Buy or Rent: Eschatology simplified...
A few years ago I spend some time in Colorado with my son, trying to climb Long's Peak (and throwing up instead), and then climbing other lesser peaks, and doing a little rock climbing. It was intended to be a sort of "vision quest" thing, a time of bonding between father and son and, while some good things happened along those lines, one of the more memorable elements of the trip was our relationship with our rental car.
We'd rented a Subaru because, after all, this was Colorado. I anticipated needing four wheel drive because the point of any sort of vision quest type of trip with a son is to conquer stuff (in our case, rock), and most rock worth conquering isn't found in close proximity to paved roads.
Sure enough, after getting kicked with altitude sickness on Long's Peak, we headed to the west side of the Continental Divide, and from there, to the back roads in search of trailheads for peaks that held the promise of being spectacular, but in a 12,000' sort of way rather than 14.
As for the drive in, I'll just say it this way; getting there was half the fun. "Road" was a stretch of definition as we pushed deeper and deeper into the mountains. At one point I was certain that I was driving up a dried up creek bed and must have missed a turn somewhere. The boulders we were driving over were so big we felt, at times, like we were riding a bucking horse, and when the car came back to earth, we'd hear a big thud, as rock met underbelly of Subaru. "No problem" I said to my son, smiling, "it's a rental".
And there you have it. "It's a rental" means that, since it's not ours, the problems that come to the car through abuse aren't ours either. It's "ours for now" to do with as we please, but of course, it's only temporary. Our real car is back in Seattle, it's underbelly safe from abuse because at this moment, "the rental" is our reality.
This is Eschatology 101, because eschatology is nothing more than a fancy word to describe what a person believes about the end of time, and though there are many nuances, when you boil them down, the fundamental question is this: "Do you own or rent?"
If you rent, it means that your relationship with this earth is temporary. God has given us this earth in the same way the Hertz people gave me a Subaru: "drive it hard because it's not yours to keep anyway." This is, at its worst, the theology of those who believe that the earth is just some sort of staging ground for the grander reality of heaven, which comes later. Here's a quote that pretty much encapsulates this view.
On the one hand, I can hardly blame the guy for believing that it's all going to burn. After all, his church is in the center of the San Fernando Valley, and if the earth is destined for destruction, humanity's done a great job helping God towards that end in this valley. Once a paradise of agricultural diversity, it's now an environmental disaster, testimony to our addiction to materialism and fossil fuels, two consumptions of which all of us in the west are guilty to varying degrees. But MacArthur's views are rooted, not in the tragedies of his valley, but in a mis-representation of the Scripture.
Yes, Peter says it will all be burned up with fire, but so will my house, and my car, both of which I own. The fact that they're subject to decay doesn't negate my call to stewardship. Can you imagine not cleaning your toilet ever, and telling your guests that the reason you've chosen this path of neglect is because "it's all going to burn anyway"?
Instead, maybe we should recognize a couple of things:
1. How it's going to burn, and how much of it's going to burn is hardly the point, because the promise of the Bible is that "a new heaven and new earth" are in store for us" and one gets the feeling that these newbies will need to be stewarded just like the present one. So let's the drop the "it's all going to burn" paradigm that makes us act like Subaru renters, and become owners instead, "joint heirs" as Jesus said, who will"inherit the earth" as Jesus said.
2. We're called to represent now, in little ways, the future which is yet to come. As such, we'd do well to care for all living things, and for the earth itself, which is presently moaning, not because it's going to burn up, but because we're behaving like Orcs.
So let's look at our eschatology this way: forget whether it's burning today, tomorrow, or never. The truth of the matter is this: as heirs with Christ, we OWN the earth; we don't rent. As owners, we have both the privilege and responsibility to steward creation, invite justice, celebrate hospitality with good feasts, and just basically enjoy the hope of the future; right here; right now.