Dystopian stories have been all the rage for quite a few years now. The 20th Century produced novels like Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, Brave New World by Alex Huxley, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. They each described an imagined future in which powerful forces sought to control not only people’s behavior but also what they thought—a very grim outlook. More recently, The Hunger Games by Susan Collins and Divergent by Veronica Roth are examples of popular stories turned into movies that describe a similar bleak future for humanity in which a controlling elite, through fear and manipulation, hold the populace in bondage. Interestingly, many of the most recent and fashionable dystopian novels have been labeled “Young Adult” fiction. Might this provide a peek into this generation’s expectations for what is to come?
The word dystopian comes from the Greek prefix “dys,” which refers to something bad, harsh, or wrong combined with the Greek word “topos” which means place. The opposite would be utopian, which refers to a community or country where everything is perfect and ideal.
So, why are there no utopian novels being made into movies? It seems that would be much more uplifting. My guess is that no one believes such places are possible, and stories about perfection are typically considered boring anyway. In fact, most of the dystopian novels I am aware of concern societies attempting to make themselves into utopian communities. But of course as is generally true, but not always believed, such human efforts fall short, often miserably. And thus the “best” tales that seem to resonate with the most people are those of the gloomy failures in which humans ineptly seek to make their own paradise.
Has it ever worked?
Speaking of paradise, the Bible has a few things to say on this topic. God appears to be interested in drawing humans into a place of utter joy and contentment where there is no evil. We are told in the first two chapters of Genesis that He in fact created a paradise for the first humans. Not only was this Garden perfect with every human need met, but God Himself walked and interacted with all He created, taking particular delight and interest in humans. The man and woman drew their life from the unmediated Divine Presence as the rest of creation looked to them for proper care and management. And it was this unbroken connection with the Creator that allowed the Garden, administered by the humans, to be a successful utopia. It was the place where heaven and earth met. It was the reference point that would be buried deep within the soul of every future human of what ought to be and what we were made for.
But a dystopian future was out there calling. In an attempt to make their position “better and stronger” in this perfect home, the humans broke off their connection with the divine Creator. Convinced that He was holding out on them and not completely trustworthy, they sought self-rule. Thus, they were separated from the only paradise that has ever been known on earth. Yet they and their children still continued to hold an image in their hearts, albeit fuzzy and somewhat distorted, of the blissful life that was intended for them. The following generations of humans worked to rebuild this utopia using their own ingenuity. Dystopia after dystopia was and has ever since been the results of their efforts. Typically, in whatever community humans establish, there are the few that see it as a “utopia” for themselves. But there are then the many others that experience it as bad, harsh, and evil.
The story of the Bible, however, is about God’s plan to not let the makers of dystopia have the last word. For Him to dwell among and have close connection with humans has been God’s plan from the beginning. After humans rejected paradise on the Creator’s terms, He chose Abraham and his descendants to be His people, the starting point for a worldwide restoration. He had a plan to begin the process of restoring all He had made into a renewed paradise, centered on His residence among them. He gave Moses very specific instructions on how to construct the Tabernacle of Meeting. And once it was completed, God’s Spirit descended and filled it (Exodus 40:34). And yet humans struggled with embracing the holy Presence; they had fallen so far from it that it was now, for many, uncomfortable, foreign, and undesirable.
Many years later, after Solomon finished building a permanent structure, the glorious Presence of God descended and dwelt in it as well (2 Chronicles 5:13-14). Interestingly, images of trees and fruit were embroidered into the Temple curtains and fabrics. It seems, it was meant to remind the worshipers of the place, way back, where God and humans had first shared life. The Tabernacle and the Temple were acting as doorways into Paradise. They were places where heaven touched earth as of old in the Garden and where people could begin to experience God again. The physical buildings became portals for the holy Presence of the Creator that had once walked the paths of the Garden of Eden. God longed to share His glory once again with humans.
A Living Temple
And then Jesus came. As God in human flesh, He taught many people in the Jerusalem Temple, but He also oddly equated Himself with this building. As He and the Jews discussed the significance of the House of God, Jesus said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). A few verses later, John explained that after He was raised from the dead, the followers of Jesus understood that He was speaking about the temple of His body. Later in the Book of Acts, Stephen the first Christian martyr, was stoned to death because he insinuated that the temple was no longer significant since the arrival of Jesus. Heaven had, after all, come to earth in human flesh.
The Apostle Paul carried the idea even further. He said, “We are carefully joined together in Him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through Him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by His Spirit” (Ephesians 2:21-22, NLT). God’s plan has been to continue the process of bringing paradise to us through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. The physical Tabernacle and the Temple were just the beginning. The physical presence of Jesus took it to the next level. And then He sent His Spirit to dwell in us so we, as followers of Jesus, can legitimately be called temples of God. Heaven is meant to once again touch earth through us.
The Future is Good
Where is this all going? We’re given a glimpse of what is to come at the end of the Book of the Revelation. The writer sees that the last event of this age is the Heavenly City descending to earth (a new heaven and a new earth). He then says, “I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among His people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them’” (Revelation 21:3, NLT). And then in the 22nd verse, he adds, “I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” God’s presence will be such that there will be no need for any kind of intermediary building or portal. Paradise will have arrived to stay.
There is NO dystopian future for God’s children in His playbook. Yes, there are a lot of bad places and situations here on earth in the meantime. But that is what hope is all about: the way things are now is not the way they are going to remain. We, as followers of Jesus filled with His Spirit, are presently His temple, commissioned to provide glimpses of what is coming — heaven finally intertwined with earth and God once again dwelling among us.
How would He have you reveal His presence to those around you today? We have so much hope to impart and so much to look forward to!
(Edited and reposted from February 15, 2021)