“Thus says the LORD: Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.” I love getting something new. There is such enjoyment in getting a new car, for instance, if not for the “new car” smell alone. But to understand the “newness” God wishes to bring, we must understand a little Aristotelian philosophy about change.
Greek philosophy, and indeed science itself, had some beginnings in trying to account for change. What does it mean for things to change? When a banana rots, for example, is it still a banana? Or, take a baby, and compare that same child to when they are an adult. Do they become someone else when they are older? What changes? And how do we explain change?
For Aristotle, change was explained by developing concepts of substance (what something is) and accidents (qualities that can change without changing what something fundamentally is). So for example, we know what a car is so we know its substance. Whether it is a small car, or regardless of the color of the car (examples of accidents). (It is this concept of substance and accident that we use when we discuss how Jesus becomes really present in the Eucharist. It is because the substance of bread and wine in fact changes.)
So when God says he is creating a new heavens and a new earth, what type of change is this? It could be accidental, insofar as God could make accidental changes by creating more heavens and more earths (quantity is an “accident” using Aristotle’s thinking). Or is God referring to a change of substance, so that something existing becomes something entirely new.
I would argue that God is referring to something completely different. It describes the new heavens and new earth where “there shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create“, and “No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there, or the sound of crying.” It is a substantially different heavens and earth because what is changing is in fact the Kingdom of God.
We are reminded today that we too are called to a deep fundamental change, not into something entirely unrecognizable, but in that we become more visibly the persons we were created to be. So, rejoice in this season of Lent, because due to our prayer, almsgiving and fasting we are becoming something wonderfully new.