Ending with the Beginning in Mind

canstockphoto1405423Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “Begin with the end in mind.” It was popularized in Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but it’s not a new concept.

It means that instead of just letting your life unfold, buffeted by forces around you, with the result that you end up not some place of your choosing, perhaps regretting that you aren’t somewhere else, you begin by envisioning the end of your life and what it will be like, and then begin making conscious choices to get there.

That’s good advice for just about any endeavor. Before I begin building a guitar I envision what I want it to both look and sound like. Before begin writing, I I think through what I want to say.

It should also be true of discipleship and living the Christian life. How can you know which path to follow if you don’t have a clear idea of where you are supposed to end up?

Fortunately we don’t have to wonder about where we are supposed to end up, for the Bible lays it out pretty clearly. You can actually go to the end of the Bible and read about it. So what do we find?

In the final chapters of the Revelation of John, we see God re-making the heavens and the earth, creating a new heaven and new earth. This isn’t, however, an instance of throwing away the old and starting all over again; it’s a renewal and restoration project.

It’s about going back to the beginning. So, ironically, the Bible doesn’t so much begin with the end in mind as it ends with the beginning in mind.

Revelation 21, with a new heaven and new earth joined together and God coming to dwell with humans (rather than the other way around), is a restoration of the conditions in place at the end of Genesis 1.

It is a place of life, not death, where plants, animals, and humans flourish and multiply, with God at rest in his temple (creation is portrayed as the building of a temple, but that’s for another article) and his viceroys—the humans—taking care of creation.

In fact, it is interesting that of all the animals created, the humans are the only ones given a vocation. The “job” of each animal is to simply be what they are, and to make more of what they are.

Humans are given a similar charge, to be human and to make more humans—but they are given the additional duty of having dominion over creation. “Dominion” doesn’t mean to exploit and use for one’s own purposes, but rather to tend and take care of for the sake of the thing being tended, much like a farmer has dominion over his crop or a shepherd has dominion over his sheep.

Every other animal did their thing exactly as God laid it out for them—all except the humans. We didn’t do anything right.

First, we blew the “be human” thing. Wanting to be like God, we ended up being less than human, and soon the creation was filled with violence—so we blew the caretaking thing as well. The powerful treated the less powerful as sub-human, in the process themselves becoming both less Godlike and less human at the same time.

The Flood Narrative is God destroying the old and starting from scratch again, and when it was over he said he would never do it again.

So it’s interesting that in the thinking of many Christians, the end will be that God will destroy the old and start from scratch again with a new heaven and new earth. And that the end of those who are saved is that their physical bodies will be returned to the soon-to-be-destroyed earth, whereas their souls will go to dwell where God is.

In the meantime, the thinking goes, the vocation of the Christian is to be a Christian and to make more Christians. With that as the end in mind, it’s no wonder that our discipleship programs are all pretty much designed to do those two things—make us better Christians, and make more Christians.

But that’s merely the same vocation as that of the animals—to be what they are and make more of what they are. We were given a further vocation—to take care of God’s creation.

Not just the cows and monkeys and rainforests, but taking care of each other. This is the end that God has in mind, the same end that he had in mind in the beginning.

But we don’t wait for the end to do our job. As the redeemed, Christians are called to step up to our human vocation in advance of Christ’s coming reign over heaven and earth.

We are called to care for each other: children surrounded by violence, mothers struggling with poverty, the breadwinner just downsized to maximize shareholder profits, etc.

If you are going to begin with the end in mind, you better be clear what end God has in mind. Otherwise, not only will you not get there, you won’t get anywhere at all.

Picture by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Leaf

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