Carrying His Scars Into Eternity

I suspect that many (or perhaps even most) Christians – like me – tend to fall into the trap of subconsciously dividing up their lives into the sacred and the secular. “This part of my life is important for God’s Kingdom work, but this part over here…not so much.” “God is well pleased with me when I am worshiping Him in church, but probably couldn’t care less about the spreadsheets and tedious meetings that make up the bulk of my work day.” Do statements such as these sound at all familiar?

This past weekend, I read The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work by Darrell Cosden. At 148 pages, it’s not much in the way of a reading challenge. Even better, the writing style is extremely accessible, and the topic – how a Christian should rightly view their occupation – is of great interest in addressing this tendency we all have to split up our lives into, “This is holy, this is not.”

I suppose I should start off by confessing that I tend to fall face-first into this trap every day. I am a website developer/programmer by trade, but also an MA student at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, and a facilitator of DivorceCare 24 weeks a year at The Crossing. My volunteer work will often involve meeting other men outside of business hours to help encourage them through a difficult time. Surely, then, God is far more pleased with me when I am leading a DivorceCare class or helping a brother struggle through the end of his marriage than He is by my writing clean code, or taking a few extra minutes to double-check the spelling of someone’s name, or crop photos carefully…right?

Not so fast, at least according to Cosden.

Contrary to what we may naturally be inclined to believe, Cosden says that our work in this life has real, meaningful implications for eternity (both for good and for evil). To make the point, he starts off the third chapter of his book with the very simple statement, “The fundamental question underlying this entire project concerns what God will and will not in the end take into eternity.” While being very clear that nothing sinful will make it through the final judgment of God, he maintains that the valuable in everything will be redeemed, i.e. that Christ’s resurrection not only has implications for the resurrection of our own mortal bodies (1 Corinthians 15:12-56), but also for the things that we have labored over in this lifetime.

On a positive note, Cosden sees no reason why we will not, for example, enjoy the music of Handel’s “Messiah” when we are at home with the Lord, even though the composition was the work of a flawed, sinful (albeit brilliant) human being. The resurrection of Christ, he maintains, has power to redeem the good, the beautiful, and the praiseworthy out of anything and everything. While just about everything we experience in this life is “a mixed bag,” both good and bad, the glory of Christ is sufficient to burn away the impurities that we wittingly or unwittingly introduce into everything we do.

But we need not be musical geniuses like Handel for the work of our hands to survive the inbreaking of Heaven.

Perhaps the most compelling piece of evidence that Cosden presents to make his case that what we do in this life may well be carried into eternity is in his observation that Jesus made the decision to carry His crucifixion scars into eternity with Him. Of course, He was not born to Mary with nail-pierced hands and feet, or a spear scar on his right side, and yet this is how He chose to present Himself to the disciples post-resurrection (John 20:19-20). While the “work” that mankind did on His body on Good Friday was horribly sinful and monstrously evil, somehow, in the mind of the triune God, the scars of Christ are important and beautiful enough to remain with Him for all time. Certainly, the Roman soldier who drove the nails into His hands and feet would have been incredulous if told that He was at that very moment modifying the body of God for all eternity. Cosden elaborates:

Jesus’ nail-scarred hands and feet are the prototype for the coming new creation. What we find true in his body, we also find true in his vision. What we have done – although it is ambivalent at best on its own – once redeemed and transformed does find a home in the new creation.

Here in the 21st century, we may not carry the conviction that our day-to-day work amounts to much of anything. Many faithful Christians believe that God is going to wipe out the Earth as it is and start all over again with a brand-new Garden of Eden. More to the point, if we really believe that God is going to wipe everything out and start over, we can become complacent in the face of evil and suffering, lazily resisting our call to be salt and light in a dark world (Matthew 5:13-16), and to work for its renewal. However, the “Total Annihilation/New Garden” image does not jive with the one presented to us in Revelation 21 and 22, wherein God exchanges the Book of Genesis image of a garden with the new image of a restored city, a city inhabited by people from every tongue, tribe and nation (Revelation 5:9-10).

In his closing pages, Cosden encourages Christians to develop an entirely biblical framework for the way they do their work, especially since work comprises the majority of many people’s waking hours. We all know that the Apostle Paul instructs us to work for our supervisors as if we were working directly for Jesus (Colossians 3:22, Ephesians 6:5), but how differently might we approach our work if we were convinced that a totally renewed and redeemed version of it might make its way with us into eternity? (Yes, I realize that may be an extremely terrifying thought to many of us!)

The book is still fresh enough in my mind that I confess I have yet to process all of this information vis-a-vis my own day job, but I want to encourage you to join me in wrestling with this idea in your own life. As you drive to work, sit down to coffee with a friend, or settle in to do homework, how is it that what you are spending your time and energy creating, if rightly approached, is building the Kingdom of Christ, both here and now and (perhaps) echoing down through the ages to come? What good thing might Christ redeem from your present-day toil in the Kingdom to come?

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