A Better World—At Hand!
“THE nostalgia for paradise is among the powerful nostalgias that seem to haunt human beings. It may be the most powerful and persistent of all. A certain longing for paradise is evidenced at every level of religious life,” says The Encyclopedia of Religion.
All cultures seem to have in common the desire to live in a better world, as if lamenting an original ideal that no longer exists. This suggests the possibility of an original paradise, but where? A psychoanalyst might say that this aspiration reveals the desire to recover the lost security of the mother’s womb. Yet, this explanation does not convince scholars who study the history of religion.
“Nostalgia for Paradise”—Why?
Does the existence of such nostalgia, as some suggest, only serve to make the difficulties and the transient nature of human existence more tolerable? Or is there another explanation?
Why does mankind yearn for a better world? The Bible gives an explanation that is as clear as it is simple: Mankind comes from a better world! An original paradise really did exist. God’s Word describes it as “a garden” situated in a specific region in the Middle East, blessed with “every tree desirable to one’s sight and good for food.” God entrusted it to the care of the first human couple. (Genesis 2:7-15) It was an ideal setting in which humans could have been truly happy.
Why did those Paradise conditions not last? Because of the rebellion first of a spirit creature and then of the human couple. (Genesis 2:16, 17; 3:1-6, 17-19) Thus, man lost not only Paradise but also perfection, health, and endless life. The conditions that began to take hold certainly did not improve human life. On the contrary, this has progressively degenerated to the all-time low we see today.—Ecclesiastes 3:18-20; Romans 5:12; 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13.
Search for Paradise—History of an Idea
As may be imagined, “nostalgia for paradise” has a very long history. The Sumerians recalled a time in which harmony reigned in all the universe: “There was no fear, no terror, man had no rival. . . . The whole universe, the people in unison, to Enlil in one tongue gave praise,” recollected an ancient Mesopotamian poem. Some, like the ancient Egyptians, hoped to reach a better world after their death. They believed that an immortal soul reached what was named the fields of Aaru. But originally at least, this hope was open only to the aristocracy; the poor could not dream of attaining a fair world.
In a different religious area, Hindus have awaited the advent of a better world age (yuga) for centuries. According to Hindu teachings, four yugas repeat themselves in a continual cycle, and we are presently living during the worst. Unfortunately, this Kali Yuga (dark age), with all its sufferings and wickedness, will last, according to some, as long as 432,000 years. Nevertheless, faithful Hindus await the golden age, the Krita Yuga.
On the other hand, the Greeks and the Romans dreamed of reaching the mythical Fortunate Isles, in the Atlantic Ocean. And many writers, such as Hesiod, Virgil, and Ovid, spoke of a marvelous original golden age, hoping that one day it would be restored. Toward the end of the first century B.C.E., the Latin poet Virgil predicted the imminent arrival of a new and lasting aetas aurea (golden age). In the following centuries, “no fewer than sixteen Roman emperors claimed that their reigns had reestablished the Golden Age,” says The Encyclopedia of Religion. But as we well know today, that was just political propaganda.
Many Celts aspired to what they thought of as a bright land on an island (or in an archipelago) beyond the sea, where they believed that people lived in perfect happiness. According to one legend, King Arthur, even though mortally wounded, continued living after he found the marvelous island called Avalon.
In ancient times and in the Middle Ages, many thought that a garden of literal delights, the garden of Eden, still existed somewhere, “on top of an inaccessible mountain or across an impassable ocean,” explains historian Jean Delumeau. Even though the Italian poet Dante believed in a heavenly paradise, he imagined that an earthly paradise still existed on top of the mountain of his Purgatory, at the antipodes of the city of Jerusalem. Some believed that it was to be found in Asia, in Mesopotamia, or in the Himalayas. And medieval legends about an Edenic paradise fairly abounded. Many believed that close to that paradise, there was a fabulous kingdom ruled by the pious Prester John. Thanks to the proximity of the earthly paradise, life in the kingdom of Prester John was supposedly long and blissful, a perennial spring of abundance and riches. Others, mindful of the ancient Greek legends, still thought that the islands of paradise were to be found in the Atlantic. Medieval maps showed the certainty of such a belief in the existence of the garden of Eden, even indicating its presumed location.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, navigators who crossed the Atlantic were in effect searching for a world that was, at one and the same time, both new and ancient. They thought that on the other side of the ocean, they were going to find not only the Indies but also the garden of Eden. Christopher Columbus, for example, searched for it among the mountains of the temperate and tropical lands of South and Central America. European explorers who arrived in Brazil were certain that the lost paradise must be there because of the mild climate and the abundance of food and vegetation. Soon enough, though, they were forced to recognize the grim reality.
Instead of striving to locate the ideal world in some remote part of the earth, others have tried to plan it. Thus, in 1516, English humanist Thomas More described the island of Utopia, a marvelous, peaceful, and tolerant place, a far cry from the debased world he knew. Others had also tried to plan better worlds, fairer worlds: in the fourth century B.C.E., Plato with his Republic; in 1602, Italian friar Tommaso Campanella and his highly organized City of the Sun; just a few years later, English philosopher Francis Bacon in narrating “the happy and flourishing estate” of his New Atlantis. In the course of the centuries, thinkers of all kinds (whether believers or not) have described dozens and dozens of Utopias. Few, if any of them, however, were taken seriously.
There have even been those who have tried to build their Utopias. For example, in 1824 a wealthy Englishman, Robert Owen, decided to immigrate to Indiana, U.S.A., in order to realize his Utopian ideas in the village he named New Harmony. Convinced that under the right conditions, people would improve, he used nearly all his resources striving to establish what he envisioned as a new moral world. But the results demonstrated that new living conditions are not enough to produce new men.
Nearly all political ideologies maintain that man has to plan the world according to his own knowledge and his own sense of what is true in order to bring the dreamed-of paradise on earth. Yet, paradoxically, attempts to realize such aspirations have resulted in wars and revolutions, such as the French Revolution in 1789 and the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Rather than bring paradise conditions, these efforts have often led to increased pain and suffering.
Aspirations, plans, Utopias, and attempts to realize them—it is a story of one disappointment after another. In the present time, some speak of a “shattered dream” and the “end of the era of utopias,” inviting us to learn “to live without utopias.” Is there any hope of seeing a better world, or is it destined to remain just a dream?
Christians and a Better World
A new world is by no means a dream—it is a sure hope! Jesus Christ, the Founder of Christianity, knew that this present world is not the best of all possible worlds. He taught that the earth would be inherited by the mild-tempered ones and that God’s will would take place there. (Matthew 5:5; 6:9, 10) Both he and his disciples knew that this world is controlled by God’s enemy, Satan the Devil, and that this is the principal reason for mankind’s many woes. (John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 John 5:19; Revelation 12:12) Faithful Jews awaited the day in which God would once and for all time free the earth of wars, pain, and sickness in order to populate it with lovers of peace and justice. In the same way, first-century Christians confidently waited for this present world to be replaced by a new system of things, “new heavens and a new earth.”—2 Peter 3:13; Psalm 37:11; 46:8, 9; Isaiah 25:8; 33:24; 45:18; Revelation 21:1.
When Jesus Christ was hanging on the torture stake, he repeated the promise of a better world to an evildoer who showed a certain measure of faith in Him. “[Jesus] said to him: ‘Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23:40-43) What did that evildoer understand those words to mean? Did Jesus suggest that the evildoer was going to ‘be with him’ in heaven that very day, as certain Catholic and Protestant Bible translations would seem to imply? No, that was not what Jesus meant, since after his resurrection, Jesus told Mary Magdalene that He ‘had not yet ascended to the Father.’ (John 20:11-18) Though they were taught by Jesus for three and a half years, prior to Pentecost 33 C.E. not even his apostles contemplated a heavenly paradise. (Acts 1:6-11) That evildoer understood what the vast majority of Jews living at that time would have understood: Jesus was promising a better world to come on a paradise earth. One German scholar admitted: “The teaching of retribution in an afterlife simply does not appear in the Old Testament.”
That there will be a paradise on our earth is attested to by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Hebrews. When encouraging his fellow believers not to ‘neglect the great salvation that began to be spoken through Jesus Christ,’ Paul affirms that Jehovah God gave Jesus authority over the “inhabited earth [Greek, oi·kou·meʹne] to come.” (Hebrews 2:3, 5) In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the term oi·kou·meʹne always refers to our earth populated by human beings, not to a heavenly world. (Compare Matthew 24:14; Luke 2:1; 21:26; Acts 17:31.) God’s Kingdom ruled by Christ Jesus will therefore exercise dominion over the inhabited earth. That really will be an ideal place in which to live!
Even though the Kingdom itself is heavenly, it will nonetheless intervene in earth’s affairs. With what results? Infirmities, atrocities, poverty, and death will become a distant memory. Even frustration and discontent will disappear. (Revelation 21:3-5) The Bible says that ‘God will open his hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.’ (Psalm 145:16) Problems such as unemployment and pollution will have a practical and lasting solution. (Isaiah 65:21-23; Revelation 11:18) But above all, thanks to the blessing of God, there will be a triumph of truth, justice, and peace—qualities that seem to have almost disappeared!—Psalm 85:7-13; Galatians 5:22, 23.
Is all of this a dream, a Utopia? No, this most critical of all times in which we are living demonstrates that we are in “the last days” of this world and that the new world is therefore near. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Would you like to live there? Learn how it is possible by studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. A better world is near, much better than we ever dreamed. It is not a Utopia—it is a reality!
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A better world—soon a reality