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Where Technology Meets Eternity

Why the human instinct to create will be celebrated in heaven—iPhones and all.

The fullness of time has come, and the iPhone 5 has finally been announced. Expectedly, Apple sold out of its initial pre-order stock—a reported two millions units—within an hour of the announcement. At this rate, if you haven’t ordered your iPhone yet, you might not be able to get yours until, well, you’re dead. But according to at least one author, that’s not such a bad thing. In fact, iPhones and other technologies may not be absent from the new heaven and new earth.

...We will indeed celebrate human creativity and its resulting creations in the new earth.

So suggests John Dyer, director of web development at Dallas Theological Seminary and author of From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology. In his book the tech expert makes the case that technology is part of what makes us human, between our beginning in "the Garden", which was void of technology, and our end in "the City"—heavenly Jerusalem, which will be filled with human technology. He writes:

At one end of this story is a pristine garden prepared by God for humankind to develop and transform. At the other end is a glorious, heavenly city full of human creations, art, and technology. At the center is our Savior Jesus Christ crucified on a cross, the most horrific of all technological distortions, built by transforming a tree from the natural world into a tool of death. Yet in his resurrection, Christ redeemed even that tool, transforming it into the symbol of our faith that eternally portrays his power over death and sin

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Dyer pictures a heavenly city full of human inventions. Does this mean we’ll still be instagramming our quiet times or tweeting about our afternoons in heaven (“This city is HUGE. Can’t find the temple ... #Rev21”)? Probably not. But Dyer suggests that we will indeed celebrate human creativity and its resulting creations in the new earth. I asked Dyer a few questions about the relationship between human creations like the iPhone 5 and the coming New Creation.

You talk about an abundance of human creations in the new heaven and new earth. What are some of these human creations?

One way to answer this is to notice that the eschatological portraits in the Scripture never show us humans floating in heaven with wings or naked in an untouched garden. On the contrary, every time a biblical author sketches the eschaton, humans are on earth using various kinds of cultural goods, cooking meals, living in houses, walking on roads, raising banners, blowing trumpets, using domesticated animals, sitting on chairs, reading books, and so on. Passages like Revelation 21 are chock full of physicality with machines, art, and tools. At the same time, the Scriptures seem to hint that God will be transforming, redeeming, restoring, or making obsolete some human creations. For example, Isaiah's portrait of shalom is when people "beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." (2:4). I don't want to take that so literally that we assume God will go around collecting swords and bending them, but this kind of passage does seem to indicate that our creations which we meant for destruction, God will transform somehow in the new city.

You talk about technologies being redeemed or transformed in the new heaven and new earth. Could you give an example of a human creation and what it might look like in its "redeemed form"? How about a communications technology like the iPhone? 

Engaging in this kind of thought experiment is great, because it forces us to think about the physicality of the coming kingdom and helps us picture a world full of human creations rather than one of fluffy clouds and winged babies babies flying around. After all, God didn't design the Garden to stay as it was; he wanted people to "cultivate" it and create new things from the raw materials he gave us (Gen 2). However, as to what exactly that redeemed world of human and divine creations will look like, I don't know. Isaiah gives us a beautiful picture ... but it's just a portrait, an image of things yet unseen. It gives us hope and strengthens our faith, but it doesn't give us specific answers.

It's hard to imagine people using cell phones in heaven, but there's not much evidence that God will just give us telekinesis to communicate, either. If Christ were to come tomorrow, before the iPhone 5 had a chance to become obsolete in the current age, do you think we would be using iPhones in the new world?

I think this question requires that we dig a little deeper and ask why we need phones. We need them (and many modern technologies) because our time is short. We don't "have time" to go to our friend's house and talk. We don't "have time" to travel to China to see the latest prototype. Phones and airplanes shrink time and allow us to get things done - before we inevitably die. So what happens when time is no longer a limit? In the eschaton, Jesus will be physically present on earth - but will we need to make an appointment with him, or does the concept of an appointment (a short, fixed point in time) even have meaning when death is no longer chasing us? Furthermore, remember the Y2K bug (where computers had trouble taking into account the extra digits needed for a new century)? How much more trouble will they have trying to account for eternity and infinity? 

In fact, the act of making technology is part of what shows that we're made in the image of God.

What would you say is a good example of technology being used for redemptive purposes? 

I would start with Adam and Eve creating clothing and then just follow the trajectory of history and scripture where technology played a role in God's redemptive program (Noah's Ark, Moses's use of the recently developed alphabet technology, David acquiring iron smelting technology, Paul using the roads Alexander built, etc.). As for technology that's redemptive today, I'd point to any place where the "lame walk and the blind see." Anything that restores some humanity to humans, I would see as redemptive—in the broadest sense of the word—because it is part of God's restoration project. Apart from Christ, that redemption is incomplete, but it's still good.

Many human inventions are not created to cause harm, but are produced in a way that violates human rights (think about Apple's less-than-stellar human rights record). How will product production change in the new heaven and new earth?

In Genesis 2, God asks us to balance the acts of "cultivating" (or working, making, creating) with that of "keeping" (or guarding, protecting) the Garden and all of creation. I long for a world where God helps us to do that and restores our place as his image bearers.

Christians like Dyer understand that we live in a fallen world and that we are unable to solve all of its problems. But because people are are all made in the image of God, we naturally emulate in the present what God is going to do in the future. Technology like the iPhone 5 is part of the way we do this. We don't always get it right, and we often create technology that is harmful. But the technology itself is not the problem. In fact, the act of making technology is part of what shows that we're made in the image of God.

In heaven we may have no use for the “ships of Tarshish” (Isaiah 60), but there they are, on their way into the Kingdom of God. The same is true for the iPhone. We may not have a use for the technology, but the human ability to create it will be celebrated, not abolished, in the new heaven and new earth.

6 Comments

85,162

Rebecca commented…

This is probably the stupidest thing I've seen in Relevant to date! What does it say about our perspective of Heaven and its purpose if we try so hard to make an argument that we get to keep the stuff of this world there? Or that we will celebrate human creativity there? I plan on celebrating God's grace and mercy. And the example of Adam and Eve creating clothes as a redemptive act is flawed--they made clothes because they sinned and wanted to hide. When we throw the word redemption or redemptive around too lightly, it loses its true power. Dyer seems to be trying to justify the materialistic impulses of the world in order to make Heaven seem more desirable.

85,162

Tower Nineteen commented…

If Rebecca is right then I can look forward to not having to read spiteful, overly critical blog comments in eternity!

Aaron Jones

1

Aaron Jones commented…

Walking with God as co-creators is part of the fulfillment of Jesus' prayer to share His glory with His friends. All creativity comes from Him, so what we create doesn't take away from His glory, it amplifies it.
This article is a healthy response to the subtle gnosticismof Evangelical culture which labels the spiritual world good and material world all bad. "The earth is the Lord's and all it contains," and "even creation groans for the sons of God to be revealed." Seeing redemption applying to only humans misses God's heart for the whole created universe.

Aaron Coski

3

Aaron Coski commented…

This is a perplexing article to me personally. On the one hand I am amazed and grateful for our ability to create and problem solve. My son has benefitted from the medical fields ability to problem solve and create solutions. He was born with a sever cleft lip and the recent technology has enable him to talk clearer than kids of a previous generation. So I want to clarify that I am not a technology hater, I am glad that we reflect the one who created us. The troubling part of this article is the focus of technology in our world and in our lives. The technology we get excited about is the stuff we know as "eye candy". We so quickly buy into the hype that surrounds the newest phone, tablet, web browser or the next greatest marketing invention. The Iphone5 points out to us the hysteria we buy into before it hits the shelves. My question is why do we do this? Is it the benefits we will receive from the new divice? Probably not, we do it for a myriad of reason, but few of them are noble, few of them truly benefit us or others, thought they might make things easier. The latest gadget may provide better pictures than ever before, but do they help restore the brokenness those pictures reveal?

Aaron Coski

3

Aaron Coski commented…

I tried to post this earlier but it didn't work so I'll try again...This article is perplexing to me. On the one hand I really appreciate technology. Modern science has enable my son that was born with a bilateral cleft lip to have amazing speech (something that wasn't possible 15 years ago or 10 years ago in PDX for that matter). The creative spirit that resides within man is simple amazing. I truly believe that these strides in technology can and do give evidence to our being made in God's image. We have been given the ability to create as God has created (or restore), but if we put it in perspective our advances are fairly trivial when held up to our creator. The troubling part of this article is not that we are creative, but the perspective we place on our creativity, in our technology. The release of the new Iphone5 reflects our priorities and desires as a society. We focus so much of our attention on the "eye candy" that we miss the work God has given us to do. Yes technology is cool, but what are the practical reasons why we rush out to buy these gadgets every 6 months to a year? Do we buy the newest gadget for the benefits it brings to our lives and those of society? These gadgets may offer the clearest pictures, but do these gadgets help restore the brokenness that these pictures reveal?

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