Eternity and the Future

August 2000 marks my 42nd birthday. It is a strange thing to arrive at this particular birthday because I've been looking forward to it for about 30 years or so and yet, now that it's here, it does not at all seem like what I expected back then.

Back then, in my boyhood, the year "2000" was a time furnished exclusively with mental images from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Forbidden Planet, Ray Bradbury, the Jetsons and H.G. Wells. Two irreconcilable Futures awaited me. The first Future was the Great Rosy Dawn of Secular Prosperity. In that Future, we would all fly rocket backpacks to work in the shimmering glass city with monorails and no pollution. You would take a pill at breakfast to meet all your nutritional needs and wear a tight-fitting one-piece velour suit (girls will wear mini-skirts). We'd all talk on viewphones and live in a climate-controlled world. The moon would be populated by domed cities. Famine and disease would be wiped out. We'd be well on the way toward evolving bigger brains, losing our appendix and little toes and striding toward that well-ordered Vulcan cool that more advanced civilizations all have. And the planets we'd visit would all be dramatically remote places of barren isolation, craters, jagged needle-like peaks and strange violet skies (featuring moons with rings).

The other Future was Extinction. This Extinction would be wrought by the Bomb (like the one that annihilates the world in several Twilight Zone episodes and the Planet of the Apes) or it would be the Long Slow Inexorable March of Time Against Which Puny Humans are as Powerless as the Dinosaurs. This was the Future forecast in stories like the Time Machine and various other tales whose moral (at least in part) was "Puny humans! The mindless and cruel universe spits on you! HA!"

Both these fantasy Futures, irreconcilable as they were, seemed vastly more "realistic" to me as a boy than any Future that included things like God or ordinary life as I knew in growing up in Everett, Washington. The idea that the Future might include things like God, or flat tires or dirty diapers seemed ridiculously provincial, like listening to ancient Assyrians claiming that the world must always go on driving chariots.

However, at 42, I'm discovering the Future isn't what it used to be. Not that I'm disillusioned. Rather, I've come to the conclusion that the far off and remote Year 2000 (where I now make my home) has turned out to be much more like what the Catholic Faith has painted than like anything Mr. Wells, Star Trek, or Planet of the Apes forecast. Things are neither so rosy, nor so black as all that. No one gives any hint of evolving bigger brains or devolving into a Morlock. Rather, it appears to me that people will remain for millennia to come what that primitive, non-futuristic book, the Bible, describes them as: creatures made in the image of God, fallen, and called by Christ, not to "The Future" but to Eternity.

It was the discovery of Eternity, of a world completely outside this one and freed by Christ from the futility that afflicts this fallen world that finally made sense of my longings and my despair. Secular worship of the Future taps into the hope of Eternity and promises the Great Rosy Dawn. But it is capable of delivering only one thing: the time when what is now living will be dead. That's what the Future is after all. And that's why our vision of the Future is always so conflicted. But God promises eternity, where all that is now dying will live in Christ forever. As I get older and continue my own pilgrimage toward the grave, I now prefer this "unrealistic" reality to my realistic boyhood fantasies.

Copyright 2001 - Mark P. Shea