Aldous Huxley imagined a utopian society in which the purpose of all living was pleasure. People were endlessly gratified with new products, new games, an addictive drug called soma, and abundant and seemingly inconsequential sex. Such a society was constructed and maintained by others who found it the best way to maintain power and resist the chaos that existed beyond the society’s borders in the wilderness.
Huxley actually had a far more dour view of our own world. “Maybe this world,” referring to our real world, not his imagined world, “is another planet’s hell.” Perhaps he wrote A Brave New World hoping to escape, if only for a few moments, the hell he found here.
Huxley’s work is often contrasted with George Orwell’s classic 1984, which describes a tyrannical nation in which every detail of its citizens’ lives are controlled under the iron grip of Big Brother. Even language is culled to limit the imagination so that not a word can even be considered against the might of the government.
Sociopolitical commentary sometimes references either or both of these societies – the flat, illusory utopia and the overt, crushing dystopia. As is usual, the truth of our own world is both, at times, and also somewhere in between. Thus cynics, escapists, and optimists are found living among us. The cynic will decry, as Huxley did, that we’re already in hell. The escapist will be as one of the characters from his book, looking to numb any unsettling impulse that something is awry. The optimist is similar to those brainwashed by the government in 1984: it’s all great! Or if it isn’t already, we’re going to make it better – through chemistry, through political movement, through military might.
There was a man who claimed to be God. Because of what he taught and did, he was nailed to a cross and died. After three days, though, he returned to life to demonstrate that he was indeed God and that he had overcome death. That man Jesus brings hope from beyond the horizon of death. Hope is both a feeling (e.g., Romans 5:2, 8:25, Philippians 1:20) and an action (e.g., Jeremiah 14:22, Psalms 33:18, 1 Timothy 6:17). The control we have over hope may vary from time to time, but Scripture presupposes that we will have say over where we place our hope.
Hope is expectant waiting and also a decision to abide in faith, even to move even while waiting, despite present circumstances. This posture of hope stands in stark contrast to the postures of cynicism, escapism, and optimism that can be found outside of faith.
The Christian faith is not cynical. Christians can recognize that the world is broken by the Fall. They can “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Christians are no strangers to suffering because they follow a crucified servant who is also their Lord and Savior. Hope, however, does not permit cynicism even while it acknowledges the pain, horror, and evil that lurks in this world. No one “hopes for what he sees” (Romans 8:24), and therefore hope exists only in a world in which we haven’t received the full blessing of God. The majority of the psalms are prayers of lament – venting to God founts of rage and sadness about the way things are but always with the hope that how things are is not how they will be, and that God is sovereign. In following a servant who was not only crucified but rose from death, Christians also testify to the fact that God’s kingdom has broken in to this world: the already (Christ is risen!) and not yet (He is yet to come again), a tension which reveals itself in the pain of living even while death has lost its ultimate sting.
The Christian faith is not escapist. When God made this world, he declared it good, and when he made humanity, he declared all that he made very good. God does not intend that Christians all end up in heaven; that is not their final home! Instead he will redeem all of creation, and a new earth will be home. We need not wait ’til then to see how much God loves what he’s made. He chose to descend into it. The dust into which he breathed to make man is the dust on which he walked as a man named Jesus. The incarnation is a massive testament to God’s valuing of this world. This means that what we all do here matters (Matthew 25:31-46) because God himself cares to work here. This has ramifications not only for how we treat other people directly, but also how we eat, how we spend our time and money, where we travel, and what we do in our vocations and with our families. Grace and faith are not trophies that, once attained, can sit in a case somewhere so that the Christian can present them to get into an escapist’s heaven. Grace instead calls Christians to love and action.
The Christian faith is not optimistic. Sin is not a biochemical imbalance, a political problem, an intellectual dilemma, or a remnant of animal nature. Our deepest problem, which is spiritual, is not reducible to any of these categories. From this proceed all the sufferings of this world, from disease to torture to accidental harm. Medicine and political movements, as just two examples, may yield a veneer of better living for a time, but by themselves they do not alter the depravity that, like coal dust, has settled on every part of humanity. Often someone might say, “I can’t believe it’s 2018 and still…!” Their implied expectation is that as time passes, humanity should inevitably progress toward betterment. Jesus did not anticipate that would be the case (Matthew 24:4-8). Optimism ignores the plight of present circumstances and the root of our problems, expecting that human ingenuity will win out in the end. Christian faith is not optimistic, but it is hopeful.
With this posture of hope Christians can stand against the status quo: things are as they are but not as they should be. God has the final say in what will happen and still he invites us to participate in his wonderful story of redemption for this world (Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 2:4-10). What we choose to do with our time, money, energy, and relationships will be influenced by what we think (hope!) will happen in the future (1 Corinthians 9:10). Let’s hope big things together.