Confession: I am a sci-fi girl and I love Doctor Who.
For the unfamiliar, Doctor Who is a rebooted BBC show about — bear with me — an alien who travels through space and time, solving mysteries and saving worlds with the help of plucky human companions and a time machine that looks like a police call box but is unimaginably bigger on the inside.
One of the things I enjoy about this silly/serious show is how it playfully imagines travelling to humanity’s past but also to potential futures. One episode might imagine the moments at the end of time. Another imagines the New Earth in luxury and technology. And one episode imagines this same New Earth, human as ever, being choked by its own growth, greed and technology, again. I love sci-fi because it awakens my imagination to the future which makes me wonder about how we live now.
We have a human need to imagine the future that I think is from God. But when we shape our Christian identity, do we truly have God’s future in mind? Missiologist Miriam Adeney, writing about worship, says, “Our worship must be multicultural, not simply because our society is multicultural, but because the future from which God is calling us is multicultural. Not just so that those from other cultures may feel at home among us but also so that we may feel at home in God’s future.”
With the news this week of white supremacist slayings, gun violence in churches, and the ever-increasing polarization and demonization of the Other, even within the church, we are struck again at how these are attempts to shape the future apart from God’s future, the fruit being cruelty and violence. God is calling us to make our home NOW in God’s future.
This Eastertide, if we are going to ask what it means to bear witness to the resurrection, we must bear witness to what the resurrection is first-fruits of — God’s Kingdom Come — and in our bearing witness, we will take seriously the call to live now from that future.
These thoughts got me meditating on the images from John’s Revelation, their wildness far exceeding the best sci-fi we can dream up.
The image of the slain lamb (Revelation 5) at the centre of the throne, with seven horns and eyes. But worthy. Worthy because of his woundedness, and worthy to open the scroll that contains all tribes, languages, peoples that become priests.
How about the image of a holy city, descending to earth (Revelation 21)? A city where God dwells with his people and the people with their God. Where mourning, pain, crying are no more because the old order is gone.
Then the image of a river from the throne of the slain lamb, that nourishes the trees that produce good fruit and leaves that heal the nations (Revelation 22).
This is God’s future. It must shape who and how we are now.
In a much beloved episode of Doctor Who, The Doctor and his companion, Amy, travel to 1890’s France, where Vincent Van Gogh is struggling. He is an outcast, no one values him or his work. Amy and the Doctor befriend Vincent and want to encourage him. They take him to the future, to witness how his life and work are celebrated and beloved by millions. Van Gogh for one precious, powerful moment sees his life through the eyes of the future.
But in the end it wasn’t enough. Vincent still tragically took his own life back in his time, even knowing the future. One blogger commented that there was a glimpse of hope when Vincent felt the true effects of the Doctor’s and Amy’s valuing and friendship. But when they left and no one in his real life was living out the future of his belovedness, no one embodying it with him, he couldn’t keep going. It’s a whimsical, heartbreaking piece of tv. It’s just a show but there’s something to this tale that is challenging me this Eastertide.
It’s not enough just to know of God’s future. We have to live from it, embodying it for each other. If the future is an image of a bloody lamb drawing all the peoples, then our witness must be that of a sacrificial lamb, not of warriors or power-seekers. If God’s future is a city descending to a restored earth where God dwells, we must live as if God’s fleshed out creation matters and will be redeemed. And if God’s city bears fruit that heals nations and makes priests out of every people group, we must bear nourishing, reconciling fruit with our words, actions, theologies. We must live as if we belonged to a kingdom that heals real people. This is God’s future but are we bearing witness to it?
In our times when God’s church is fighting about who is most right, God is still calling to us. From God’s redeemed and restored future. God is calling to us from a place that is more than we can ask for or imagine. We have no reference for its scale or its beauty.
In a time where we act like lawyers for the kingdom, we are actually called to be witnesses to the breadth and length, depth and height of God’s love that determines all the terms and conditions of this future — the love that is best pictured by a bloody lamb, God-soaked city and a life-giving tree that heals.
What kind of people come from this place, call this place home? We aren’t called to make a utopia, we are called to become a people whose home is THIS kingdom. We don’t just look forward to God’s future for us. We are called to bear witness to its first fruits — the resurrection life of Christ, the first fruits of God’s transformative future that we can start to live out now.