There seems to be no shortage of movies about the lives of human beings AFTER the earth is destroyed (Wall-E, Oblivion, After Earth, just to name a few). We seem to be resigned to the notion that our penchant for disposability will result in the eventual destruction of this planet.
Unfortunately, too much of Christianity does little to combat this notion since the false notion persists that our ultimate destiny is to escape this planet in a disembodied form and live an eternity floating in the clouds with Jesus. In truth, the core of the Christian message is that, as a result of the Resurrection of Jesus, we have entered into the time in which God’s plan to renew his creation has begun – a plan that will culminate in the return of Jesus to a renewed earth, a renewed cosmos, and, if we have conformed ourselves to Christ, a renewed “us” living in “renewed” (resurrected) bodies.
This is precisely why we proclaim in the Creed that we “look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We do not say that “we look forward to an eternity of a disembodied existence floating in the clouds of heaven.” It is also the reason that we say, “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again,” as opposed to “…until we get to heaven.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “Creation is the common work of the Holy Trinity.” (292) God did not create this world, send his only Son into it, and infuse it with his Holy Spirit so that some day we can leave it all behind and float in the clouds. Our destiny, to live with the Most Holy Trinity, is here on a renewed earth that will be intimately and fully joined with heaven.
We don’t have a clear and precise notion of what this renewed earth and our renewed bodies will look like but, as St. Paul says, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1Cor 13:12)
In the meantime, however, we do not sit back and wait for the “life of the world to come.” We do good works in the here and now: not so that we can earn our own individual, personal reward in the hereafter, but rather, so that our works will be multiplied by God when he renews all of creation at the end of time. We anticipate this renewal and actually begin to participate in it by the good works we do now, knowing that our good works will somehow carry over and be magnified by God when he renews his creation. And so, through our good works, we seek to renew ourselves, our homes, our communities, our relationships, our environment, and our world in anticipation of that day when God will renew them and us fully. In the meantime, we do these things because we have this unshakable notion that they are important – they mean something for our future.
P.S. I can’t help but think of the scene in the classic movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in which Roy Neary (played by Richard Dreyfus), after seeing a UFO, is haunted with mental images of a mountain and, in an iconic scene, obsessively builds and carves a model of the mountain out of his plate full of mashed potatoes as his wife and children look on in confusion. Roy admits to his family that he is behaving strangely but insists, as he points at the mashed potato mountain on his plate, “This means something. This is important.” It turns out later that this mountain is the site where the first encounter with alien life will take place. We Christians engage in works that contribute toward the building of God’s Kingdom because, like Roy, we have this foggy but unshakable notion that these things are important: they mean something about our future – a future in which we shall have a close encounter with the Trinity and a renewed life!