Visions in the Bible

[We continue with our Bible #101 series of columns.] A Methodist Bishop once said: "We should live our lives not pushed by our problems but led by our visions." That's good advice, and the Bible contains many visionary passages which speak about the way we humans ought to live together and/or what God wants for us for our fulfillment/salvation.

We read in Genesis about the vision of the earth at the beginning of time: the Garden of Eden: "Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to sight and good for food...." (Gen 2:8-9). Then the narrative goes on to tell how we ruined the Garden of Eden by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, seeking thereby to make ourselves gods. We still do it. We still presume to decide what is good and what is evil.

Through the centuries writers have written about Utopia, about the ultimate destiny of history. Thomas More in England wrote a book, "Utopia", describing what life ought to be like. "The notion of an ideal society, one organized in ways that guarantee the felicity of its members, has been a staple element in human experience through all of recorded history. The details of this society - where and when it exists, how one gets to it, how it is governed, who lives in it, the ramifications of its existence - can, and do, vary radically, producing the broadest possible set of answers to the question of what constitutes the ideal."

This is from the introduction to an exhibition at the New York Public Library which traces how women and men have, over the space of several thousand years of Western culture, imagined, depicted, described, and created new versions of ideal societies. Some of these visions have been religious, others secular, including that of Karl Marx and Communist writers seeking a "classless society."

The prophets envisioned the Day of the Lord as a moment coming in the future when God will set everything right in the world, punishing those who are evil and rewarding those who are good. This ultimately became the Christian vision of heaven. "In days to come," Isaiah writes about this Day of the Lord, "He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not live up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Is 2:2-4; the prophet, Micah, quotes this same passage: Mic 4:1-4, which leaves the question which one wrote it?)

Then there is Isaiah's great vision: "Behold I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.... The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent - its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord" (Is 65:17, 25).

In the New Testament, Paul writes that beautiful passage about love: "Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful...." (1 Cor 13:4-5). Writing to the Colossians, he says: "As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all clothe yourselves with love which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Col 3:12-14).

The author of the Epistles of John writes wonderfully: "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.... No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us" (1 Jn 4: 7-8, 12).

These are the visions which inspire us to live faithful to the Way of God given to us in the words and deeds of Jesus. No wonder we read the Bible! It gives us great hope for ourselves and our world.