By Chris Baker
“What happens in the end?” It is one of the “big questions” people have been wondering about from time immemorial. Many answers have been offered through the years. Some say in the end there is nothing. We live, we die and then we cease to exist. Others say in the end everyone goes to be with God. Still others say in the end earth will be destroyed and humanity will be judged. There are other possibilities and multiple combinations of those listed.
There is an interesting trend, however, among the various answers. Those involving God can usually be summed up in three words, “God takes control.” God takes control and brings everyone to live with him. God takes control, destroys the evil creation and brings everyone else to live with him. God takes control and issues out judgment. God takes control and fixes what was wrong with creation. Even those who believe in free will tend to believe free will eventually has a stopping point, at which time God takes control. In other words, although there are multiple answers which include God they usually involve God taking control.
In The Uncontrolling Love of God, Thomas Oord makes the argument that God’s nature is uncontrolling love. Because it goes against God’s very nature to unilaterally take control of a situation and coercively guarantee an outcome, Dr. Oord says God works through humans who cooperate with his influence and will.
If Dr. Oord is right about God’s nature, we need to find different answers to the question “What happens in the end?” If God’s nature is uncontrolling love, God cannot “take control” and do anything. Could there be an answer to the question, “What happens in the end?” which reflects God’s nature of uncontrolling love? How would such an answer look?
In Romans 8:19 & 21, Paul says, “Creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed…in hope that creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
In light of the usual answers to our question, this is an interesting passage. According to them, Paul should have written, “Creation waits in eager expectation for God,” but Paul says something different. Paul says creation is waiting for God’s children, hoping creation itself will be freed from its bondage to decay and it, too, might share in the freedom of God’s children.
Paul directly links creation’s freedom with the freedom of God’s children. When God’s children are revealed as God’s children, then creation will be freed. Could Paul be saying, in the end creation will be set free as a result of humans cooperating with God? Perhaps when humans cooperate with God, or, as Paul says, when they actually become “children of God,” creation will be set free.
For those of us who are used to the more traditional answers to our question, initially this idea might seem tenuous, but I think it is supported by this passage in Romans. Sandwiched between the idea of creation waiting for the children of God (vs. 19) and the concept of creation hoping to join in the freedom of the children of God (vs. 21), Paul says this in verse 20: “Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it.” In other words, Paul is saying the whole reason creation is in bondage is because of human sin. To use Dr. Oord’s language, creation is in bondage because humans chose not to cooperate with God.
The original task God gave to humanity in Genesis 1 before sin entered creation was twofold – be fruitful and multiply, and take care of creation. Humans chose not to cooperate with God’s call. Because we chose not to take care of creation, it makes sense creation would be messed up. If we, as caretakers of creation, chose not to cooperate with that call, it also makes sense creation would be in bondage. Following this line of thinking, the way to fix creation’s bondage is for humanity to cooperate with God’s original call to take care of creation.
The flow of Paul’s thought in Romans 8:19-21 goes something like this: Creation waits for God’s children to actually act like God’s children. Because humanity’s lack of cooperation with God is the reason creation is in bondage in the first place, creation longs for God’s children to cooperate with God in the hope of creation itself being released to share in the freedom of God’s children.
What happens in the end? In the end, all of creation will be set free from its bondage when humans cooperate with God. The question left for us today is, will we live into that future now?