And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. – Genesis 1:31
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. – Romans 8:19-21
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” – Revelation 21:5
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a short story titled Leaf: by Niggle. In this tale, a painter named Niggle (a synonym for trifle) is working on what could be his life masterpiece. He envisions a grand landscape of mountains, fields, and a huge tree that the birds of the air come to make their homes in. He begins painting this tree, concentrating his efforts on little details but life quickly gets in the way of him making much progress. Niggle knows that he soon has to leave for a long journey (which is actually death, though he is not aware of this) and is concerned that he will not finish his grandiose project. When a driver shows up at his house to pick him up for the journey, Niggle’s prevailing fear becomes true. The painter dies barely having touched the canvas for his masterpiece. Niggle leaves this world unaccomplished and frustrated. Over time, the only thing that survives from his painting is one leaf.
Do you feel like Niggle? Struggling to get by. Striving to accomplish but not achieving. Always getting distracted. Tired of trying so hard to do something worthwhile. Are you curious if your life will even make a difference? These are common feelings of the human experience. Although despair may come to us at times, the promise of the Bible is that Jesus meets us in this despair with the good news that he is making all things new.
I didn’t tell you the other part of Niggle’s story. Tolkien writes about his character’s life after death and this part of the tale gives us a glimpse of hope. After the long journey, Niggle finally reaches heaven. There in heaven, in the middle of a field is the tree that Niggle never finished painting. The trunk is round and sturdy just as he imagined it. The wind is blowing the leaves just how he intended. The mountains are towering in the background and the birds are finding haven in the welcoming branches of the tree just like he wanted to paint them. This is the glorious painting he envisioned, right in front of him! Every detail is represented in real life, though he only finished a miniscule percentage of the masterpiece in the previous life.
In some ways, Niggle’s story symbolizes the hopeful tension that Christians live in. The Scripture presented above tells of this tension. According to the Bible, God created everything good. However, sin entered the world through the disobedience of mankind and the consequences were devastating. Death entered the world. Nature itself began to decay and suffer the effects of man acting contrary to his design. Everything was and is affected by the consequences of sin. This is what the Romans passage tells us. Even creation is currently in a state of depravity. Just like Niggle and his work, everything is passing away. There will be a day when there is no more breath in our lungs and a day when our work, done here while we are alive, will perish whether finished or unfinished. So then what hope is there for us?
Jesus is the one who makes the claim in Revelation 21:5 that he is “making all things new”. How can he say this? He can say this because he is King of life and death. Paul, author of much of the New Testament, writes in the book of Colossians that Christ was raised from death and seated at the right hand of God (Col. 1:20). This means Jesus is in a place of authority because he has conquered death. His resurrected body is hope that those who place their faith in him will be resurrected too. For those who belong to him, he has the final say over life; death has no ultimate claim on their lives. He is making all things new. He is making people new. He is making the earth new. He is making our work new.
Tolkien’s work Leaf: by Niggle gives us an example of tension to live in. Christians can recognize that life is full of disappointments and hard work. In fact, life can be so difficult that not all of our striving will pay off here and now. However, we can have certainty that this present life is not all there is. When Jesus takes us to be with him, there we will see all things new. To point us to this hope I will end this post with the first question and answer from the New City Catechism.
Question: What is our only hope in life and death?
Answer: That we are not our own but belong, both body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.