Any discontent I might have had about living in a small, cramped house quickly dissipated after the Indonesian tsunami of December 26, 2004. Who can forget those images on TV the day after Christmas, when a surge of water up to 10 storeys high swept into Sumatra? More than 230,000 people died in 14 of the countries around the Indian Ocean.
Indonesia was the hardest hit country. My husband spent a month there doing relief dental work and he brought back scores of heartbreaking pictures and video footage of people who were left with no home at all. Some pictures showed survivors standing on bare tile floors, where their houses had once been. Others had placed flags in the ground where they knew their homes had been to show that they were reclaiming their land. It was all they had left.
Looking at the pictures, I felt guilty. Our warm little house looked pretty good by comparison.
Earth’s Changed Face
The Indonesian tsunami is just one of a catalogue of natural disasters, including the Victorian bushfires and Queensland floods, that did significant damage to our earth over the past 10 years. Not only that, they have also changed the face of the earth and destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives.
Cyclone Nargis that hit Myanmar in 2008 killed 138,000 people, many of them school-aged children. Haiti’s violent earthquake in 2010 killed nearly 160,000 people. Typhoon Haiyan last November killed more than 5000. And as I write this, America’s “polar vortex” experience has affected some 200 million people.
This earth, with all of its disaster scars, is a far cry from what it was at Creation. On the sixth day, the Creator (God) stood back and “saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). And while there are still many very beautiful places on earth today, back then everything was perfect. It’s certainly not that way today, and it appears to be getting worse.
Our skies, once bluer than blue, are often dirty with pollution from factories and fossil fuels. Our oceans, once crystal clear, are now polluted with oil, rubbish and plastics. Our soil, once rich and balanced, is now depleted and contaminated with heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides, and even human waste. Animals that peacefully coexisted in Eden now live as predator and prey. Our once-calm atmosphere is too often raging out of control with tropical storms, tornadoes, blizzards and heatwaves.
Then there’s us—humankind. Once created in the image of God, we now battle heart disease, cancer, obesity, birth defects, infections, viruses and ageing. And many of us have minds and emotions that are so warped that we maim and kill our fellow human beings without a twinge of conscience.
A Groaning Earth
The status of earth today reminds me of the text, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22). With each new natural or man-made disaster, our old earth groans under the weight of its brokenness.
Maybe you’ve done your own share of groaning, too: when you lay awake at night in pain, longing for daylight to come; when you sat at the bedside of a dying loved one, wishing desperately that you could stop the inevitable; when you tried to grasp the finality of a broken relationship, you may have asked yourself, “Where is God in all this pain and suffering? Where is He, the One who created us?”
According to the Bible, God is right there, groaning with you.
When Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, died, Jesus grieved with them too. At the tomb, “when Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.” And then the Bible says that “Jesus wept” (John 11:33–35).
He wept. He cried with them!
Hope For A New Earth
But God is doing more than empathising. Much more! He’s preparing a new earth for us to inhabit! The state of our present world would be overwhelmingly discouraging if it weren’t for a text in the Bible that describes its future. It’s a vision that God gave the apostle John.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ ” (Revelation 21:1–4).
We know what the new earth won’t contain. It won’t have anything that hurts, kills, destroys or contaminates. But have you stopped to consider what the new earth will have?
- Are you battling an illness or disease? In the new earth, you’ll have a new, immortal body!
- Do you miss loved ones who have died? In the new earth, you’ll spend eternity with them!
- Do you struggle to remember what you’ve learned? In the new earth, you’ll have a brilliant mind!
- Have the years slowed your pace? In the new earth, you’ll have endless energy!
- Are you (like me) wary of snakes and crocodiles when you go hiking or camping? The Bible says that in the new earth, “the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together” (Isaiah 11:6).
- Are you tired of often feeling gloomy or sad? In the new earth, you’ll be eternally happy! “They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35:10).
Homesick For Home
A few years ago, I received a letter from my dad. Among other things, he talked about a newfound homesickness.
He said, “Have you ever had the feeling that something just wasn’t right in your life? Like maybe you weren’t where you should be? You can’t quite figure it out, but you have that unsettled feeling deep inside that keeps tugging away at you from time to time.”
As I was reading about the new earth, it struck me: No wonder I sometimes feel that way. I don’t belong here! I’m not home!
We never feel complete when we aren’t home.
We’re on a journey and it won’t end until Jesus welcomes us into His presence.
You can have the incredible opportunity of being welcomed into the presence of Jesus some day. There you will say a final goodbye to all disappointment, fear, pain, heartache and death—because sin will be no more. Surrounded by unspeakable beauty and overwhelmed by
God’s amazing grace, you’ll know that you’re finally home.