December 18, 2015: this is the date for the next installment of the Star Wars saga. And while Star Wars fans eagerly await the release of Episode VII, there’s still a lot to appreciate about the previous movies. One of the lesser gems is that Star Wars fans were able to catch a closer glimpse, in film, of what the planet Alderaan looked like before the Death Star infamously blew it up in Episode IV: A New Hope. It appears to be a beautiful planet (even if it was CGI created), with majestic mountain vistas and sweeping modern architecture. The Alderaan revealed in Revenge of the Sith is a virtual synthesis of nature and man-made technology. Were such a world to exist in reality, environmentalists would be proud.
I think Christians can learn something from George Lucas’s imagination. Theologians note that the grand sweep of Scripture is one from a garden in Genesis (the Garden of Eden) to a city in Revelation. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea existed no longer. I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:1-2). 1 As I’ve noted elsewhere on this blog, we live in between times. On some level, with Christ’s incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, a new time is already here as Christ’s presence began the inauguration of a new and heavenly kingdom. But while the invisible reality is already present in the church, the people of God who is Christ’s body, God’s kingdom of shalom will not be fully and visibly completed until Christ’s return.
Nevertheless, early Christian communities were very much taken with the idea of a new heaven and new earth. Rather than just try to save individual souls for heaven, their imaginings of the new reality led them to act here on earth. They shared their belongings in a social system that was probably more effective and characterized by more freedom than any our lumbering government is likely to accomplish. They cared for the sick and ill when such people were outcasts in Jewish and Roman society, creating the first hospitals. Through their actions as the body of Christ, they continued Christ’s example of ushering in a new social reality in their communities.
As exciting as such truth and goodness is, let me complete the triad of transcendental virtues by applying George Lucas’s vision above to beauty. In his book, The Space Between, Eric O. Jacobsen shows a typical image of life in the United States. In the image, one can spot a KFC, Michael’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, 7-Eleven, and other billboard signs. There are cars driving on a busy asphalt road. Above the image, Jacobsen asks, “Do you know what this is a picture of?” The answer that he gives below the image is, “This is the most advanced civilization in the world.” 2 A few paragraphs later, he writes the following:
In most places throughout history, the public realm was where a country showed the rest of [the] world what it valued and what it was capable of. The public realm is where a citizenry would put its most gracious plazas and its most beautiful buildings.
But the public realm in this country is, with few exceptions, rather unremarkable and even depressing. And this somehow seems wrong to us. 3
It seems wrong to me, too. I love the Front Range of Colorado. I love driving through Colorado Springs, Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins: those very communities are veritable gateways to some of the most beautiful scenery on earth. But when I see the ghettos, the sprawling houses that create a sea of roofs, old and ramshackle buildings, sometimes I wonder if we developed it all wrong and at odds with what God had planned for us.
If you live in the above Front Range communities, or even if you’ve just traveled through them, imagine those places as George Lucas did: gleaming, organic spires that reflect a more human view of aesthetics than the drab rectangular skyscrapers common to modern architecture. Such a world would use more vertical construction, thereby negating the need for excess horizontal sprawling. Not only would this reduce traffic, leading people to walk or bike more to their destinations, it would be better for the earth itself as urban areas would consume less land area.
Look, I’m no hippie or environmentalist. I realize we live in a fallen world and many of our economic and environmental choices force trade-offs or one kind or another. It is our responsibility to do the best we can in a sin-infested world, one that groans and awaits Christ’s second coming. But let’s do what we can, however small it may be. It may not result in the world George Lucas envisioned, but – at least for Christ-followers – that doesn’t mean we stop trying. In the meantime, let us look forward to and imagine the new earth to come. And just as the early church followed after the truth and goodness of God’s kingdom on earth, may our God-given imaginations prompt us to create the aesthetics of the new reality. After all, Alderaan may just be a hyperspace jump away.
1 Eschatology is a fancy word for the study of end times. It is a field fraught with differing interpretations. I believe it is important to have an understanding of Jewish cosmology and symoblism to interpreting it accurately. For instance, I do not believe that there will really be no seas in the new earth. For the Jewish people, the seas symbolized darkness and evil. With that in mind, this passage is affirming the complete goodness of God and absence of evil. Similarly, while I believe there will be cities in the new heaven and earth, I do not think we should interpret the new Jerusalem too literally. I think there will be more than one city and that the new Jerusalem is symbolic of God’s complete inhabiting of our cities and communities. For just as God’s glorious presence resided with the old Jerusalem in the Old Testament, so in the new reality God’s presence will be totally immanent and absent of any parallel presence of sin.
2 Eric O. Jacobsen, The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), EPUB e-book, 31.