The Epic of the Universe

From Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004) pages 56–57:

“I have been thinking about existence lately. In fact, I have been so full of admiration for existence that I have hardly been able to enjoy it properly. As I was walking up to the church this morning, I passed that row of big oaks by the war memorial—if you remember them—and I thought of another morning, fall a year or two ago, when they were dropping their acorns thick as hail almost. There was all sorts of thrashing in the leaves and there were acorns hitting the pavement so hard they’d fly past my head. All this in the dark, of course. I remember a slice of moon, no more than that. It was a very clear night, or morning, very still, and then there was such energy in the things transpiring among those trees, like a storm, like travail. I stood there a little out of range, and I thought, It is all still new to me. I have lived my life on the prairie and a line of oak trees can still astonish me.

I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can’t believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don’t imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.”

On Church and Culture

Today Kevin DeYoung posted the following quote from John Goldingay’s soon to be released Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Life (IVP, 2009)–

The Psalter goes on to protest about how things are in the world (Ps. 3; 4; 5).  Here a link between politics and ethics on one hand and prayer on the other becomes more overt.  The world’s not being as it should be may be a reason for human initiative; it is certainly a reason for prayer.  Ethical commitment without calling on God appropriates too much responsibility to us as human beings.

The Psalms will later declare that “Yhwh reigns” or “Yhwh is king” or “Yhwh has become king” (e.g., Ps. 96:10).  Generally speaking, it does not look as if this is the case.  Israel’s world often looked like one in which Pharaoh or Sennacherib reigned, not Yhwh, as our world does not look like one in which Jesus is Lord.  Like us, then, when Israel entered worship and declared that Yhwh reigned, it was often making statements that went against the evidence.  It was creating a world.

Admittedly, talk of “creating a world” could be misleading.  The Psalms’ conviction is that in the real world (as opposed to the world that we see) Yhwh indeed reigns.  In worship we are making the already-real reality in our ears and before our eyes.  We may then be inspired to go and live out our ethical and political commitment in the world outside worship in the knowledge that the world in which Yhwh reigns is indeed the real world.  But we would be unwise to make that a covert way of reckoning that it is our task to bring about Yhwh’s reign, which would be laughable if it were not a Christian that is alive and well. (p. 27)

FYI—This latest volume is the third in Goldingay’s large OT theology project:

Jonathan Edwards on God’s Grand Design


During one Sunday morning sermon in the winter of 1744, Jonathan Edwards articulated what he understood to be the culmination of all God’s works. Admittedly a lofty goal for a single sermon.

Edwards titled his message “Approaching the End of God’s Grand Design” and chose Revelation 21:6 as the text—“And he said unto me, It is done.” He believed this text revealed the τέλος, the end. Edwards argued that all of God’s activities will one day culminate and be fully achieved in a single goal. The divine work of creation, providence, and redemption all point to one grand design. It all points to a wedding.

Edwards’ sermon is worth quoting at length:


DOCTRINE. There is a time coming when God’s grand design in all his various works and dispensations from age to age will be completed and his end fully obtained… What is this one great design that God has in view in all his works and dispensations?

Ans. ‘Tis to present to his Son a spouse in perfect glory from amongst sinful, miserable mankind, blessing all that comply with his will in this matter and destroying all his enemies that oppose it, and so to communicate and glorify himself through Jesus Christ, God-man. This I take to be the great design of the work of creation [and the] work of providence…

…because it was a spouse to communicate his goodness to that he desired, therefore that she might be one fit not to give but receive good, one was pitched upon that was remarkably empty and poor in herself, not of the highest order of creatures, but mankind—and not man in his first and best estate, but in a fallen, miserable, helpless state: a state wherein his emptiness and need of goodness did more remarkably appear. And because it was his design to communicate his goodness, therefore that he might do it the more fully, those were chosen that were unworthy; because the more unworthy the more is free goodness exercised, and so Christ’s end the more answered in his seeking a spouse to communicate of his goodness to. Hence, not the angels but the miserable race, [the] ruined, sinful race of mankind, was pitched upon.

And because the design was that Christ should communicate goodness, therefore such an one was chosen that needed that Christ should suffer, and it was the will of Christ to suffer because suffering is the greatest expression of goodness and manifestation of kindness. The great design was that Christ in this way should procure or obtain this his spouse, bring her to come to him, present her to himself and make her perfectly beautiful, perfectly and unspeakably happy. Ephesians 5:25, “[Christ] loved the church and gave himself for it.” And this is the way that God the Father intended to glorify his Son: the world was created that from thence Christ might obtain this spouse. This was God’s portion and inheritance, [his] first fruits, his jewel, [his] darling. This was the great gift of God to the Son in the eternal work of redemption, the great promise of God to Christ, the joy set before him. These things seem very manifest by the holy Scripture, and God the Father in this way glorifies himself by thus glorifying his Son, Jesus Christ.

This spouse of Christ is that part of the creation which God has made for his glory in an eminent manner. Isaiah 43:7, “Everyone that is called by my name: for I have created [him] for my glory.” This is the way in which God presents elect men to him, viz. by presenting them to Christ. Being presented to Christ in perfect glory, Christ will present them to the Father. In subserviency to this design of thus presenting {the elect} are all things in heaven and earth managed, and that through all the varieties of God’s dispensations.

The great war that has been maintained between God [and] his enemies for the biggest part of six thousand years has been about that design. This is the design the elect angels were made to be subservient to, and this is the design about which is the continual opposition of the reprobate angels; and there is a very great probability that their first sin by which they fell was their opposing God in this affair. And ’tis probably also that special work to which the angels were appointed as the trial of their obedience. The eternal destruction of God’s enemies, both of devils and wicked men, is in subserviency to the design of his glorifying himself in his church in the manner that has been spoken of.

[He will] glorify his majesty, power [and] justice before his elect that they might behold the glory and so be happy in the sight of this glory of God, and that they might give God the glory due to him on this account, and that they might be the more sensible of the worth of {their} happiness and of the wonderfulness and sovereignty of God’s grace.

Thus the grand design of God in all his works and dispensations is to present to his Son a spouse in perfect purity, beauty and glory from amongst [mankind], blessing all [the elect] and destroying those [that oppose], and so to glorify himself through his Jesus Christ, God-man; or in one word, the work of redemption is the grand design of [history], this the chief work of God, [the] end of all other works, so that the design of God is one. Hence all the decrees of God are spoken of in Scripture as one purpose which God purposed in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:9–11). All decrees may one way or other be referred to the covenant of redemption: the grand subject of [the] revelations that God hath made, [the] subject of the words of God, [the] subject of prophecy, [the] great things insisted on in the contemplations and praises of saints and angels, and will be to all eternity.”

—Jonathan Edwards, sermon “Approaching The End Of God’s Grand Design,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Sermons and Discourses, 1743—1758 (Vol. 25), pages 111—126. Paragraph breaks were added for readability.

A sampling of biblical texts on this marriage for personal meditation include Isaiah 54:5, 61:10, 62:5, Hosea 2:19—20, Matthew 22:1—14, 25:1—14, John 3:25—30, Ephesians 5:22—33, Revelation 19:6—10, 21:1—9 (notice Edwards’ sermon text is sandwiched here between v. 2 and v. 9).


Photo © 2009, ronsho