All Rocks Go to Heaven: What the Incarnation Says About Creation
By Dr. Mike Honeycutt
Associate Professor of Historical and Practical Theology
In my office sits a rock with the words “All rocks go to heaven” painted on it. This was the thoughtful gift of one of my church members in response to a sermon I preached in which I recounted the following fictitious word battle that took place on the marquee signs of two churches located across the street from one another.
Our Lady of Martyrs Catholic Church: “All dogs go to heaven.”
Beulah Cumberland Presbyterian Church: “Only humans go to heaven. Read the Bible.”
Catholic Church: “God loves all his creation, dogs included.”
Presbyterian Church: “Dogs don’t have souls. This is not open for debate.”
Catholic Church: “Catholic dogs go to heaven; Presbyterian dogs can talk to their pastor.”
Presbyterian Church: “Converting to Catholicism does not magically grant your dog a soul.”
Catholic Church: “Free dog souls with conversion.”
Presbyterian Church: “Dogs are animals. There aren’t any rocks in heaven either.”
Catholic Church: “All rocks go to heaven.”
Although I am a committed Presbyterian, Our Lady of Martyrs Catholic Church wins this word battle hands down. Maybe not all rocks go to heaven, but God’s mission of redemption is not limited to that which has a soul, i.e., we humans. In fact, Scripture points to a cosmic redemption, the scope of which is as broad as the scope of creation.
Paul, for example, in Ephesians 1:9–10, speaks of Christ uniting “all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” He goes on to say that “all” those “things” united to Christ are also reconciled to the Father (Col. 1:19–20). And finally, “all” those “things” that are united to Christ and reconciled to the Father include “things” with souls and “things” without souls—nothing less than “the whole creation” is encompassed in God’s grand redemptive scheme (Rom. 8:19–23). Although Paul opposes universalism (cf. Eph. 1:4), he understands God’s commitment to creation as universal (comprehensive).
What does this have to do with the incarnation? A lot. The incarnation may well be the most visible demonstration of God’s commitment to “the whole creation.” When “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), our Lord, through his body, as Scottish theologian Donald Macleod writes, “is linked” not just “to the whole of suffering humanity,” but also “to the whole of the physical creation” (see D. Macleod, The Person of Christ). Linked, in other words, not just to humans, but also to dogs and, yes, even rocks.
The incarnation, then, is the fleshing out, as it were, of God’s voluntary binding of himself to his creation in Genesis 9:8–16. There his commitment is to “the earth,” to humanity (Noah and his “offspring”), and to “every living creature of all flesh.” Coming after the Flood, this commitment is an indication that God had not scrapped his original creation project. (For more, see Far as the Curse Is Found by Dr. Michael Williams.)
The incarnate Christ, however, does more than flesh out a previous commitment; he also carries that flesh into eternity, evidencing God’s permanent commitment to his creation and God’s ultimate intention to renew that creation. The humanity of Jesus embraced in the womb of Mary was not simply a vehicle to carry the Son of God from birth to the cross. It was and is a central aspect of his identity and thus a way for God to show us that he has not and will not give up on his creation.
Musician George Harrison once looked upon his time with The Beatles as a suit of clothes he put on for a short season of his life—a suit of clothes he then discarded, one representing a commitment he no longer had.
Our Lord never looked back on his humanity in that way. He is still human. He still has a body. And the body that he still has is the glorified version of the body that he once had while on this earth. That is why John Duncan, the nineteenth-century Scottish professor of Hebrew and Oriental languages, could exclaim in such a memorable way, “the dust of the earth is on the throne of the Majesty on High” (quoted in The Person of Christ).
The incarnation is like a billboard standing in the middle of history forcing us to look backward to a commitment God made to his creation and forward to its fulfillment, when the dead will be raised, the bodies of God’s people glorified, and the earth under our feet purified from its fallen condition and made new. God was, is, and will always be, committed to his creation—his entire creation. He has not given up—nor should we.
If this is true—and I believe it is with all my heart—then the incarnation we celebrate at Christmas has wonderful implications for our lives. First, it means that we can experience some level of satisfaction in almost any legitimate activity. Our work, for example, whether in the ministry, the government, the marketplace, or the home, is important to God because it is one of the contexts within which we exercise our God-given callings. Contrary to the mind-set that says that only the so-called “spiritual” activities are of real significance to God, we are told, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Nothing—not even changing a diaper, as a friend used to remind me—is outside the purview of that command.
Second, because the incarnation is a vivid reminder that the Father is reconciling “all things” to himself (Col. 1:20) and because “God . . . gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18), it means that we are in the family business. Within our own spheres of influence, we are to seek to straighten that which is crooked, to bring back into a right relationship with the Father all that has been alienated from him through corruption. As theologian Albert M. Wolters puts it, “We have a redemptive task wherever our vocation places us in his world. . . . Distortion must be opposed everywhere—in the kitchen and the bedroom, in city councils and corporate boardrooms, on the stage and on the air, in the classroom and in the workshop . . . everywhere humanity’s sinfulness disrupts and deforms” (see A. Wolters, Creation Regained).
Finally, because “the dust of the earth is on the throne of the Majesty on High,” it means that we can look forward to a life on the new earth that is different from life on this earth, but the same. Rather than being yanked into a world for which we are totally unprepared, we will be welcomed into a world that is a sanctified, joy-filled, God-centered version of life as we now know it. The fire of 2 Peter 3:10 that makes way for the new earth is the refiner’s fire of Malachi 3, the fire which purifies rather than ruins. The incarnation teaches us that the new earth is this earth renewed. Maybe all rocks do go to heaven after all . . .