A brief summary of the section. One paragraph should do it.
The Bible opens in grand style with an announcement about God:
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) (AV)
So in the beginning (whenever and whatever that was), there is God. The Bible is about God. The world is about God. It is about God because He made it, and it is a reflection of Him, an expression of His abilities and God-ness. Its purpose is whatever purpose He has with it, because He is in charge.
This is critically important – important to get an understanding of the Bible’s worldview, and important to understand our own role as created human beings in relation to that world. According to the Bible, we are created by Him and are subject to Him. The world is not about me – it is about Him.
Yet within that scheme of God creating a world which reflects and manifests His character and personality, mankind has a significant role. Yes, we are meant to be subject to Him, but we have been given a significant responsibility and a vital role to play ourselves within His scheme. With our unique and superior abilities within the animal kingdom, we are to be managers, so to speak, acting on His behalf in the world He has created. This is described in Biblical terms to Adam and Eve:
“Then God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” …And God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26,28) (ESV)
Unfortunately mankind as a whole hasn’t done a very good job at this management role. More on the spiritual and moral failures of man in the Storyline and Start/stop pages, but suffice it to say that given the pollution and the uneven distribution of the planet’s resources we see in the world today, we can conclude that man’s story has been more one of mis-management than good stewardship.
The Grand Plan
That doesn’t mean God has given up on His plan, however! He still wants a world which reflects His character and gives honour to Him – and He still wants mankind to play a significant part in bringing about that world.
Here is a key passage from one of the early Bible books that sets out God’s ambition for His world:
“But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” (Numbers 14:21) (AV)
Now this promise or mission-statement on God’s part is no haphazard or random thought. It has always been God’s purpose, and on another two occasions in the Bible God sets out the same agenda:
“They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9) (ESV)
“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14) (ESV)
This is about as succinct an expression of God’s over-arching purpose as there could be.
The Problem of Free Will
But it’s an agenda that raises a number of important questions. If God wants the world to be full of His glory (and if He wants it to be free of injustice, exploitation, and so forth), and He is all-powerful, then why isn’t it?
The answer is because God has given people free will to make their own choices. Man’s greatest service and greatest honour is to worship God by doing what He wants (that is the best worship that God can get – because it is freely and willingly given), but mankind has chosen to center his world around himself rather than God. That’s the cause of the exploitation, the mis-distribution, the mis-management. The inevitable consequence of man’s freewill is that the world will be too some extent in a mess.
At least for a time. What God is doing right now is selecting people who want to willingly and freely serve Him, and in the future He plans to fulfil His promise to fill the world with His glory. Those people will be involved at that time. Bible hope is the hope of resurrection and the return of Christ to set up God’s kingdom upon the earth. That is God’s plan. That is how the earth will ultimately be filled with God’s glory.
That broad sweep of history can be seen very clearly within the Bible. The earth starts out good, man spoils it, and there are sorrow, death and tears already in chapter 3 of the Bible. But by the last chapter of the Bible God has wiped away all those tears. The last chapter captures a wonderful picture of God’s future kingdom.
It might be helpful to use the metaphor of a building. What we are living in now is like a building site. No one wants to live in a building site as their ultimate goal. Architects don’t design building sites; they design buildings. But in order to get to a finished building, stately to look at, and wonderfully appointed, there first has to be a building site. You have to have the dust, the machinery, the rubble, the piles of materials, the inconvenience, if you are to ever arrive at a finished building. The end justifies the means.
Many people look at the world around them, see that it is a mess and conclude ‘therefore there can’t be a God, or God can’t know what He is doing.’ But such a conclusion is to miss the overarching scope of God’s plan. We know He can design good buildings (nature all around us is pretty impressive where we haven’t spoiled it!), but at the moment the ultimate building God is planning (an earth filled with His glory) is still under construction.
In order to prepare and create a people ready and eager to inhabit that building (let’s continue the metaphor a little longer), there has to be a period of construction, a work of preparation, and even a choice to see who wants to ultimately be a part of God’s finished structure and who does not. Free will is necessary for the building God ultimately wants to create. This is the case even if in the short run there is massive collateral damage from mankind having that freewill.
More than that, effort and discipline are necessary to prepare for it. There must be a process of preparation, refining, developing – and even discipline. There must also develop a trust, in the hearts of people seeking God, that He knows what He is doing in the world and will, in the lives of His individual followers, do what is right to best develop them for that great day. As Jesus put it,
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11) (ESV)