A few posts ago, I enjoyed writing to you about Steve Bell’s grandmother as described in a story by Steve and a song by Carolyn Arends, “Getting Ready for Glory.” Impressive and inspiring it is to consider a faithful elderly person memorizing Scripture and hymns to prepare to join in the celestial worship service of the Lamb.
Today, though, I was startled to come across the prepublication announcement of yet another book by one of my heroes and mentors, Nicholas Wolterstorff–this one on political theology. My first thought was my customary one on such an occasion: “Great! Another book by Nick! Where’s the purchase button?” But my second thought was, “Wait a second. What’s Nick doing putting out a book on political theology?”
You see, Nick turned 80 years old this year. He joins my doctoral supervisor, Martin E. Marty, and another of my heroes and mentors, David Martin, in this ninth decade of life. And as I realized that, I realized that Nick, like Marty the historian and David the sociologist, has continued to turn out books in his discipline.
But why are they doing that? I wonder for two reasons.
First, they’re old men. Not just “elderly” or “older,” but genuinely old. You get to be eighty or eighty-plus, you’re up there. All three have had distinguished careers–spectacular, sustained distinguished careers–Nick at Calvin and Yale, Marty at Chicago, and David at the LSE. You don’t get better at your job than these three have been at theirs.
So why are they still putting out the books? (Marty has published one every year he’s been retired; I’ve reviewed David’s latest–another gem–in The Christian Century.) Why aren’t they relaxing, spending time with the grand- (and great-grand-)kids, talking over old times with colleagues? I mean, they’re entitled, surely.
And, second, shouldn’t they, um, well . . . be getting ready for glory–not still immersing themselves in earthly matters they will soon leave behind?
I can appreciate why they still write: because all three of them have servants’ hearts. They love God and they love their neighbours and they don’t know any other way to be than to be helpful. When you’re Nicholas Wolterstorff, Martin Marty, or David Martin, you help people largely by thinking better than they do and then teaching them good things you’ve thought.
Yet it occurred to me afresh that they are, like Steve’s grandmother in her way, also getting ready for glory–for that new, resplendent context in which we, and the planet, and God will be fully ourselves.
For the world to come is not Dante’s giant Rose Bowl of perpetual contemplation of the Trinity, as if we will be attending a worship service all day and all night forever and ever. Some of the life to come will be glorious worship, as Revelation shows us, and we can follow Steve’s grandmother’s lead in getting ready for it. But the New Jerusalem is, indeed, a city that descends to rest on a renewed planet. And that city will need organizing and governing and beautifying. That new earth will need cultivating. I mean, that’s what we do as human beings–from Genesis 1 forward. And we’re going to need thoughtful people to help the rest of us do that work well, won’t we?
I just can’t think that the knowledge and skills Nicholas Wolterstorff has spent a lifetime developing will be tossed aside as no longer needed. No more need for philosophy or theology? No more need for Marty’s brilliant, illuminating history or David’s sweeping, incisive sociology? Only if one entertains a terribly narrow, hyper-spiritual, sub-biblical picture of the world to come. No, the trajectory of their work will continue into the next, as will all good work bear more fruit in the new garden city.
So these big brothers in the faith–modest as all three of them are (and they will, I am sure, properly punish me for drawing attention to them in this way, if they ever stoop to reading this blog post)–these three show us how to live authentic lives here and now, yes, that will be drawn forward into the delightful world to come.
Imagine what philosophy and theology will be like with the new bodies and brains we’ll have in the world to come! Imagine how richly interesting and instructive history will be to study, how much more clearly we’ll understand ourselves sociologically, how much better we can then conduct human life and our relationships to God and our fellow creatures in a world without stupidity and laziness and corruption and bad lighting and drafty libraries and underfunding and careerism and petty rivalries and the many other impediments scholarship now has to endure!
Imagine what your work could be like in that new context–or the work that you long to do, and cannot do now because of difficult and unavoidable life circumstances. Wouldn’t it be great to do that work un-hassled, fully resourced, with smiling, cooperative colleagues?
Nothing good in this life is wasted, and nothing good in us will be lost in the world to come. As we all take on a new work week now in the glow of Easter, by all means let’s worship God better and better as the day draws near. But let’s also keep at the other dimensions of our callings as faithfully as we keep at our prayers and songs. Let’s keep getting ready for glory.