Utopia Fantasy or Future Reality

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During the late '60s, at age 21, I heard about a commune in the wilds of Scotland set in the Highlands by a beautiful loch. The inhabitants shared the daily tasks and managed the tiny village by contributing their talents and abilities for the common good.

Such a life was an appealing prospect in those days. Students in Europe were restless; in the United States they were protesting the Vietnam War. The world was a place to avoid if you were an idealist. Too many bad things were happening too fast, and the lure of an idyllic commune was strong.

Yet something prevented me from making the trip that I envisioned, and I spent the hot summer months doing something quite different and much less idealistic-working shifts in a commercial bakery. Only a short time later I heard that the commune had broken up in debate and argument, another short-lived experiment in the pursuit of the ideal.

Is the perfect society just a pipe dream? Can the human race ever achieve the harmony, peace and tranquillity that has eluded it for centuries? The search has already captured the imagination and attention of many generations. There seems no end to our desire for a world free from its ills.

The search continues

The search for utopia persists. As the new millennium approaches, the rhetoric of human escapism again rings in our ears. Some look for a new-age answer. Others eagerly anticipate the second coming of Christ at the turn of the century, as though God is bound by human calendars. Still others expect human government and human effort to bring about an earthly utopia.

The world beyond, absent the trials and tribulations of this age, is and always has been the paramount goal of virtually all believers regardless of their religious orientation. Echoes of utopia are to be found in the Buddhist Nirvana, the Hindu cosmic principle Brahman, the Jewish afterlife, the Roman Catholic beatific vision and the Protestant heaven.

The Good News anchors its outlook to the Bible. The magazine's writers try to convey, not the denominational bias of any one group, but the unvarnished truths as the biblical texts teach them. Too often this is not the popular path. Several years ago a magazine publisher well known to me said that he sought "to take God at His word." In conversation with this author he then added, "And not many people do that." Sadly, that has been the record of human history. Not only do many writers refuse to take God at His word, but they fail to reflect accurately what is in His Word.

What does the Bible say about the future world of God's making? Does its message encompass the popular religious concepts that most people suppose are found in its pages? Does it perhaps surprise us with its own account of a utopia that God promises will become a reality on the earth?

Foretelling peace and safety

The Bible is in part a prophetic book. Prophetic elements are found throughout its pages, in the Old and New Testaments. Not all prophecy concerns dire warnings of foreboding events. Many prophetic details in the Bible are intensely positive and encouraging, portraying a promised time when all good things will be restored and tears and sorrow, crying, pain and death will be no more.

Descriptions of rebuilt cities, of children playing in peace and safety, of prosperity and abundance abound in the Bible. Are these nothing more than the vain hopes of frustrated and troubled people living in ancient times? Or are they the actual words of God, promises that He alone can and will fulfill?

The earliest New Testament writers viewed these as God's sure promises. The book of Acts, the record of the initial years of the fledgling Church, speaks of Jesus Christ, "whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:21).

The first disciples of Christ believed that the ancient prophets of Israel had foretold the restitution of the world to a state of peace and harmony in accord with God's way—a return to the garden of God, that Edenic paradise of our first parents. The restoration was associated with the personal return of Jesus to the earth. What was it that the prophets had said that was so plain and clear to those early disciples?

A prophet's description of the future

One of Israel's foremost men of God was Isaiah. His prophetic messages illuminate the period from 740 to 681 B.C., a crucial period in the history of God's people. Isaiah addressed the problems that were consuming the nation from within. His message for Israel also contained a magnificent future hope and the promise of a paradise on earth for all peoples.

Much debate has taken place about the literal truth of Isaiah's writing. Some scholars have suggested that the prophet's images of an ideal world are nothing more than symbols and metaphors. For example, in Isaiah 35 the prophet paints a picture of a revitalized land, formerly desert waste, where drought is no more and water gushes forth in abundance.

Some commentators have tried to construe such descriptions as some sort of vague spiritual blessings, but not all scholars do so. According to The Bible Knowledge Commentary: "Though some interpreters take these statements as figurative of spiritual blessings, it seems preferable to take them as literal statements . . ." (John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Scripture Press Publications, Inc., Wheaton, Ill., 1983, 1985, note on Isaiah 35:5-7).

God challenges the skeptics

The literal application of prophetic words is a problem for many. In the end it is a matter of trust and belief that these are indeed the words of the Creator and not simply the wishful thinking of desperately optimistic men. Consider the challenge that God Himself lays down in the book of Isaiah: "Thus says the Lord . . .: 'I am the First and I am the Last; besides Me there is no God. And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me . . . And the things that are coming and shall come, let them show these to them" (Isaiah 44:6-7).

The implication is clear: The burden of proof is on the detractor of God's prophetic word to demonstrate his own ability to bring the future to pass.

The modern mind equates ancient thinking with primitive thinking. The language of critical scholarship reduces much of the Bible to quaint superstition and cultural and intellectual bias. How does the skeptic, who says we should give up on the "dangerous" idea of a divine utopia, face up to the following plain statement from the pages of Isaiah?

"This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the Lord, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself, who foils the signs of false prophets and makes fools of diviners, who overthrows the learning of the wise and turns it into nonsense, who carries out the words of his servants and fulfills the predictions of his messengers . . ." (Isaiah 44:24-26, New International Version).

These are powerful words and a serious challenge to the one who would deny their author. It is God's desire to save all the earth from the pain and suffering that has plagued humanity. "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other" (Isaiah 45:22, NIV). These are not the words of a human being with no power to effect his promises.

Challenges to human survival

What kind of utopian world does this Being foretell? He speaks of a world that addresses all the stated threats to human survival. According to the Worldwatch Institute, civilization faces three imminent limits:

  • The sustainable yield of the oceanic fisheries.
  • The amount of freshwater in the hydrological system.
  • The amount of fertilizer that existing crop varieties can effectively use.

With regard to the first limit, some years ago the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization determined that the oceans could not be fished annually at a rate of more than 100 million tons without peril. Recent reports tell us that the world's 17 oceanic fisheries are being fished at or beyond their capacity.

When it comes to the second limit, the supply of freshwater, there is again a serious problem. Two thirds of the world's freshwater from rivers and underground aquifers is used for irrigation. With the rise in population this means that, in areas where water is scarce, food production will give way to residential development. Las Vegas is a good example of the clash of residential growth and the needs of irrigation. Each month, about 4,000 people move to Clark County, in which Las Vegas is located. How will such water needs be met? Only by drawing down the amounts now allocated to food production somewhere.

In respect to the third limit, the fertilizer problem is simply this: In countries where fertilizer is already in heavy use, applying more does not produce more food. Present varieties of grain no longer respond to forcing by fertilizers. Scientists will have to develop new varieties that will produce more food in response to fertilizers or we will have to get used to less food. The choice is that critical, because we humans have not shown a proclivity for putting back more into the system than we take out. Other methods can ensure adequate, even abundant food production, but we have rarely chosen those paths.

Divine solutions to human problems

The millennial prophecies of Isaiah and other teachers of ancient Israel reveal a God who promises an answer to all these challenges.

Another ever-present danger to human survival is the threat of war. One of the most widely known biblical prophecies in our time is one that expresses our unfulfilled longing for peace. This desire is celebrated in words inscribed on the base of a statue outside the United Nations building in New York City: "We shall beat our swords into plowshares." This universal expression of the yearning for peace was reiterated in the aftermath of some of this century's wars. Dedicated in 1960, the statue is the work of a Russian artist, surely one to know the anguish of privation and sorrow resulting from war.

This kind of angst is exactly what the God of Isaiah promises to remedy in His world to come: "He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4).

What of the other imminent limits to human growth and survival cited above? Is there a biblical answer? Hear the God of Isaiah reply: "The poor and needy seek water, but there is none, their tongues fail for thirst. I, the Lord, will hear them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open rivers in desolate heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water" (Isaiah 41:17-18).

Through the prophet Amos God tells us, "Behold, the days are coming . . . when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it" (Amos 9:13).

God's promises are sure

These prophecies, directed to ancient Israel, express the concern God has for the success of all humanity. With reference to the promised return of Jesus Christ, the New Testament tells us, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

The utopian world of God's devising will be one based on His law. God Himself says it will be a society void of violence and filled with right knowledge. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). This will be the godly community we have sought for so long—in fact, ever since the Garden of Eden.

The French mathematician and religious philosopher Blaise Pascal once proposed that we should bet on the side of God's existence. If we are then proven right, we have lost nothing and gained immeasurably. Although Pascal's is a tongue-in-cheek challenge for the skeptic, it is one that could start a person on the road to the only reliable and possible utopia.

Isn't it time to look into the dozens of Bible passages where God describes a world that is a far cry from failed human communities? Hasn't the time come to take God at His Word and believe in His promised utopia? GN

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