My phoenix earth patches are representations of my arms as they have existed in my mind since some time in late undergrad: On a circular shield gules, a diminished bordure, a phoenix earth Or. The circular shield recalls a hoplite aspis, and symbolizes faith (a shield) that benefits others (in the hoplite form). The red field is for strength and magnanimity, and for honoring a father (or, if you will, the Father). The gold is for faith, obedience, gentility ... and for vengeance.
Which ties into the phoenix earth itself. The phoenix earth represents Earth after the end times, the New Jerusalem. It is the new beginning after the resurrection of the dead, after whatever tribulations the end times may bring, after the reign of a thousand years (if there is such a thing), after the last rebellion of the adversary, after Judgment Day and the second death, after earth, after heaven ... when all that is over and done with and life begins. I saw a new heaven and a new earth, says Revelation 21, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.
And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”When I look forward to an "afterlife," this is what resonates with me: when there is no more heaven and no more hell, when the brokenness of the human condition and the glories it can produce in adversity are replaced by a better human condition, one utterly free of the brokenness that haunts every corner of our existence and yet produces better glories, in ways we, who have come to depend upon darkness to let us distinguish and appreciate the light, can hardly imagine. When we get our bodies back, recognizably flesh and bone and yet transcendently better than before, and live in a physical world that is recognizably our own and yet so much better that it may as well be an alien planet, when the source of all joy and satisfaction is closer, and more present, than any human being has ever experienced. When all things - all things, everything that makes life the bittersweet mixture of joy and sorrow that it is - are made new.
This is, as I said, the afterlife that resonates with me. I do not care for heaven. In heaven, I am still dead. Not obliterated, perhaps, but my body and soul are sundered, and that is just fundamentally wrong. The Biblical descriptions of heaven, if that's what they are, sound either dreadfully dull or eye-wateringly intense yet dreadfully one-dimensional. Give me a body, give me an earth ... give me the promise of the wild, unfettered and alive life that my [probably metaphorical] ancestors experienced.
But it is not really the afterlife itself that motivates me. It is what this new life - this New Jerusalem, this phoenix earth - represents in the here and now. For me, the [Biblical] phoenix earth is the ultimate expression of the promise that God makes things better. That he is not the god of consolation prizes, nor the god of jury-rigged solutions held together with duct tape and a prayer, nor a god for whom some things are simply broken beyond repair. If the earth - the human condition, life itself - can be fixed in Christ, then anything can be fixed in Christ. And not only fixed, but made better than it was before. No matter how bad a marriage is, it can be better than it was before. No matter how broken a friendship, how sundered a family ... it can be made better. It may involve a phenomenal amount of effort, soul-breaking vulnerability and hard work. But in Christ it can be done. Whatever it takes to get there, it's not impossible. Knowing that makes all the difference to me.
So what do my patches say? They say, I believe in a God who not only can, but wants to, make all things new. I believe he will come in indomitable strength to have his vengeance upon evil itself, not only to fix what is broken but to make everything better than any human being has ever experienced it. I believe in creating that kind of world through self-mastering forgiveness and unconquerable gentleness wherever I go. And I will hold this trust in the face of the slings and arrows of life, for my sake and for yours.
That's what my phoenix earth patches are about.