My son Reuben has a habit of asking fascinating questions that shake me out of my religion and reveal to me how much my thinking and behaving has become shaped by the world around me, by the culture and beliefs of our time. I suspect it is God’s way of reminding me of where I should be putting my hope. Not in the small day to day pleasures like a cool beer in the evening or of some night time “cuddles” with my wife (as great as such things are) but in the hope of what is yet to come.
As I was putting Reuben to bed one night and he asked me “Daddy, what animal would you most like to ride?”. What a great question. It didn’t take me long to think of my answer; “a gorilla” I responded. “I would like to ride a rhino” he continued.
I was reflecting on his question the next day and where the desire to ride an animal came from. Reuben loves animals but I think his desire goes deeper than simple fascination. Perhaps I had become blinded to a deeper truth about what is yet to come.
Our view of life after death is often terribly weak and in many cases quite depressing. Even for those of us that believe in Christian salvation. We often think of the “second coming” as a cataclysmic destruction of the earth in which everything is burnt up including our bodies, leaving our souls to float up into the sky where we will then rest for eternity. Of course, such a view also means that animals are not part of the after-life because they would be destroyed along with the earth. But not so.
According to the writers of the new testament, through His life, death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus has set in motion a new creation which continues into eternity. Eternity meaning “unending”. It is a continuation which will include a future time when He returns and heaven and earth will fully come together once more, restoring the earth to how it should be (Rev 21). Why would the restoration of the earth not include animals? That would be unthinkable.
What’s more, the prophet Isiah foretold a time when “The wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid……. The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.” (Isiah 11). I have had a tendency to dismiss such verses as mere imagery as opposed to a clear description of what is yet to come but the more I soak in the promise of a new creation the more I feel that my dismissal comes from a lack of hope and a poor imagination.
George Whitfield once commented in a sermon how creation seems to know that we have a “quarrel with their master”. Animals bark, growl and squawk at us, birds flee and leopards hide. They seem to know that we have rebelled against the Creator, that we currently no longer fully reflect His glory. But if we are to believe the new testament writers then that will not always be the case, a time will come when we do reflect His glory once more and we will be unified with the rest of creation in a way that we can only long for presently.
In the Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis describes how we have a longing to interact more closely with nature; “We do not want to merely “see” beauty -- though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words–to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”
Such desires are stirred when we watch fantasy films like the Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings. Stories with talking animals and trees which we are able to interact with in a way that is unreal to us at present. But maybe that is because our imaginations are just too weak. Maybe such films are giving us a glimpse of what is yet to come. May be one day we really will ride rhinos.
My choice of a gorilla to ride was an easy one. When I was young my answer to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up” was always “a gorilla keeper”. I was fascinated by the creatures and wanted to interact with them and be closer to them. I had forgotten that desire until Reuben asked the question of me. But perhaps my longing is revealing a deeper reality of what awaits us. Perhaps my heart was longing for something that should be true today and will one day be true once more when everything is put right.
Check out the following film of a man going to see some Gorilla’s in the wild that he once cared for. I found it incredibly moving to see how they remembered him after many years and how he and his wife were accepted by them. It feels me with excitement to think it is a taste of what is yet to come. It sure beats thoughts of an eternal church service in the sky!
Grid Ref is intended to help re-orientate men along the narrow path and are a mixture of personal testimonies and reflections from the A&D Team.