The active dynamic at work in this post-Edenic and fallen world is entropy. Entropy is a word that often finds usage in engineering, medicine, and even archeology. Entropy is a thermodynamic process that involves deterioration, decay, and death as a result of a lack of thermal energy. Students of physics will remember, “The second law of thermodynamics says that entropy always increases with time.” Things harden. Stuff rots. Photographs fade. Stars die. Arthritis spreads. People die. The more time that passes, things fade away. It is a gradual decline into disorder.
The decay of all things is evident in the physical world; yet, the Bible teaches us that entropy is a present reality (and threat) in the spiritual world, as well. If we decrease our use of the means of grace— word, sacrament, and prayer—we will surely diminish our love of God. This is a danger that is particularly relevant during these COVID-19 pandemic days, when our patterns of life have been disrupted. For some, this may be a newfound phase of greater growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 ESV). For many others, the opposite is true: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12 ESV).
The closing of churches has lowered the spiritual immunity of many. This deficiency—an entropy of the soul—is met with an ever-presence plethora of viruses, imperceptible but extant noxious agents of Evil that were released into the air through the fall, and are spreading through the meddling malevolence of Satan and his foul, fallen angels. These vile operatives of hell, like a physical virus, require a host to live and grow. And thus, the viruses of sin, born of disobedience, marked by the curse of God, pass through the generations of man, down through the ages, by the sons and daughters of Eden’s first inhabitants, Adam and Eve. Entropy was at work in those days as it is at work in these days.
But God's grace is the opposite of entropy. If entropy withers, grace flowers. By God’s grace, I mean to say the full, covenantal activity of God’s plan of salvation, in which God provided what God demanded: a satisfaction for our sin on the cross through the death of his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ; and the satisfaction of all righteousness, by the pure, unspotted life of Jesus. This “covenant of grace” is the very plan of God to destroy the works of the devil and rid the world of entropy—sin’s stranglehold on all creatures great and small.
Grace is an “alien” dynamic, from the throne of God, that is applied by the Holy Spirit as we repent and believe. This grace brings the revival of a soul. When this begins to happen in mass, we begin to see authentic national revival, or even, hemispheric, or global revival. The entropy taking down the cosmos and all who are in it is halted. When Christ came announcing the Kingdom of God, He was saying that the “rule of God’ had arrived in the Person of Jesus. Repentance and faith in Christ reverses the rule of Satan and the entropy of all things. The Kingdom of God is that glorious power that reverses the natural order of things in this world. Let us say it plainly and forcefully: In Jesus Christ, God’s grace reverses sin’s stranglehold on man and creation.
How is this so? Let us look to Psalm 80:3, “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!” (ESV)
1. God’s Grace Destroys Sin’s Stranglehold through the Certain Promise of a Pervasive Paradise Regained
We, too often, think of the gospel in small terms. The Psalmist here reminds us that there is a pervasive facet to the plan of salvation. The psalmist is teaching there is a paradise lost and there is a paradise to be regained. Of course, we will recall from our literature classes or English classes that these two phrases, “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Regained,” come from the title of the books of the same great English poet, John Milton. The fall of man and the new heaven and the new earth constitute his life's greatest work. Paradise Lost refers to the fall of Eden. Paradise Regained refers to the completed redemptive work of Jesus Christ and the reestablishment of Eden in a new heaven and the new earth.
"Restore us again” is a deep longing and an urgent petition for a universal, sweeping event: that the judgments of the fall will be transposed by the power of God. There is no room in the Psalmist’s petition whatsoever for an expectation that mankind will bring about such a renovation of either self or the universe. Any such hope is both futile and sinful in that it denies the truth of Scripture. The appeal is altogether dependent upon the authority and capacity of God.
Before the fall, the world and all that was in it continued to grow. It is hard for us to imagine a place where nothing died. And it is even more difficult to imagine a place where love grows abated. Yet, this was Eden. Disobedience catapulted humankind into such a cosmic judgment that it impacted everything, physical and spiritual. The earth and universe, while mercifully, remaining in harmony with itself and the other celestial bodies so that biological existence remained viable, became subject to the Almighty’s judgment. However, the Scriptures clearly indicate that just as the believer groans for the restoration of all things so does creation. This was Paul's teaching in Romans chapter 8:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, 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. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:19-22 ESV).
All of the green movements of today might have the most altruistic goals, but if these organizations miss the single greatest fact concerning the creation, their work may be appreciated but it must ultimately be seen as, at least, tragically limited. For the scope of redemption that is given to us in the Word of God and is embedded in this cry from the psalmist is for a cosmic redemption. This redemption includes creation from the tiniest nano-organism—e.g., a “quantum dot"— to the greatest galaxies scattered across the vast immeasurable space of the universe (the term ‘quantum dot’ was coined by Prashant Nagpal).
You might ask yourself, "Now, precisely what does this have to do with me?" I would admit that the subject is grand and sweeping. However, you and I live in this world. We live in this terrestrial home of ours. The disorder that we see entering the ecosystem of the earth undoubtedly has some impact on us. For instance, some of us get depressed as the gray skies of winter overtake the sky-blue canopy of a crisp autumn morning. For those of us living in northern parts, these gray skies can last longer than our patience. In other ways, we see that there are people who have been hurt by storms, fires in California, mighty winds of the hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, and we in the West know little of the seasonal invasion of locusts and other pestilences that are sadly routine in places like West Africa.
The most pitiable part of our existence within this fallen world has to do with disease, with the attack of entropy upon the very DNA strands that compose our humanity. We are amazed as scientists continually investigate microscopic organisms that are at work in our bodies that are both restrictive and also constantly attacking. Death is the ultimate consequence of the fall and is most often associated with the sweeping judgment upon the earth that impacts human life and vice versa. So, then, each of us can understand the cry of the psalmist. This cry reminds me of Jesus weeping over the death of his friend Lazarus: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:33). It reminds me of the compassionate Christ who came ashore and met the Gadarene, cutting himself on the edges of the tombstones in a graveyard where he lived (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20). Our Lord Jesus Christ came to him, to a man who was isolated from everyone else and healed him.
Christ is the answer to the cosmic cry to restore all things. In his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and in his present rule and sovereign reign, Jesus Christ is transforming the universe. There is both a definitive and progressive element of this restoration. We may say that Christ’s work is finished, once and for all sin has been defeated. Yet, the application of redemption is an incremental process. Why God did not choose to transform the world and create a paradise regained without delay? Why did Jesus delay in coming to Lazarus? All we can say is that the progress of salvation brings greater glory and honor to God and increases our faith.
The restoration of all things is a gripping component in the psalmist's cry, but it is not the only meaning. Consider the second lesson from our wonderful passage:
2.God’s Grace Destroys Sin’s Stranglehold through the Certain Promise of a Personal Paradise Regained
The cry of the psalmist is not only pervasive but deeply personal, as it is for each of us. God glorifies himself in that he unveils his redemption for the world and for each of us in a progressive way. God could have, of course, said the word and there would've been a new heaven and new earth. Without presuming upon the secret councils of God, we may surmise from the revelation that he has given us, that our Almighty God is all the more magnified in his gracious character and disposition toward his creation, by allowing the grace of God — the kingdom of love in Jesus Christ — to grow incrementally, person by person, year by year, nation by nation, until all of his redemptive plans are fulfilled.
When the psalmist cries, "Restore us again," he is asking for a reversal of the entropic effects of sin on our personal relationship with God. So, I am saying that the appeal is not only for universal redemption but for personal redemption. It is neither one nor the other, but it is rather both at once. The effects of entropy upon the human soul are infamous. The little child who begins with such promise is the same man who stands before the judge on the charge of murder. "How can this be?" We say to ourselves. "How can these little children grow into monsters like the serial killers we read about?" It is because of the unchecked negative growth of sin: entropy. The dimensions and degrees of such entropy are before us: from mass murder and war crimes against humanity, to lusting for another man’s wife.
I am concerned about the long-term effects of a COVID-19 shutdown on the souls of human beings. This may very well be a tragic milestone in our spiritual history. Yet, if the pandemic causes God’s people to cry to him— “O Lord, restore us again!”—then, we could witness a tremendous outpouring of God’s Spirit. The glorious truth of Psalm 80:3 will be fully realized on that day when the new heaven and the new earth processes from heaven to earth like a resplendent bride. Thus, we may say that this is a third way that grace is growth overwhelming sins entropy:
3.God’s Grace Destroys Sin’s Stranglehold through the Certain Promise of God’s Presence in a Paradise Regained
Psalm 80 recognizes that sin has created distance from God. The psalmist cries out for God’s presence in a new and profound way: “O God, show the light of your countenance. . .”
One of the tragedies of a lack of discipline in daily feeding from God’s Word is an unintended distancing from the Person of the Triune God. God desires his people to come near to him: “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8, NKJV).
“Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD” (Joel 1:14).
Our sacred times of gathering, as the body of Christ, are (intended to be) spiritual glimpses of heaven. Ministers must return to conducting divine services that draw near to God and represent God to the people, through word, sacrament, and prayer. No more preaching a God without judgment and salvation without the cross. No more light get-togethers that fail to engage the heart and mind. Our assemblies must be “holy unto the Lord.” Our people need it, we need it, and God requires it. Almighty God sent his only begotten Son to be with us because he desires communion with us. If he made us for his joy, then we must likewise desire his presence to be fully human. When we ignore the will of God, we slowly become sick in our souls.
So, there is a cosmic element in this: the psalmist is crying out for God's kingdom to come in its fullest form. The pervasive and the personal lead to the presence. True believers, transformed by God’s grace, will know God face-to-face. We are told in Revelation that he will dry the tears from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). We are told that the light of God will illumine the habitation of God's people.
“There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:5 NIV).
There is much mystery in this statement but let it be clear that we understand this: we were born to be in the presence of God. He is our Creator, the lover of our souls, and, ultimately, the one we desire more than anyone and anything. A new heaven and new earth — paradise regained — is not only the cry of every believer who understands what Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones called the power of God and the plight of man but also a spirit infused instinct of the believer to experience Almighty God face to face. Our Lord Jesus Christ said if you have seen me you have seen the father. For to be with Jesus was to be with God. Yet, he sends his Holy Spirit to comfort us, and it is he who works within us to cry out for that day when we shall be with the Lord:
“Restore us again, O God; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be whole” (Psalm 80:3 Cloverdale Bible).
Yes, the world and all of its inhabitants are sadly distinguished by that curse of Edenic judgment: entropy. However, we have a promise from God that where sin abounds, grace abounds more. Jesus Christ has now reversed the judgment of sin upon the world, he has instituted a new heaven and new earth by his resurrection and ascension, and that new heaven and new earth is on its way.
God's grace overcomes the fall’s entropy. Let this message convict those of us who have been negligent in our use of the means of God's grace. Let this message from Psalm 80:3 comfort our hearts. The diseases which have taken our loved ones, and which afflict us today, are the final gasps of a dying earthly reign. The greater rule and reign of Christ Jesus has defeated the enemy of death and the processes of entropy. Let this message also give courage, we can already see a new sun rising in the east. We see Christ the King returning with a new heaven and a new earth.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
- Konstantine Malley, Ravneet Singh, and Tianyu Duan, “2nd Law of Thermodynamics,” Chemistry LibreTexts.
- John Calvin, “Matthew 8:31,” in Calvin’s Commentaries (Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1958).
- John Murray, The Covenant of Grace (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1953). Robertson O. Palmer, “The Christ of the Covenants,” Phillipsburg, PA: P&R Publishing (1980).
- John Milton, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained (Simon & Brown, 2018).
- Lydia-Ann J. Ghuneim et al., “Nano-Sized and Filterable Bacteria and Archaea: Biodiversity and Function,” Frontiers in Microbiology.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/ipopba
Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales; MPA, UNC Chapel Hill; MDiv, Knox Seminary) Dr. Milton is a retired seminary chancellor and currently serves as the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at Erskine Theological Seminary. He is the President of Faith for Living and the D. James Kennedy Institute a long-time Presbyterian minister, and Chaplain (Colonel) USA-R. Dr. Milton is the author of more than thirty books and a musician with five albums released. Mike and his wife, Mae, reside in North Carolina.