In my childhood I remember watching Star Trek re-runs after school, the adventures of Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise crew as they explored “space… the final frontier”. This fueled my imagination about other worlds, expanded horizons, and different peoples, exploring the realm of the unknown. Then in my later teens came Star Wars on the big screen, which I saw four times. I dreamed of what it would be like to go to places no one had ever gone before.
I knew nothing then about philosophy or theology or world view or science. But the appeal of a future showing freedom for all, with no one left behind, regardless of race, gender, language or culture, combined with excitement and adventure and the triumph of the human spirit, appealed to me then.
It still appeals to me today.
I continue to enjoy movies and novels that portray such an exciting world and universe of possibilities where the human spirit is free and enabled to be all that we were designed to be. Many might say that this is escapism in the midst of a decaying, dysfunctional, corrupt world.
That may be a fair statement. However, if true, I think that this is the same escapism that fuels scientific exploration, and in particular the exploration of space itself. The other day Stephen Hawking was quoted as saying that earth and humanity on earth is doomed to destruction, and that we need to accelerate the process of exploring space with the view to colonization and escape.
This is a gloomy picture. It says that the earth is not redeemable. Ironically, it sounds a lot like the end-times viewpoint of many Christian evangelicals, who expect a cataclysmic end to this current iteration of the earth which will be preceded by their escape from this imminent suffering and destruction to be with the Lord.
The problem of course, with this gloomy picture, this utopian view of a future in the stars, or waiting for the rapture to escape destruction, only to later rule with the Lord in a re-made heaven and earth, is that it removes us from responsibility to go change our world. It denies our fundamental call to stewardship of all humanity and in fact of all creation itself.
Does it not seem strange to you that billions of dollars are spent on military weaponry, influence and political intrigue, and on space exploration, while a blind eye is turned toward the poor and disadvantaged in our midst, the oppression of women, the sexual slavery and exploitation of children, the curable sicknesses where available treatments are unaffordable and the persecution of entire people groups based on race, ethnicity, caste or belief?
Imagine instead a world where the billions of dollars spent on military strength, political hegemony and escape to the stars were instead re-directed toward transforming our world and changing the living conditions of its people. Imagine the efforts of the “haves” in our world re-directed toward transforming our world and changing the living conditions of all of its people, especially the “have-nots”.
Imagine the Body of Christ actively engaged through a full implementation of the gospel to go out and transform this world, instead of being fixated on escaping from it. We have dumbed down the gospel to mean only the spiritual salvation of souls which will then escape this corrupt world to be with the Lord in heaven. We have forgotten that His kingdom was inaugurated on earth at the moment of His resurrection, that Jesus (Yeshua) spoke more to his disciples on the kingdom of God and its practical implications for living than He did on going to heaven, that in His instructions on prayer He stated “May your kingdom be established on earth as it is already established in heaven”, and that our eternal dwelling place will be here and not away someplace else. His kingdom, through the full embodiment of the Great Commission, will be implemented through His body in people and on earth, in part as far as we are able, while we wait for His return and the full consummation of His kingdom with a transformed and renewed heaven and earth.
Gnosticism pervades our worldview, even inside the church. Basically gnosticism is dualist, believing that all matter in this world is bad / corrupt, and the that the spirit world is good, and that at death the soul is freed from its corrupt encumbrance.
In popular thinking, exemplified by Hawking’s recent statements, this world view manifests itself in believing that the world is not redeemable, and that humanity needs to escape its destruction and shed its encumbrance to begin again in the stars, where all corruption will be left behind. This leads to a fatalism about the future, and a withdrawal from active engagement in the lives of other people and in our society.
In evangelical Christian thinking, this manifests itself in making salvation only a spiritual matter in which the soul is liberated, and, in terms of end-times scenarios, manifests itself in the glorious rapture of His faithful people to meet the Lord in the air, escaping tribulation and a world heading to destruction, finally free of earthly and carnal encumbrance. This leads in its most extreme form in a “people of God” who have interest only in people for their soul liberation and the jewels it puts in our crowns, and who display no interest in environmentalism or in social responsibility for the disadvantaged or in the liberation of oppressed people in the world, because the world is going to be destroyed anyway. One sad but amusing picture of this dualist escapist approach to our stewardship appeared in the movie Left Behind, where, on a plane filled with major Christian leaders in bit parts, the rapture takes place and their clothes are left behind.
In a recent keynote address given at Liberty University, Christian rap artist Lecrae identified the issue another way: that Christians in every day life have compartmentalized their faith in a sacred/secular divide. On Sundays and in church circles Christians tend to exercise their “spiritual side”, and then go out into the world for the rest of the time, living in their neighborhoods and working their jobs / careers to make money and to help themselves to “live”. Lecrae challenged students when they left the bubble of Christian college to go out and transform their world, and to break down the dualist sacred/secular divide, to practice a lived faith in Christ evident in all parts of their lives. In this way, our neighbours are our mission field, not just for the sake of their souls, but for the sake of the kingdom which pervades everything everywhere. In this way, our jobs are not just about us or making money but about impacting people and impacting our world.
This is a challenge to us all to a paradigm shift in world view, in the way we understand the kingdom of God and our calling (the calling of every believer) to the great commission and to living a practical lived faith in Christ.
It is a call to go where no one has gone before… to go where Jesus Christ calls us to go, and to be fully engaged in what He calls all of us to do. And others have gone before… starting with our Saviour, and with people who lived their faith in every generation since the Resurrection.
Take up your cross, and follow Him. Go and change this world, and its inhabitants. To this we are called!