I spent the July of 2019 in Arkaroola, South Australia, mapping out the geological structures there as a part of my undergraduate Earth Science research project.
Arkaroola is situated in the Flinders Range, and the Flinders Range is a place where lots of fossils from the Ediacaran period in geological history (541-635 million years ago) were found.
Some of the biggest events that we see in the fossil record are mass extinctions. For example, many of the communities of early multicellular organisms that thrived in the Ediacaran didn’t make it to the next geological period, the Cambrian. Those that did survive died off not long into the Cambrian as new communities took over.
Even if a group of organisms somehow prevailed for hundreds of millions of years, there is no guarantee that it will survive the next million. The trilobites, a type of marine arthropod, were very successful, taking over the ocean after the Ediacaran communities died off, and the fossil record shows that they existed for nearly 270 million years! But even they still went extinct in another mass extinction event, leaving only their remains for us to handle and look at today.
This cyclical nature of life and death brings to mind these verses from the book of Ecclesiastes:
'A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.'
Are we not in a similar state of helplessness and hopelessness? In view of the climate and ecological crises that humanity is facing, much of my course was spent studying previous catastrophic events like mass extinctions, trying to project what might happen in the future, and what we should do to prevent impending disaster, including our own demise as a species.
We are still in this loop of destruction and regeneration. Even if we survive our current ecological disaster, what has been dubbed “The Sixth Mass Extinction” by scientists, what confidence can we have that humanity will survive even the next hundred years?
Does it mean that we are wasting our time trying to save the earth and ourselves? Even the most successful trilobites and diverse Ediacaran communities did not survive forever. What is the meaning of my studies and research then, when it cannot give a lasting hope and peace? We might solve one ecological problem, but what about the next? If the cyclical nature holds true, then ultimately humanity will perish.
Yet for us who are in Christ, we have a hope that transcends this cyclical world. Revelation 21:1-4 says:
'Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man… He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more… for the former things have passed away.”'
In God’s mercy, He promised us His eternal kingdom. In Jesus, we look forward to the New Heaven and New Earth, where all the brokenness of this world will pass away. The cyclical world will pass away, replaced by a world with no death. The knowledge of the eternal kingdom of God shifts my perspective on this broken world. Romans 8:20-24 puts it eloquently:
'For the creation was subjected to futility… in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God… We wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.'
The creation was subjected to futility in hopes that it will be set free. And in Jesus, we know that this future will certainly come.
"Humanity is not doomed — we have peace because of our eternal hope in Jesus."
If we trust in this promise, we can live with peace in this broken world. Not because life today will necessarily become easier, but because we know the brokenness and suffering now will one day be taken away. The cycle of life and death will be broken, and creation will be renewed! Humanity is not doomed — we have peace because of our eternal hope in Jesus.
Whenever I looked at the fossils that died millions of years ago, or as I trudged through the Australian desert thinking of the fossils buried deep in the rocks, I asked myself, “Will this be my eventual fate as well?”. But I know that death is not the end. The cyclical nature of the world, of life and death will continue until the day Jesus comes again, and all believers will be raised in glory forever.
We live as faithful stewards of God to this world, caring for this Old Creation. We can accept that we cannot save this groaning creation through human efforts and our studies today. We study not so we can be humanity’s saviour, but so that we can lessen our suffering, and give glory to God our creator as we groan and wait for our saviour to return.
Most importantly, we want people to see God’s love for us as we serve the people around us through our vocations. And so we work while showing people the peace that we have in Jesus. In the face of this cyclical and hopeless world, we point people to the everlasting world that God mercifully invites us to, as the peace from our hope in the New Creation empowers us to serve God in this groaning world.
May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you as you live and speak for Jesus in your own fields!
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