Should we be optimistic or pessimistic about our future? This is a question even specialists are concerned with, and it cannot be answered easily. It is difficult to predict what the future holds.
Imagine what it would be like to fall asleep now and wake up two decades later. This was Terry Wallis’ experience, a man who woke up from a 20-year coma to find himself in a completely new reality. His first word, “Mom”, was joyfully received by his mother, Angilee Wallis, who said her son’s recovery was a “miracle”.
Terry’s memory had frozen in 1984. He woke up believing that Ronald Reagan was still the president of the United States, and asked to see his grandmother, who had passed away years before his recovery.
Seeing him wake up was an unexpected and incredibly happy experience for his family but must have been an overwhelming one for Terry. The passage of time changed his loved ones to the point where he could barely recognize them. Likewise, our world is changing at a dizzying pace, making all the new experiences and events difficult to process. As we do not have any information about our future, we must be prepared to witness major changes: online classes, different kinds of medicine, climate change, new rules of socialization, growing struggles concerning resources, and digitization.
An earthly paradise
The realm of the future also polarizes opinion among theologians. Some are optimistic and believe that our world will keep on progressing. As the Bible says, in the latter days, knowledge will increase (Daniel 12:4). But there are also those who foretell the decline of our world, and its imminent end. Who is right?
Assuming that we will “reap what we have sown”, we could decide that the future depends entirely on us. Thus, in a world filled with good, responsible, faithful people that are sensitive to the needs of others, our prospects should be as bright as possible.
Let us imagine that at the end of this pandemic, all people suddenly become good, honest, and eager to know God. Let us go further, and imagine that prisons would become museums, news programs would exclusively broadcast acts of charity, the main responsibility of law enforcement would be to distribute flowers to the elderly, and there would be no more armed conflicts, no weapons at all. What a wonderful and Utopian world! As much as it would be nice to live in such a world, I think it would still not be enough for us. Because no matter how good things become, how good we become, suffering and death will always be with us.
God’s plan is not about correcting this world. He repeatedly speaks of another world, of a New Earth. “But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).
The idea of a new world may seem absurd to those who have linked their destiny to this earth. But for Christians, who consider themselves foreigners and travellers on this planet, there is no hope as beautiful.
I find it difficult to describe God’s new world, because my imagination cannot grasp its brightness. Yet the Scriptures reveal tiny pieces of it to us: there, the most beautiful desires we have nurtured on this planet will come true. We will no longer fear tomorrow. We will no longer tremble at the sound of ambulances. We will not stay away from each other. We will know our loved ones are always safe. We will stand in the presence of God. We will talk with Him, the highest privilege that this new world has to offer.
We will meet our loved ones, those who have been waiting in their cold sleep to be raised again. This is another blessing of the world that God is preparing. John the Apostle describes fragments of this wonderful reality: “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4)
What would we choose if we were given the opportunity: the wonderful world that John describes, or our gloomy, ragged, and mismanaged world?
Longing for a better world
In 2009, the movie Avatar was released. The director’s imagination, ground-breaking special effects, and talented actors brought to viewers a fascinating story, set on the distant planet of Pandora. Alexandra, a 24-year-old student who suffered from depression, watched it three times in a row. It made such a profound impression on her that she decided that, in comparison to Pandora, our world was too sad, too depressing to live in. Sadly, she committed suicide. Tragically, her story was only one of the horrible suicides that followed Avatar’s release.
“It’s absurd to want to kill yourself because you can’t get to Pandora. This cannot be!” some commented after hearing the news of Alexandra’s death. But as desperate and heart-breaking as her final act was, Alexandra’s desire to reach a better world is one we can all understand.
I think that one of the reasons why God has not given us many details about the world beyond the clouds is that knowing these details would make life on Earth unbearable. We would attempt to escape this world any way we could. But the colonization of Mars will not save us, no matter how ambitious Elon Musk’ plans are. Scripture is clear in showing us the only way we will truly be rescued: God is the One who brings us salvation, and one day He will take us from our world to the world He has prepared.
The way to the new world
One day, Jesus was approached by a rich young man with a profound question about God’s New World: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”. Our Saviour’s response went beyond what we might have expected Him to say. If access to the Kingdom of God was the result of a journey of enlightenment around the world, or to a sacred place, perhaps we would all be on our way tomorrow! Or, if making regular charitable donations, fasting for forty days, rituals, or even martyrdom were what we had to give, perhaps we would strive with all our might to perform these acts.
But Jesus plainly stated in His teachings that access to the new world is open to anyone. There are only three conditions. Those who fail the meet them “will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven”.
1. “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
If we expect that only killers, liars, or those who curse God will be refused access to the Kingdom, Jesus’ statement will come as a surprise to us. Jesus pointed to the most religious men in the culture he was speaking to as a standard: the scribes and Pharisees. These men were so obsessively concerned with not being tainted by sin that they fabricated a lot of rules that were almost impossible for ordinary people to follow, just to meet their high religious standard. But they had lost sight of something far more important: their relationship with God. They ended up performing empty rituals that did not bring them into His presence.
Many of these empty rituals will be harshly rejected: “I never knew you!” (Matthew 7:23).
2. “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
The adverb “truly” gives such weight to Jesus’ statement: we need to return to God with the authenticity, innocence, trust, and joy of a child. Too often we turn to God as philosophers debating absolute truths, or as businessmen, out of interest in what we could gain.
3. “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3).
The phrase “very truly” draws our attention to one essential thing: rebirth in the Holy Spirit opens the way to the new world. One cannot populate a new world with “old people”. The metaphor of rebirth has nothing to do with literal birth, as Nicodemus found out. No matter how hard we try to get better on our own, it is impossible to be born again without God’s grace.
An absurd law of sin is written into our genetic code: we are attracted to what we know is not good, and we choose what is harmful to us. This is what sociologists call irrational behaviour. That is why God’s solution is a harsh one: death and rebirth. For most people death is their greatest fear. But precisely because it seems like the ultimate sacrifice to us, it is a condition for entering the Kingdom of Heaven.
What Jesus calls us to see is that the most profound transformation of the human being happens when we invite the most powerful being in the universe into our lives. Essentially, we are mentally rebuilt from scratch, given other thoughts, other priorities, and another way of seeing life.
I met Soran in Turkey on March 8, this year, in a refugee camp. His story is remarkable. He has been on the road for more than 3 years, looking for a place to live out his faith without the fear of being killed. When we met for the first time, after just a couple of hours a brotherly bond grew between us. When parting, I asked him where he was thinking of going. I expected him to say a European country. With tears in his eyes, he replied, “I am looking for a place where I would be respected as a human being. But the only true home is Heaven!”
The reborn man is not driven by the hope of improving this world, nor by progress, health, or economic well-being, although he prays for all of these. He clings to the hope of a better world. This was the living hope of all generations who have known God: to find the long-lost paradise.
We are destined for a better world, but it is up to us to accept it, or not. Anticipating the anxiety of the latter days, Jesus promised us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3).
As much as we love the place of our birth, the world in which we currently live, we must admit that this is not our home. Let us not forget this: Heaven is our true home.
Felix Mușat serves as a pastor within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.