Some day, the sun will grow cold, and life on earth will cease. The whole epoch of animals and plants is only an interlude between ages that will be too cold.—This, at least, is what science regards as most probable, and in our disillusioned generation, it is easy to believe. From evolution, so far as our present knowledge shows, no ultimately optimistic philosophy can be validly inferred.1
Long before the sun grows cold, as a matter of fact, the earth could die biologically. The hydrosphere and atmosphere are becoming polluted, the soil is being eroded, the nutrients in the soil are being leached away, food supplies are increasingly contaminated.
Man has long been aware that his world has a tendency to fall apart. Tools wear out, fishing nets need repair, roofs leak, iron rusts, wood decays, loved ones sicken and die, relatives quarrel, and nations make war.2
This universal tendency toward decay and death seems obvious to everyday experience, but was only formalized as a law of science a little over a century ago. It is significant, therefore, that this principle has been noted in the Bible for thousands of years.
Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed. (Psalm 102:25- 26).
… for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner. (Isaiah 51:6).
Heaven and earth shall pass away (literally 'are passing away'), but my words shall not pass away. (Matthew 24:35).
For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. (Romans 8:22).
This universal law of decay is considered today as among the most certain of all scientific principles. As the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or the Law of Increasing Entropy, it governs all natural processes. It is also called "Time's Arrow." As time goes on, the arrow points down!
But the same Law that prophesies eventual disintegration also testifies of primeval creation. Instead of a message of consummate pessimism as interpreted by Bertrand Russell, therefore, the entropy principle really speaks of ultimate divine purpose in creation. Since the universe is now "running down" it must once have been "wound up." There must be a great First Cause able to create a universe. Thus the real message of the Second Law of Thermodynamics is: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." (Genesis 1:1)
God is omniscient and omnipotent, and certainly cannot fail in His purpose in creation. Even though the whole creation is groaning and travailing together in pain, its present "bondage of decay" cannot possibly continue forever. Long before it reaches ultimate death, God will intervene and "the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." (Romans 8:21).
Just as the study of present processes cannot tell us anything about the past events of the creation period, neither can present processes give us any information about the future events of the deliverance period. The processes of the present are the only processes accessible to the scientific method, and they all operate within the framework of the Second Law. Thus, present processes can give us no information about any processes of creation—past or future—since they are diametrically opposite to the decay processes as specified by the Second Law. Biblical revelation is required for information about both the first creation and the new creation.
Fortunately, however, "we have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts" (II Peter 1:19).
There is much revealed in Scripture about the future of Planet Earth, but we first need to resolve what seems at first to be an apparent contradiction in these prophecies. That is, the Bible teaches both that the earth is to last forever and also that the earth is to be destroyed. As is always true with apparent conflicts in Scripture, however, the contradiction is only superficial. There is complete harmony when both Biblical and scientific considerations are more carefully analyzed.
Such passages as the following speak of the eternal permanence of the earth and of the entire created universe:
And He built His sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which He hath established for ever. (Psalm 78:69).
Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed forever. (Psalm 104:5).
Praise ye Him, sun and moon: praise Him, all ye stars of light. Praise Him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the Lord: for He commanded, and they were created. He hath also stablished them for ever and ever: He hath made a decree which shall not pass. (Psalm 148:3-6).
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. (Ecclesiastes 1:4).
And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. (Daniel 12:3).
There are other Scriptures to the same effect, but it should not surprise us that when God creates anything, it will endure for ever. Otherwise, His purpose in creation would have been defeated, and that is impossible for the Creator.
I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him. (Ecclesiastes 3:14).
As far as the physical creation is concerned, its permanence has been confirmed by the most important and universal of all scientific laws. The First Law of Thermodynamics, or the Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy, states that the total amount of matter and energy stays constant with time. Nothing can be created, but neither can anything be annihilated. For the earth to be annihilated, it would require a miraculous intervention by the Creator to uncreate His creation!
But then, what about such Scriptures as the following?
Heaven and earth shall pass away. (Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33).
And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. (Revelation 20:11).
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (II Peter 3:10).
The reconciliation of these two apparently contradictory teachings of the Scriptures is obvious when the relation of matter and energy is considered. The First Law of Thermodynamics states that it is the totality of matter and energy which is conserved. When matter is converted into energy (as per the Einstein equation E=MC2, c being the velocity of light), matter is not annihilated but merely transformed into other kinds of energy.
The marvelous prophecy of II Peter 3:10 speaks of such a nuclear reaction on a gigantic scale, when the earth's "elements" will be "dissolved" (literally "unloosed" II Peter 3:12). Thus, although the earth did not begin with a "Big Bang," as evolutionist astronomers allege, it will indeed end (in its present form) with a Big Bang! There will be a great noise and fervent heat, as the atoms of earth disintegrate in a great nuclear explosion, converted into tremendous sound and heat energy, with light and radiation as well.
The earth and its heaven (i.e. atmosphere) will thus "flee away" (Revelation 20:11). This, however, is not their annihilation but their purification! The very "dust of the earth"—that is the very elements out of which God had formed all things, even man's body, in the primeval week of creation—had been placed under the great Curse (Genesis 3:17) when man sinned. The sedimentary crust of the earth is also the burial ground of vast numbers of animals fossilized in the great Flood, not to mention the human and animal bones since the Flood. All this evidence of suffering and death and the Curse must be purged out, and the only way to do this is by disintegration of the very elements themselves.
But then God's great creative power will be exercised once again, as in the original creation!
For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. (Isaiah 65:17).
Behold, I make all things new (Revelation 21:5).
Because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of decay into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21).
Atomic disintegration of the present earth is soon to be followed by atomic integration of the new earth, as God causes the unleashed energy to reassemble into new material substances by His creative power. In the new (or, more literally, "renewed") earth, there will be "no more curse" (Revelation 22:3), and everything in the creation will be "very good" once again (Genesis 1:31).
These will be the "times of restoration of all things" (Acts 3:21), and "there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Revelation 21:4). All of God's purposes in the first creation will finally be accomplished in the new creation, one that will never again be interrupted by sin and death. "We, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (II Peter 3:13). The new earth will last forever. "The new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord" (Isaiah 66:22).
The new earth will actually be, therefore, the renewed earth—the old earth made new again. There will be certain significant differences, however. The first earth was suitable for human probation; the new earth is planned for full human occupation. Thus, in the primeval earth, there was a division between night and day (Genesis 1:4,5), but in the new earth, there will be "no night there" (Revelation 22:5). In the first earth there was a division of land and sea (Genesis 1:9,10); in the coming earth, there will be "no more sea" (Revelation 21:1). That is, there will be human activity, everywhere and always, on the earth. "His servants will serve Him" (Revelation 22:3).
Nor will this glorious service of the redeemed for their Savior need to be limited to the earth. Even though interstellar space travel will continue to be impossible in this present order of things (even the nearest star is four light-years away from the earth!) it will not be impossible in the future age. Our present bodies and all other physical systems are limited in movement by the ever-present gravitational and electro-magnetic forces which govern their behavior. All believers will then, however, have new bodies which are spiritual bodies (I Corinthians 15:44) no longer subject to the constraints of these present forces, and thus will be able to fly throughout the universe unimpeded by gravity, lack of oxygen or any other physical restriction of the present. Yet these bodies will be as real and physical as was the body of Jesus Christ in His resurrection (Philippians 3:20,21). The resurrected Christ could move rapidly from earth to heaven and back again (John 20:17; Acts 1:9-11), could pass through closed doors (John 20:19) and yet was recognizable as in the same body He had possessed before His death and resurrection (John 20:27). He was capable of eating food (Luke 24:43), handling objects (Luke 24:30) and uttering speech (Matthew 28:19,20); and our immortal bodies will be like His (I John 3:2).
Perhaps it is appropriate, therefore, to look forward, in Christ, to exploring and developing God's created universe extending into infinite space, throughout ages continuing through eternal time. We can now only dimly see this wonderful life of the eternal future, and there is, no doubt, far more than we even dream of. One thing is sure, however! The infinite God who created the magnificent universe in which we live surely has a glorious purpose in mind for those who were created in His image and whom He died to redeem. "But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us. Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace, in His kindness toward us, through Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:4-7).
1 Bertrand Russell, Religion and Science, Oxford University Press, 1961, p. 81.
2 Van Rensselaer Potter, "Society and Science," Science, Vol. 146, October 20, 1964, p. 1018.