For the week of April 22, 2023 / 1 Iyar 5783
Tazria & Metzora
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 12:1 – 15:33; B’midbar/Numbers 28:9-15
Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1-24
For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain. (Isaiah 66:22)
This week’s Haftarah (reading portion from Hebrew Prophets) is the second of two references made by Isaiah to “the new heavens and the new earth” that God will create (the first being Isaiah 65:17). The renewal of the entirety of creation is central to the overall story of the Bible. From the beginning, God had determined that he would not allow the cursed state of affairs resulting from our first parents’ disobedience, to be permanent. From the first hint of restoration based on the eventual destruction of the serpent and all it represented (see Bereshit/Genesis 3:15) to the promise to Abraham of world-wide blessing (see Bereshit/Genesis 12:1-3; compare Galatians 3:8) to various other prophecies to Israel and their implications for the nations, summing it all up in terms of universal renewal should be of no surprise.
Contrary to popular misconception, the expectation of the new heavens and new earth was never to be understood as God’s intent to destroy the material realm. Far from it! God was and is committed to his creation project. What is to be destroyed will be all the evil forces that have worked to undermine the essential goodness of God’s plan. A day is coming when the universe will be set right fully and forever.
To deny God’s intentions for the material realm distracts from an accurate biblical understanding of the world in which we live. Biblically minded people may be surprised, if not offended, to be told that our tendency to degrade the creation by denying the God-given goodness of the material realm has contributed to the growing tendency of much of today’s culture to embrace nonsense.
We live in a world of design, God’s design. Despite its cursed state, the creation is based on divinely intentioned principles. Denial of those principles is a denial of reality, nonsense in other words. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Problem of Pain, eloquently explains that the only thing that God can’t do is nonsense. The universe we live in has material and non-material aspects to it. Nonsense doesn’t exist, nor can it.
Yet, that doesn’t stop human beings from pretending that it does. I attribute this phenomenon to the wonderful God-given gift of imagination. Imagination is a key dynamic involved in creativity. It is imagination that enables us to problem solve, to explore possibilities, and to expound the complexities of life and the universe in extraordinary ways. What imagination on its own cannot do is determine what is good and right. When imagination is untethered from the realities of our universe, untold destruction is the result.
Asserting “anything is possible” or “you can be anything you want to be” are helpful when facing legitimate injustice or badly perceived obstacles. All sorts of beneficial innovations have been discovered and effectively implemented due to such optimistic attitudes. Accepting our inability to fly was reasonable until someone allowed their imagination to develop flying machines. But to imagine we can fly without such a device is outside the realm of God-established reality. To believe we could would be nonsense. Any attempt to do so would result in destruction.
Nonsense has beset the human family from the time Adam and Eve accepted the serpent’s claim that God was lying to them. Whether we ascribe power to idols or believe being rich will make us happy or that being popular will give us self-esteem or pretending we were born in the wrong body, nonsense has always set us in a destructive direction.
The establishment of the new heavens and the new earth will mark the time when nonsense will be shown for what it really is. No longer will reality be ignored as God unveils the full essence of his design forever. Until then, we have the opportunity and responsibility to reflect the creation’s destiny through navigating our broken world via the truth of God’s Word under the forgiveness of the Messiah and the power of the Ruach HaKodesh (English: the Holy Spirit). Imagine that!