The wolf will live with the lamb,
the panther lie down with the kid,
calf, lion and fat-stock beast together,
with a little boy to lead them.
Isaiah 11:6 NJB
The wolf and the young lamb will feed together,
the lion will eat hay like the ox,
and dust shall be the serpent's food.
No hurt, no harm will be done
on all my holy mountain,
Isaiah 65: 25 NJB
|Peaceable Kingdom with Two Olives, by Will Bullas|
Once upon a time I believed history was heading toward an omega point. Nothing sophisticated in the Teilhard de Chardin sense, but a very literal understanding of the utopian passages in scripture. In the particular community I was drawn into it was commonly referred to as "the world tomorrow".
Lots of Bible-believing folk believe in just such a literal millennium, a thousand years of peace following on from a time of "great tribulation" in which civilisation collapses and Christ the pantocrator (almighty ruler) rides in at the head of the heavenly cavalry to smash a few kneecaps (for "every knee shall bow") and rescue us from ourselves. Following a near touchdown on the Mount of Olives all the bad guys get zapped and the good guys (that'll be the true believers) take over and establish a kind of worldwide version of North Korea - an Islamic State without the Islam - to set things right. The Puritans called it the Peaceable Kingdom.
And after the thousand years? Well, there's a variety of interpretations available. In my one-time faith community there was a touch of universalism. Almost everybody eventually turns away from the dark side, and only a very few incorrigible types end up in a non-everlasting lake of fire. It's only fair to say that most scenarios are a lot less pleasant than that one.
But it was the poetic imagery that really appealed to my younger self. The lion dwelling with the lamb, carnivores morphed into herbivores, every man (sorry ladies) chilling out under his own vine and fig tree, every tear wiped away. Sweet!
It's a theology that shares a lot in common with the Big Rock Candy Mountain ("the land of milk and honey"). Minus the cigarette trees of course (the updated twee kiddie version has changed that to "peppermint trees".) No lions and lambs but...
The bulldogs all have rubber teeth
And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs
We all recognise the lyrics for what they are. Even the most wooden-minded Southern Baptist.
But the biblical images - at least some of them - are just as shallow. The mountains are all levelled and the sea disappears (Rev. 21:1). Imagine Planet Earth without majestic snow-topped mountains and vast oceans. This would be an improvement?
[Y]ou will thresh and beat the mountains to dust
and reduce the hills to straw.
You will winnow them and the wind will carry them off...
Isaiah 41:15-16 NJB
You can't be serious about anyone taking that literally you say?
"But God has the solution [to population pressure], and how simple it is. Simply make most of the earth cultivatable... Make level the awesome Pamir Knot, the huge giants of the Himalayas, the Atlas, Taurus, Pyrenees, Rockies, Sierras and Hindu Kush - level the immense sweep of the Andes, and all the other forbidding, towering, virtually uninhabitable mountains of earth."
What kind of total moron would suggest such a thing? I can only note that the quotation comes from something called The Wonderful World Tomorrow: What It Will Be Like, 1982 edition.
But there's no such thing as cigarette trees.
Or lemonade springs.
The mountains won't be pulverised.
And without the oceans there'd be no life.
The Big Rock Candy Mountain is an entertaining bit of fun.
The World Tomorrow is a poetic mirage. At times it conveys great beauty while at others it's downright trite.
The virtue of any poetic vision is it's ability to inspire, not to program into the reader a deadening dogma. Truly, don't we all yearn for the lion to lay down with the lamb?
The omega point burns ahead of us on the far horizon. But as we all should know, horizons recede, and you can never reach the end of the rainbow to find that pot of gold.