By Elton HiggsWe Americans are fascinated with all things new, largely because both the word and the idea of “new” are at the center of promoting products, from cereals to automobiles. I heard just this morning in a newscast (as you can see, the word is even embedded in the media) a report about how Apple can get away with marketing a new iPhone every couple of years: people want and eagerly await the next new thing, especially in communications technology.
The assumption of the superiority of the new is also deeply woven into the fabric of modern Western thought. It is intricately connected to the idea of progress, undergirded both by ever-expanding scientific and technological knowledge and by the application of Darwin’s theory of biological evolution to human social development. Arising out of these elements of thought is the rather arrogant assumption that the present age is by definition more advanced than any that has preceded it, merely because it is the latest. This is the state of mind described by C. S. Lewis as “chronological snobbery.” In this context, it’s not surprising that modern theological opinions are considered superior to old ones. If doctrines and moral standards clearly stated in the Bible conflict with modern, enlightened, “scientific” understandings, then we must cast the old aside and embrace the progressive new.
However, the God of the Bible is actually the source of all things new—is, in fact, the only source of the New. The conflict is not primarily between the old and the new in a chronological sense, but between mankind’s “new” and God’s “New.” God demonstrated the archetypal New when He “created the heavens and the earth.” No such thing had ever existed before; it was unique, completely original, and God “saw that it was good.” When sin corrupted this perfect new world, God provided a lesser but sufficient way for the human race to survive on earth until God’s redemption of the fallen world could be worked out. For Adam and Eve, newly banished from the Garden, He balanced the penalties of pain in childbirth and painfully tilling the ground for food by providing them garments and promising that the Serpent who had deceived them would one day be bruised (fatally and finally, it is implied) by one of their offspring. (See Gen. 3:14-21.) We now know that the “offspring” referred to was Jesus Christ, Messiah and Incarnate Son of God, whose heel was bruised by the Serpent Satan when Jesus died on the cross. But before the culmination of that divine plan in the Incarnation, there was a very long period of progressive New Things, beginning with the purging and purifying of the earth through the Flood; the calling of Abraham to be the father of God’s nation, Israel; the institution of a Covenant with that nation, based on the Law given to Moses; the blessing of Israel with a land to live in; the apostasy of the nation leading to their being exiled from that land; and their return from exile to rebuild Jerisalem and the Temple. Thus, over long years, the way was prepared for the coming of God’s Son, the Newest Thing ever seen.
Jesus’ appearance in the world marked the creation of a New Adam, a being who, like the original creation, was unique and without precedent. The first Adam was created from the earth, and God breathed into his physical form the breath of life; but the Second (or New) Adam sprang from the very Spirit of God and was only temporarily clothed in a perishable body (see I Cor. 15:45-49). When Jesus arose from the grave after being struck to death by Satan, He became the source of a New Covenant, established through the shedding of His perfect blood to remove forever the curse invoked on mankind because of sin. With this New Covenant came a New definition of the people of God. No longer was His people merely physical Israel, but a unification of Jew and Gentile into “one New Man” (Eph. 3:15, my caps, and so throughout), so intimately identified with Christ as to be referred to as His Body. The people of God are made up of all those who have accepted Jesus as Lord and have experienced the transformation from death to life, putting off the “old self” and being “renewed” so that we can “put on the New Self” (Eph. 4:21-24), which is actually Christ in us (Col. 1:27). As Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20-21). All of this is preparation for our being ushered into the New Heaven and New Earth with which God will replace the flawed universe in which we now dwell. (See Is. 65:17-18; II Pet. 3:11-13; Rev. 21:1-8.)
God’s New is obviously glorious and benevolent, greatly to be desired and joyfully to be embraced. And yet, as I indicated above, we in this fallen world easily fall prey to the glittering temptation of the temporal new. Scripture has many examples from which we can profit in this regard. One of God’s repeated accusations against Israel was that they went after “new gods” and “forgot the God who gave [them] birth” (Deut. 32:17-18). The jaded old man whose voice we hear in Ecclesiastes is so satiated with his pursuit of the ephemeral “new” that he concludes “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9-10). And he is right, for what is under the sun is not God’s New, but mankind’s flawed new. Nevertheless, God is at work in His people of every age providing spiritual renewal in the midst of our weariness. Inserted into the middle of the book of Lamentations (3:22-24) we find the beautiful affirmation: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” In Isaiah 40:31, those who “wait for the Lord” are promised that they will “renew their strength” and “run and not be weary . . . walk and not faint.”
Nevertheless, perverse beings that we are, we not only are easily lured by the glitter of the world’s fleeting “new,” we often are frightened and threatened by God’s ‘New,” even though he makes it readily available to us for the asking. But to receive God’s New, we must put off the old that would hinder us from growing in our walk with Him. I once wrote a New Year’s poem that expresses this ambivalence, and I present it here by way of conclusion.
A Reluctance for New Wine
The fabric of threadbare hope
Stretches toward year’s end.
Pieces of frayed ambition extend
To cover the old wineskins
That many disclaim
But few set aside.
Like children clutching tattered dolls,
We hug in vain security
The rags of the past,
Because in some degree
They are accommodated to our wills.
The outworn selves we cling to
Can be our own
The more as time goes by:
We patch and mend
In order to possess.
Stirs something deep within—
But I would not willingly admit it.
–Elton D. Higgs
(Dec. 31, 1977)
Image: “Beginning” by Uzzaman. CC License.