“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…”
~ Revelation 21:1,2 ~
There is something infinitely appealing, immensely attractive, about this vision of St John in the Book of Revelation. Perfection. Glory. The end to human strife. Our lives living in harmony with fellow humans, all created matter and God.[/vc_column_text]
But at times this vision can be dangerous if it is not properly understood.
The new heaven and new Earth, the New Jerusalem, called elsewhere in Scripture the kingdom or reign of God, is all too often imagined by some as the work of our hands. Which it isn’t. If you doubt this read Chapter 21 again.
It is the work of God, not us.
And whenever people have imagined that they can bring about the ‘reign of God’ by their own actions, the results have been disastrous. History is littered with the failed efforts of individuals and movements, both religious and secular, to invent the New Jerusalem. The vision is so appealing that we cannot but try to do this.
But utopian communities and ideologies in every case have failed. Great ideas of community, love and justice have been either pursued with such obsession that they have become tyrannical, often turning into thoroughly unequal societies ruled by individuals and elites who believe they have the fullness of truth. At best this has led to their own collapse; at worst these collapses have resulted in violence and chaos.
In theological terms we might call these distorted ideas of human perfectibility idolatry.
The other danger we face in misreading the vision of the New Jerusalem is passivity. We acknowledge our inability to force the reign of God and simply give up. We retreat into our private little worlds, often declaring our world a lost cause, and wait for God to end it all.
This too is a distortion.
It is a distortion because we misread what our role is in the reign of God. Our role is not to give up but to strive bravely to renew our world as best we can. Even as we do our parts, large or small, in promoting values that anticipate the vision of the New Jerusalem – love, justice, freedom, peace etc. – we remind ourselves of our limitations, the most important being that we are not God. We discern how we should act with a mixture of utopian idealism and honest realism about what we can do.
In this time of a new government, a new start, we must all be conscious of the tension between the ideal and the possible. Those who wield power must acknowledge both the limitations imposed on them by reality – and imagine how far they can actually anticipate the ideal by what they do. Neither fanaticism nor passivity are acceptable.
How far they attain this will determine whether they act to anticipate as far as possible the reign of God in this time and place.