“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
In the old days, when the stars outshone non-existent street lamps, space was an inviting prospect. Verdant and vibrant, it teemed with life. Planets danced through the sky, exerting their influence over the affairs of man. The moon and the sun rode through the heavens. People explained the behavior of the universe with personal and emotional words like: inclining, striving, or desiring. Like children imitating their parents, different earthly elements belonged to and behaved like their planetary superiors. Of course, no one had seen space. No one had touched the galaxy. But the mind, thankfully, is unfettered. It can float to the farthest reaches of the universe, where the tiniest molecule leans outward into the unknown. It can know things that the senses cannot.
We know better now. After taking a closer look at the heavens and finding appalling distances between the stars and planets, it was quickly renamed space. Naturally enough, the more space, the more the relationship suffered. Soon the planets stopped dancing and influencing and started dryly obeying. The luminary bodies became simply the collected debris of space drawn together by uncaring gravity. Then we went into space and found nothing particularly to touch.
In J.J. Abram’s Star Trek remake, an explosion rips through the side of a spaceship and an unfortunate member of Starfleet gets sucked into space, where immediately all noise ceases. Why? Sound is transmitted through the air by vibrating molecules. No molecules? No noise. The unnamed interplanetary traveler dies in total deafening silence. Space is not bubbling with life. It is the vast unknowing nothingness, a cold impersonal and terrible void—which just so happens to be, according to the laws of science, the seedbed for all life.
What an enchanting world! But it fascinates me on this account: Space has become in our collective imaginations what the sea used to be. For ancient people the oldest stories explaining where things came from and how they became the way they are originated in the sea. Generally, a powerful god defeated an evil sea monster, and then the sea’s body became the basis for life. But the sea remained a strange and unpredictable void. It brewed up storms without notice or cause and threw them nonchalantly at the shore. Venturing onto its undulating surface meant only chaos. It held no predictable features and nothing to grab onto for safety. You either floated or died. You were at the mercy of the element. For an ancient person, standing on the shore must have been much like looking out a spaceship’s portside window: a brief glimpses of beauty, but on the whole an episode of agoraphobia.
Which explains the opening two sentences of the Bible: First God creates the heavens and the earth, not from the dead body of an evil sea monster (Yikes!), but from nothing and by His Word. Next God floats over the chaotic void and begins to change it. He creates boundaries over it. He restrains it. He shines light upon it. In other words, God displays His power over the chaotic evil void and begins a new story—a story full of green grass and flowering trees and frolicking animals and human beings who communicate and have relationship with the King in the highest heavens. It also makes sense out of Revelation 21. I used to balk at “the sea was no more,” mainly because I thought Seaside was grand and who in their right mind would want to get rid of that? But inside the greater story, God is finally accomplishing the complete relational ordering of all things. No more chaos. No more unexplained evil and pain. The void hasn’t been restrained. It has been eradicated.
Space tells a different story, but runs on the same worn out lines. No more pre-existing evil sea monster, here we come from a pre-existing carbonic element hitching a ride aboard an unsuspecting comet—the dark, unstable void replaced by a dark, empty void. Originating out of an evil sea monster enables excuses, so too does being determined by biological processes.
But the change does create its own problems. Cynicism certainly is one, for a cynic loves nothing more than the dull ugly truths that he suspected all along behind the beauty of the sunset. But it’s a tired lie—that despite the apparent goodness of God in creating a beautiful world for you and Him to dwell in—He’s actually holding out on you—to which God, who proved His determination to love us at the cross, responds, “I will dwell with you again, and even space will be no more.”