, statist education, sociology, psychotherapy, and much more have been eschatological instruments, designed by fallen man to usher in the humanistic millennium. These are neither the first nor the last of such instruments. Certainly, the sexual revolution and existentialism have been eschatological and their promises extravagant at times.
Man requires a valid goal: the image of God within man mandates his being and requires man to move in terms of God’s ordained purposes. Augustine, out of his own experience, saw this, as he made clear in his Confessions: “Our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.” Francis Thompson, in “The Hound of Heaven,” made the same point, which, of course, was first set forth by David in Psalm 139.
Creation has a purpose, and that purpose is God-ordained and is written into the being of all creation, so that all of creation, organic and inorganic, moves in terms of that purpose. Paul, in Romans 8:19-23, makes this clear. Any deflection from that eschatological goal, from that purpose, is death. Sin, as the deflection of man from God’s eschatology to a man-made one, is thus clearly death. Creation is thus inseparable from eschatology.
The same is true of providence. All of God’s providence moves in terms of His glorious and eternal purpose. Thus, the declarations of eschatology cannot be separated from the affirmations of providential care which Scripture sets forth. For example, in Psalm 34:7, we read, “The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them,” and in Psalm 91 we have a moving account of God’s providential care of His Son, Jesus Christ, and of us in Him: “for he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways” (Ps. 91:11). The Lord’s care of His covenant people is not for their sakes, but for His covenant’s sake, and for His eternal purposes. It is eschatological. There is no other cause in the universe which is ultimate and determinative than the triune God and His eternal decree. The goals of providence are not man-centered. Rather, it is man himself, willingly or otherwise, who is God-centered. Man’s being is thus governed by God’s eschatology.
David, in order to better understand God’s purposes and his own place therein, prayed: “LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am” (Ps. 39:4). David prayed that he might be ever mindful of himself as a frail creature. Frail, chadel, means frail, rejected. David sees his own being as fallen; at best, it is still frail, and no purpose of man’s can supplant God’s purpose. Therefore, David’s prayer is not governed by any neoplatonic withdrawal but by a desire to serve God in terms of God’s purpose. Not man’s eschatology but the Lord’s must govern us. Hence, David says:
6. Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.
7. And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee. (Ps. 39:6-7)
The eschatologies of men are a “vain shew.” All their accomplishments and wealth are nullified by death, and another man gathers of their labors. David’s hope, however, is in the Lord, whose purposes alone prevail.
The goal of history, the meaning of eschatology, cannot be sought within history but only in God. Neither the Jew nor the church, nor the millennium, are the goals of God’s working, but only Himself, and His eternal Kingdom. God’s purpose in history far exceeds the salvation of man, or of the Jews. He is emphatic: “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images” (Isa. 42:8).
If our doctrine of creation is weakened, then our doctrines of providence and eschatology are weakened. The word of God is a seamless garment; rending any part thereof is damaging to all of it.
Taken from Systematic Theology in Two Volumes, p. 164f
Topics: Biblical Law, Eschatology, Reformed Thought, Theology