Things of old give much,
Yet must not be used to flee
From what can be learned.
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There never was a time
When everything was fine.
We can never make it back
To find a thing we’ve always lacked.
We’ve never been at peace or kind.
Review our history, you’ll find
That who we are is who we’ve been
So why try to go back again?
Perhaps instead of yearning for
A chance to live the past once more,
We ought to turn our eyes ahead
For better things to come instead.
We ought to work on being kind
Until a better world we find.
We can’t be great a second time
With a past of war and hate and crime.
Our hist’ry’s far from full of light,
But future things might still be bright
If we would leave this path of hate
And learn to just communicate
With grace and kindness, mercy, too.
A better world begins with you.
Can you turn away,
Allowing the past to die
So that more may come?
The wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid, calf and lion cub feed together with a little boy to lead them. — Isaiah 11:4, JB
Looking to a perfect future is something religion typically “comes with.” In the Christian faith, prophecies are often read with eyes forward, waiting patiently for the day God sets everything straight. The trouble for me is that I am an “in the moment” kind of man. I don’t really know what to expect if/when the world comes to an end, Jesus returns, or I die, but I do know that I am alive right now in a world that could always use a little more light.
Fortunately, the prophets would have agreed with me! Prophecy in the Bible is less about predicting the future and more about the natural outworkings of our current problems. The prophet’s job is to call people to repentence immediately, forcing us to face the pain and suffering of the world and our part in it.
When reading Isaiah, it becomes clear early on that Israel is in very real trouble and God isn’t happy with them. They are criticized for their unjust practices and false piety, faced with invasion and destruction, but also encouraged by a vision of the possible future (should they decide to get it together).
Now some see such visions as pipe dreams used to provide “hope fuel” for the oppressed. I, on the other hand, view them as instructive, especially when I consider the teachings of Jesus, which emphasize living with the “Kingdom of God” in mind. The images of a final judgment and celestial utopia were not there to simply be believed in, but to give us a target for which to aim every day.
So when we see passages like the one above from Isaiah 11, or the “swords into ploughshares” verse that declares “there will be no more training for war” (chapter 2), it would be wise to see these as a goal rather than an eventual guarantee. Whereas the latter might only prompt us to “hold on tight,” the former is actually a call to action.
Such teachings should serve as ideals for which we strive by living as though they have already been realized. If we hope for a world of peace, we must in turn lead lives saturated with peace. If we dream of a future of equality, prosperity for all, and justice, our daily activities and interactions should reflect such things.
Am I dismissing the hope of some future manifestation of the Kingdom of God? Not necessarily. I just trust that God has such things in hand. What I am advocating for is turning our eyes from what could happen to what is happening, looking for opportunities to live out the future for which we hope.
Peace be with you!