Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade
1 Peter 1:3
I’ve always loved thinking about the distant future. As a kid, I devoured science fiction books about life in the 21st Century and beyond. Star Trek, boldly going where no man had gone before, was one of my favorite shows. Even now, if you check my twitter follows, you’ll find the names of numerous futurists who are thinking about what life might look like in the coming years.
But you know what’s really interesting to me? Stuff from the past which thinks about the present as the future. In other words, I love reading what people living hundreds of years ago thought life would look like now. The blog Paleofuture goes deep on this kind of stuff.
The fun really gets started when you check out the illustrations that people in the past created about their future dreams. Below are just a few of dozens of postcards that circulated in Europe as the 1900’s dawned. They represent cutting-edge theories about what life world look like in the year 2000:
Firefighters would battle blazes in Batgear…
And after work, they’d chase pheasants around with propellers strapped to their backs.
By the turn of the millennium, blue whales would be viable modes of transportation…
…and roofed cities would mean no more picnic cancellations or rain delays at the ballpark:
But before you scoff too much, pay attention to this last card, which shows how a theater performance might be enjoyed by others at a distance.
Sort of looks like live-streaming, don’t you think?
A few of these guesses got close, but on the whole, humanity has proven to be consistently bad at predicting the future. Somehow flying cars are forever ten years away and Dippin’ Dots has yet to become the ice cream of the present.
So how can we have confidence about what’s to come? Is there any reason to be hopeful about what the future holds? The Christian view on the future of the world – what we sometimes call eschatology – is yes. Yes with an exclamation point, actually! It grounds faith for the future in the objective reality of what has happened in the past.
The resurrection of Jesus has always been the centerpiece. Because Jesus actually was raised from the dead, we, too, will be raised to participate in a new creation. Jesus is the firstfruits (1 Corinthians 15:22) of a resurrection movement. The firstfruits image is compelling: Jesus is like the first ripe apple or the first full stalk of corn signaling the start of a bountiful autumn harvest. His return from the grave is a bellwether that the future is going to be good and beautiful.
It’s because of this nuance of eschatology that an allegorical or symbolic resurrection doesn’t fit within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy.
Not that many haven’t tried to flatten Easter into just that.The resurrection, they say, really is a great story. It’s a parable, they continue, about how the beaten-down come back, or about how we should never give up in the face of adversity. But it didn’t actually happen.
Sure, others suggest, it’s true for you if you want it to be true, but it’s not really history or anything. It’s a helpful little legend. But nothing more.
There is a nuanced, ivory-tower sort of theological term for that. It’s called kooky talk. We have confidence for the future only because the resurrection is real history.
Think about what it would mean if we started talking like this about everything in the past. How would you respond if someone said that the story of the Wright brothers was just an allegory for the soaring human spirit? What if it was just a legend that Rosa Parks acted bravely on the bus? What if it just a sentimental fable that Martin Luther nailed those theses to the Wittenburg door? Does it really work to say that it’s not important whether or not Edward Jenner actually developed a smallpox vaccine because all that matters is finding meaning in the idea of a vaccine?
Can you imagine? Where did these planes come from, then? How did the Reformation start? And what did that needle just inject into my arm?
Hope requires more than that. Our confidence in the future isn’t in a feel-good fable or in a wild guess printed on a postcard. It’s in a past reality that is tied to a future inevitability.
Not that a blue whale powered submarine wouldn’t be cool.