Previously, we have discussed God’s original creative vision for shalom in community and how the fall distorted that vision. Today, we’ll examine how redemption, the third chapter of the four-chapter gospel, gives us a glimpse of the way things could or should be.
Redemption—Grace and a Taste of Shalom
After the fall, God did not abandon his creation and the human race. He did not leave us to die in the sin and misery that resulted from Adam’s original rebellion. Instead, out of his great love and mercy, God delivered his people from sin and brought them into salvation by grace through faith, administered by his son Jesus Christ. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8, ESV). In our sin and wretchedness, we deserve death—the penalty for our sin—but instead, God graciously gave us the free gift of eternal life through his son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:23).
Although we walked away from God, he still wants to bring us back to himself and restore shalom. Redemption is necessary to prepare for the full restoration of shalom, which was always God’s intention for his creation. In this redemption chapter of the four-part gospel, we often refer to shalom as flourishing. But we do not experience the fullness of shalom that awaits the return of Christ at the end of this age. And although we have received the fullness of salvation, we still live in a fallen world. We are still exposed to and suffer from the pain and heartbreak of the sin around us. As believers, we long for the return of Christ to finish the work he started two thousand years ago and consummate his kingdom.
Already, But Not Yet
Theologians call this reality the “already/not yet.” In a sense, it is the overlap of two ages: the present age of sin and death established at the fall and the coming age of Christ’s comprehensive reign. It is the “age to come” breaking into the present age. During Jesus’ time here on earth, he established his kingdom through his life, death, and resurrection (Mark 1:15; Matt. 12:28; Luke 17:20–21).
This “already/not yet” distinction helps us make sense of the Bible. The “already” refers to things like my salvation that are already true, while the “not yet” points to things like my sanctification that is not yet fully realized. There are many other instances of these apparent contradictions in scripture that are explained by understanding the “already/not yet” distinction. For example, Christ through his Spirit has made me a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), but my mind is still being renewed (Rom. 12:1-2).
God sent his son so that we may have access to a restored, redeemed relationship with him. And through the power of the restored relationship with our creator, other relationships that were broken at the fall—our relationship with ourselves, our relationships with others, and our relationship with the creation—are all restored. Through his redemptive work, we taste shalom and experience flourishing in this age as a foretaste of the world to come.
We’re Meant to Do More
Shalom as a vision of human flourishing also gives us a purpose for the work we do in the here and now while we await the return of our king. God’s purpose in redemption is not just to give us a bus ticket to heaven. David Dark explains it this way in Everyday Apocalypse:
The movement called Christianity…cannot be understood apart from the Jewish concept of shalom. The Christian gospel does not call people to give their mental assent to a certain list of correct propositions, nor does it provide its adherents with a password that will gain them disembodied bliss when they die and the pleasure of confidently awaiting their escape until then. Shalom is a way of being in the world. The Christian gospel invites us to partake in shalom, to embody shalom, and to anticipate its full realization in the coming kingdom of God.
We see the remarkable effects of redemption in all our relationships. God gives us foretastes of glory and hope in our lives to show us the fullness of the shalom to come when Christ returns. The impact of redemption in our daily lives is not just theoretical, it is practical. In the midst of great hardship and pain, we experience joy, laughter, love, peace, reconciliation, and beauty. We see redemption in relationships repaired, illnesses healed, cities rebuilt, even while we continue to work in a broken world.
Shalom is flourishing in every dimension, physical, psychological, and spiritual. It denotes a right relationship with God, with others, and with God’s good creation. It is the way God intended things to be when he created the universe. Yet, in this chapter of Redemption we will often see flourishing in one dimension and suffering in another because this chapter is about showing us the way things could be.
A Glimpse of Shalom Through Work
As we have said, God is most glorified when his creation works like it was supposed to. Through our daily work we have the opportunity to bring flourishing/shalom to the communities we serve, moving creation a little closer to the way things were supposed to be. This, in turn, brings more glory to God. Understanding this great truth should change the way we see our lives today. N. T. Wright, in his book Surprised by Hope, writes about our work in today’s world in light of the restoration:
You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange as it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.
We read in Revelation 21:4 that the fourth chapter of the four-chapter gospel, restoration, is coming. Restoration is a time when Christ will wipe every tear from every eye; “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” It is there that the work of redemption will be complete. Shalom will be completely restored. More on that in the next post.
Editor’s Note: The new booklet, Reweaving Shalom: Your Work and the Restoration of All Things, from which this article is adapted, is available now from our bookstore!