When Thomas More wrote his classic political satire, Utopia (1516), he had some fun with the title. The word “Utopia” is a play on words in Greek: topos means “place”, and and the prefix eu- in Greek means “good,” so an eutopia is a “good place.” But, in Greek there is also the prefix ou- which is a negation, “no,” so an outopia is literally “no place.” More cleverly dropped the first letter and left the name of the land as Utopia, leaving it somewhat ambiguous. The story is about a fictional land where (supposedly) everything is perfect. But the work is a piece of satire, and More clarifies at the end of his novel that he clearly intended the negative, not positive meaning. Thus, eutopia is really outopia; it doesn’t exist.
The allure of utopianism has always been with us, a vain desire for man to restore what was lost at Eden. We want heaven on earth, we want to be delivered from our ails, we want harmony. But Yahweh placed a fiery sword at the gate of Eden for a reason–we cannot get back into Eden, we cannot return to the place of unspoiled beauty and peace because it is we who are the problem. If a portal opened before us and we could cross the threshold back into Eden, it immediately wouldn’t be Eden because we would be there. The solution lay ahead, not behind. It is found in the promise of a descendant of the woman to crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15), not in the vain attempts to go back to eat from the Tree of Life.
When a river floods, it slowly chews at the river bank till it swallows trees, and boulders, cars and houses, bearing them away. Christians are a people who have been swept up, born away in the surging current of anticipation, the floodwaters of time–looking ahead, longing, waiting, hoping for the ancient promise to be fulfilled. We have been uprooted like Abraham, like David, like Paul in the anticipation of the remedy that flows from Eden, not back to it. We need a serpent-crusher, we need a healer, a redeemer.
And when He appeared on the scene, when the great clamor of expectation had reached its fever-pitch, when all the heaving sighs of mankind’s exhaustion reached their fullness, we destroyed Him like an egg under a boot. The Son of God came down and we, His creatures, devoured him like he was the devil Himself. Why? Oh, we wanted healing, we wanted restoration, to be sure, but not in the way He offered. The jarring truth He came to preach was that there was a serpent inside us all. The problem isn’t “out there” but “in here”; we are the problem.We can’t recreate Eden. Eutopia is outopia because any –topia we arrive at, there we are.
We want to believe that with the right education, the right technology, the right technique we can heal the world of all its woes. With capitol-S “Science” and capitol-P “Progress” we think we will be able to fix the problems of the world. But “Science” and “Progress” have turned into mute and dumb idols, sock puppets that say whatever we want them to say. They cannot even agree on what the problems are, let alone provide any solutions that go beyond skin-deep superficialities. But Jesus says our problem goes much deeper, deeper than any technique can solve–we are broken at our core. And for saying things like that, we killed Him.
And yet, mysteriously, God also killed Him (Isa 53:10). He was “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” Why? Because Jesus came to heal our world in ways we never could: Jesus came to crush the serpent without crushing us. He came to open a pathway to a New Eden. So He offered Himself up like bait; He kept kicking dust in the snakes’ eyes with every exorcism performed, every miracle worked, every sermon preached, till Satan could take it no longer and sank his fangs into Christ’s virgin flesh, looped coil after coil tight around His sinless body, till it looked like the sinless Son of God had become a writhing serpent Himself, till He “became sin” (2 Cor 5:21). And the God-man just let it happen. At Golgotha, like Moses’ bronze-serpent lifted up in the desert, Jesus’ sin bedraggled, serpentine body was lifted high. And then was obliterated by the nuclear wrath of God; to be crushed Himself, and Satan with Him: Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani.
“By his wounds we are healed,” (Isa 53:5).
His body was deposited in the earth like a dead kernel, quietly, somberly by his confused disciples, ignorant and scared. And there it lay like a shameful husk for three dark days. Until the earth exploded with life. A large rock rolled out of Someone’s way: Christ the Victor emerges from the grave, Satan the vanquished, flattened like roadkill, remains behind.
Our Conquering King has ascended to the throne and we now wait for His return, when the dawn of the resurrection will transform into the brightness of noonday, and the world will be restored, harmony will reign, and all will be made right. The final finger-hold that Satan has will be pried off and he will fall backwards into oblivion, the dead in Christ shall be raised, and everything sad will come untrue. The only hope of societal renewal will finally come. Then, outopia will become eutopia; we shall walk into the New Eden as kings and queens, we shall eat from the Tree of Life, we shall bathe in heaven’s splendors. The cacophony of the curse shall serve merely as the prelude to the great symphony of reconciliation of all things and our God shall dwell with us, and we shall see His face.
Already, Not Yet
And here we are in our modern world: addicted to our smartphones, sexually confused, and perpetually angry about trivialities. Here we are where politicians make fools of themselves, nations war against nations, and the wicked seem to flourish like weeds. It feels like we sit under a veritable waterfall of bad news. And here we are, waiting. Here we have been, for 2,000 years. And though we know that we can’t create Eden, that we are to look forward as the river of God’s promise bears us along, we are tempted to pine, to long for a nation or community or church with the right people and the right policies, where we can find utopia. But the story of the Bible tells us three things:
(1) Until sin is dealt with, no amount of societal structures, education plans, moral revolutions, or economic policies will get us back into Eden, will create heaven on earth. So any political aim that thinks it can do so is not only doomed from the get go, but will likely resort to intimidation and violence to get what it wants–if the right people are all we need, then maybe we need to dispose of the wrong ones? History has born this out. We can happily work for as much good as we can in this fallen world, but never assuming that all wrongs can be eradicated.
(2) Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is the key to all our problems since it is the means by which our sin is dealt with. However, the final presence of sin will not be eradicated till Christ’s second coming. Thus we should not be surprised at the presence of sin, but also not given over to despair, as if sin will win the day. The serpent has been crushed and the New Creation is already dawning–we know how the story ends. Denethor needlessly lit himself on fire because he could only see Sauron’s forces, but was blind to the allies that were coming from the Sea. Christians ought not despair, no matter how dire things may seem–reinforcements are coming. When the news or difficult circumstances or our own sin makes it seem like the kingdom of God is in retreat, fear not. Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, be faithful with the little He has given you, and pray a lot.
(3) The Church, while not wholly freed from sin’s presence, has been freed from its power. Thus, our communities of faith are intended to be imperfect holograms sent back from the future, a picture in time and space of the sacrality, beauty, and goodness of the New Eden. So while we lament and repent of the continuing presence of sin in the Church, and groan at the strangling power of sin outside the Church, we still strive to create pockets and pictures of the goodness of the New Creation, without falling into the delusion that we will, through our labors, eradicate and build what only Christ can. So while the world around us may be burning, we live quiet lives of godliness; we go to church, and raise our children, and care for the widow and orphan. A Christian’s regular, daily obedience does far more than we realize.
So, dear Christian, are you weary? Do the woes of the world weigh you down? Take heart, our Savior has overcome this world, has overcome your sin, and has overcome the serpent. Jesus has already provided everything we need.