Monday Over Coffee: "What's 'New'?"

Published December 5, 2022 by Greg Funderburk

Behold, I make all things new. (Revelation 21:5)

I was about fourteen when I decided I had to have a new bike. I"d always had one of those nubby-tired mountain bikes for roaming around with friends along the dirt trails in the woods near our home, but a terrific movie about bicycle racing called Breaking Away had just come out, and inspired, what I really wanted now was a road bike. I began to save up my lawn-mowing money and soon made my way to the local Schwinn store to buy a 10-speed. It was definitely a stretch purchase for me and effectively cleaned out all of my savings, but I saw myself riding it far and near for a long time to come.

My first outing on it was to the Target store a few miles from my house, as I needed a good lock and chain to keep my new prized possession safe and sound. I stashed it against a wall behind a big planter in front of the store, and hustled inside to make the quick purchase. I was gone for only about ten minutes, but when I returned, my bike had disappeared. I looked all around, absorbing that awful sinking feeling. I'd possessed the bicycle for less than twenty-four hours, and now it was gone forever. My picture of humanity took a hit that day, but as you might imagine, I can't tell the story about losing the bike without acknowledging the question of why I put it at risk in the first place. Fair enough. Lesson learned.

We all like new stuff. Researchers who study the matter have measured the dopamine rush we experience when we receive a gift, purchase something we want, or acquire something new. However, just as reliably as those feelings of exhilaration come, immediately the process of wear and tear begins to work on our newly-minted prizes. New cars get scratched. New sweaters get stained. New phones are dropped. New jewelry is lost. New homes and the things inside them don't remain perfect for long. And of course—bitterly, sadly—bikes get stolen. Anything new that comes to us in this world is soon and inevitably exposed to the ravages of time, marred by entropy, and made vulnerable to loss and decay. It's just the nature of things. Here, at least.

In the book of Revelation, we're told that God makes all things new, and maybe God offers us not the same old kind of new that's subject to all manner of decline but rather a new kind of new. In an expanded Greek translation of the passage, one penned by a scholar named Kenneth Wuest, a slight addition to the verse leads it to read like this: "Behold, I make all things new in quality." What this translation might surrender in poetry, it returns with some keen insight.

The word "new" when it's used just on its own, still leaves open the possibility that time will begin to do its number on the thing in question just like it always does. But the phrase "new in quality" makes us think a little more deeply about what's being said. It asks us to think through the qualities of newness without regard to the notion of time. It points us to the elation we feel when we experience something new and good in the instant and holds us there. To say that something is "new in quality" is to say that it durably, eternally maintains its newness—its power to energize and captivate in a way that's insusceptible to stain, loss, fading, or being stolen away.

Let me suggest an exercise that might help us to experience this idea, at least fleetingly: the next time you receive a gift you've been anticipating or a box in the mail you've really been looking forward to, as you open it, as you lay eyes on what's inside, as you take it up and hold it, closely attend the feeling you're feeling. Whatever it is that's just now come into your hands, consider its newness and what "new in quality" really means and feels like. Linger there as long as you can.

Yes, in this world that moment of elation, of fulfillment, of satisfaction will pass, and the clock will begin ticking on the thing itself. But God gives us little glimpses of what the true nature of ultimate reality is like, and I think this brief feeling is one of those things—it's what God means when God speaks of making all things new.

God — Help me, even fleetingly, to experience what You mean when You say, "Behold, I make all things new." Amen.

— Greg Funderburk