As one of our daughters made her way through her degree program at Mizzou, my wife and I found ourselves increasingly mystified by the “Walking Dead” watch parties she attended. These much-anticipated events were such a priority for her that competing calendar items were nearly always declined. Initially, the idea of a show dedicated to post-apocalypse, flesh-eating zombies held little in the way of appeal for either of us, but at long last building another bridge with our daughter trumped our desire to stay within our comfortable No-Zombies Safety Zone.
And so we dove in, quickly became hooked, and began exchanging some fun, often-bizarre text messages with Mary.
While we watched and actually enjoyed the first several seasons of this popular series, Season 6 was a tiresome disaster and we agreed to call it quits. Over the course of the most recent episodes, it became all too clear that the show’s creative team had begun to needlessly dwell on depravity and forgotten that human beings are unable to survive without a larger sense of hope, a bigger narrative, something “just over there on the horizon” which calls the human heart away from selfishness and mere survival.
In the early seasons, we gladly cheered on Rick Grimes and his band of survivors as they sought to bring safety, order, law and plain-old human decency to a world gone mad. Now that the surviving members of the first few seasons have themselves descended into lawless savagery, the series seems to have lost its moral compass altogether and, with it, any vision or hope of a prosperous, law-based civilization rising from the ashes.
Perhaps we were asking too much of what is, after all, just a series designed to entertain? Yeah, maybe.
Still, the very best filmmaking contains within it seeds of truth that strike a chord deep within every human soul. Artists and musicians are often able to articulate truths that leave our best theologians tongue-tied; it seems they often put their finger on what has gone wrong with humanity long before the scholars and scientists. Assuming that artists (Christian or otherwise) serve as heralds of truth, then perhaps tossing aside mankind’s indwelling and inexplicable desire to “tend the garden” as an unimportant plot point is unwise.
Why do we human beings relentlessly pursue the notion of an earthly utopia, whether personal or corporate, either in spirit or perhaps even in our chosen vocation? If you stop to think about it, the pursuit of an unseen ideal really makes no sense at all; where does the utopian ideal come from in the first place? In the entire glorious/miserable history of planet Earth, the true utopian society has never once existed, nor does its emergence seem even remotely likely apart from Divine Intervention. History has clearly taught us that even the most noble-minded among us is unfit to lead for very long; corruption, power struggles, decay and death corrode even the best of our intentions.
So why do we stubbornly labor to build anything of value in a world that we know will one day be reduced to cosmic ash?
As far as I am aware, the high school teacher who taught my Utopian Literature class (circa 1978) was not a Christian, nor tied to any other faith tradition. He may have been, but I doubt it; reaching back almost 40 years, I can still vividly recall his kind, jovial, yet thoroughly-pessimistic posture toward just about everything as we worked our way through Plato’s Republic, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, multiple works by Kurt Vonnegut and several other dystopian authors. In short, this teacher’s personal beliefs were clearly manfested through the course syllabus: “We are a people without hope.”
Even though this was just about the only class I had any interest in (or attended, for that matter) I never really connected with my instructor’s cynicism at a heart level. As a teen, I adopted his world-weary, seen-it-all-before posture as an outer personality garment, but that was merely for the sake of embracing my chosen high school identity. Youthful foolishness aside, my soul simply never accepted the idea that every society is doomed to destruction. And yet, I had no way to explain why my heart rebelled against the idea that there never would be a society where justice prevailed, all human life was treasured and everyone had whatever he or she needed in the way of protection and provision.
After rejecting a poorly-painted caricature of the Christian faith as a young man – i.e. “Christians are expected to follow this set of rules” – I spent 20 years adrift on my own, entirely mystified that an inner ache to pursue redemption and restoration never left me. Now, of course, I know why that longing persisted: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
Genesis 2:15 (ESV)
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil – this is God’s gift to man.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”