As human imagination conceives of the future, it tends to envisage either dreams or nightmares. The dreams live in the hearts of idealists who suppose that human ingenuity is sufficient to craft a perfect world. The nightmares torment the minds of realists, who express their fears in doomsday scenarios they think are inescapable. Christians, however, have been called by God to an infinitely higher future reality, a hope better than any dream — the new heavens and new earth — coupled with a bravery that acknowledges the journey to that perfect world will be bloody and terrifying.
Since the time that humanity was banished from the garden of Eden, we have longed to return to, or at least to craft, a perfect world of our own making. Human pride drove the building of the Tower of Babel, enabled by a technological breakthrough in engineering materials — the discovery that thoroughly baked ceramics were superior to carved stone in building lofty structures. God’s assessment of human potential is striking: “Nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (Gen. 11:6). But God interfered by confusing language and slowing down the process of social engineering.
Since then, history has been a long journey of human pride, power, and technology seeking to craft a perfect world apart from God. By the beginning of the twentieth century, utopian dreams soared to astonishing heights of optimism. H.G. Wells, undaunted by the carnage of World War I, wrote Men Like Gods in 1923. He describes a utopian parallel universe in which socialism, science, and education had eradicated all evils. In 1932, Aldous Huxley responded with a pessimistic parody entitled Brave New World. In it, he gave a frightening vision of a world where technology and hedonistic nihilism crafted a meaningless existence of pleasure. His brave new world was a nightmare.
Nowadays, Christians are facing a world that changes at a dizzying pace. The 9-11 attacks resulted in the instantaneous implosion of two of the tallest buildings in the world. The last quarter of 2008 saw the almost instantaneous eradication of years of pension investments in a stock market plunge. Meanwhile, the laboratories of the world keep churning out both technological marvels and ethical nightmares: wireless internet devices and freakish genetic laboratory experiments. Christians look out over a very uncertain future, driven by forces that are hard to understand and harder to predict. How should Christians contemplate the future?
The starting point for us is Scripture’s revelation of God’s sovereign power in orchestrating a plan for a future world of unspeakable glory. Though humanity can craft technological marvels rising from the plains of Babel, God had to descend a long distance from His heavenly throne to inspect their handiwork. God rules, His power is infinite, and He is still committed to interfering in human history, restraining evil, and accomplishing His plan.
And how glorious is that plan? Human hearts would never have crafted it and can’t even conceive of it properly, but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9–10). That plan is for the bravest and newest world possible. It will be the bravest possible world because it will be founded on the incomparable courage of Jesus Christ in drinking the cup of God’s wrath for its inhabitants. And none but the brave will enter that new world, for the cowardly will be weeded out (Rev. 21:8), and only those who overcome the world by faith will be granted the right to enter. No bravery will be required to live there, yet it will be a world achieved through the greatest acts of bravery in history. The book of Revelation makes it plain that it is a journey of tribulation, even of bloody martyrdom, that leads to the perfect world, and the willingness of the saints to count their sufferings as not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in them brings the greatest glory to God.
And it will also be the newest world possible, for God says, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5), so it is called the new heavens and new earth. It will be a new world to explore, a world where there will be no more death, mourning, crying and pain, for the old order of things will have passed away. The worship will be new, as the inhabitants of the place will sing a new song that cannot be taught on earth (14:3). Their dwelling place will be new — the New Jerusalem — shining with sights and technologies presently unimaginable. And their vision of the glories of God will be constantly renewed, for the redeemed will never tire of gazing at His face.
Christians should saturate their hearts with these promises, while girding themselves with bravery for the road ahead. It is a road filled with changes, but those changes are ordained and managed by the sovereign wisdom of God. The unbelieving imagination looks inward to study human ingenuity and wickedness, and then it looks ahead to utopian dreams or dystopian nightmares. The Christian heart looks upward to the God of the Bible, and then it looks ahead with bravery at the earthly journey still remaining, and with hope at the new world coming.