Listen: Author, pastor and theologian Brian Harris in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty
Coming to faith in my mid twenties, in the early years of a career that I saw myself pursuing long into the future, I had a quandry.
Work was going pretty well. I was doing something I loved, had trained for, and was passionate about. But my newly established faith in Jesus was transforming not just me, but my world view.
I remember asking the minister of our church “what should I do now? Should I toss in my job and go to work as a missionary?”
His answer set the pattern for the rest of my life. “What were you when you were saved? What are you doing now,” he asked. “You know full well,” I replied. “I am a broadcast journalist”.
“Well, why can’t you continue to be a broadcast journalist, but use your skills and talents in a way that serves God?” was his wise response.
Paul’s exhortation to the members of the Ephesian church became my guiding principle: live a life worthy of the calling you have received (Ephesians 4:1).
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Naming the animals
In more recent years I have taken much delight in reading and conversing with Dr Brian Harris. An author, pastor-at-large over the Carey Baptist ministries and Principal of Vose, the Baptist Theological Training College in Perth, Brian has a knack of bringing deep Biblical insights to life in a way that is immediately powerful and relevant.
To answer the question how should we live out our faith in today’s world Brian goes back to the beginning.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. (Gen 1:31)
Dr Harris says a western, 21st century interpretation of Genesis can misdirect us as to our role, thinking that the creative work is finished. This can sometimes cause us to be passive. Conversely it may give rise to the idea that stewardship is domination. In conversation on Open House Brian explained neither is an adequate response to the text.
“We sometimes talk of the garden as having been perfect and think immediately to our 21st century ideas of perfect, in terms of there’s nothing more you can do to it’,” he explained.
That’s not what the original Hebrew means.
“When in the opening chapters of the Bible we are told that God made the world and it was good, then he makes people at that’s very good, the writer is working with the Hebrew concept of good and very good which mean fit for purpose. The garden worked. The world worked. And my, when humans were made it worked very well indeed.
“But it is not implying there was nothing to be done.
“You see that right away. Humans were supposed to work in the garden. In fact one of the very first tasks that they were given is to name the animals. God brings the animals to Adam and says ‘You must name them’. This is an incomplete task; you must name the creation’.
“In some of my writing I have spoken of this as being our ongoing invitation: to build a world with a better name. God is wanting us to do something. God is wanting us to make his good world somehow even better”, he said.
God is wanting us to do something. God is wanting us to make his good world even better.
When work got harder
Because of their disobedience Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden. Symbolically, one of the most creative acts that a human being can undertake, childbirth, is subject to “extreme pain”. The ground itself is cursed. Weeds and thistles appear and fulfilling, creative work takes on the characteristics of hard labour.
However this is by no means the end of God’s care for us, nor of his desire that we would continue to work creatively as his image-bearers, even in our our present predicament.
“Even as he expels humans from the garden God does so with a redemptive touch,” Brian told Open House. “When Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden God wraps them in the fur of animals. It is as though God is saying ‘I’m sending you into a harsh world but I’m still looking out for you, I’m still protecting you, I’m still making sure you don’t go under”.
“So you see the little hints of grace even at moments of condemnation. So yes, the world does become a lot harder but it doesn’t mean that we simply throw up our hands in despair and say that our original mandate is completely gone. That’s not at all the way we are meant to respond.
As God’s image bearers we need to tend the Earth really well. We must do that with all the creativity God gives to us.
The big picture
As Dr Harris points out the Bible needs to be read as a whole, a theme he takes up in the book The Big Picture: Building Blocks of a Christian Worldview.
On the cross, Jesus does all that is necessary for us to be reconciled to God. His resurrection which gives us a glimpse of the afterlife promised to his followers. The clear picture given by the Bible is of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1).
Knowing the future, and bearing in mind the past, we now have a complete framework from which to understand our present calling. As Brian told Open House, there is an “already/not yet”aspect to our present position.
“(Because of Cross) we enjoy many aspects of the new creation even now. We live in improved relationships with one another because of the forgiveness of Jesus. We are supposed to live creatively in the now moment. We are supposed to remember our original calling because Jesus has redeemed us. Sin has been taken away; we shouldn’t live as though we are still trapped by that. But we do realise there’s a provisionality about it. The final order has not yet come.
We are supposed to live creatively in the now moment… to remember our original calling because Jesus has redeemed us.
“When people say what will we be doing in the afterlife, well you’ll be living in the new earth. So there’ll be some continuity with the place that we already are in because it is still called Earth – a new Earth, a transformed Earth to be sure, but nevertheless it’s still Earth that is the fundamental underlying concept there.”
Pointing to hope
At Open House, our intention is to look at life through the lens of faith and point to hope. This encapsulates the idea that our present calling as Christians is to anticipate what it will be like to be part of a redeemed community; citizens of a new Kingdom, living creatively on the new earth.
Until things are brought to their ultimate fulfilment God is still at work through human kind — his image bearers. We love to tell stories of redemption and endeavour to call people to make their present work count. To put our energy into things that last. To borrow Brian Harris’ words, to give the world a better name.
“Things that are built from fear have no future. Things that are built from hope do. So we’re given a direction there. Live out your hopes rather than your fears. Don’t be paralysed in the present moment; trust God for all that is going to come”.
To hear the full conversation with Brian click the red play button at the top of the page. Subscribe to Open House podcasts in iTunes.