The spike in the consumption of dystopian literature since Donald Trump was elected President is enlightening. On the week of January 23rd (Trump’s first week in office) the #1 bestselling book on Amazon.com was 1984; a dystopian novel written in 1948! People are, understandably, looking for answers and hope in what has been a shaky, uncertain year in America, never mention the rest of the world. Different than utopian literature, dystopian literature like 1984 portrays the story of a world in contrast to the way we feel it ought to be. Dystopian books seek to bring insight into why the world is the way it is, how it got that way, and what can be done about it. Dystopian novels always identify a villain (for 1984 it is a repressive social order, “Big Brother”), but their popularity comes, I believe, in the hopeful rising of a victorious hero. A dystopian novel with no hero or no defeater of the evil villain would be a depressing read indeed.
David Sobel, writer for Orion Magazine, wisely wrote about this up-flux of dystopian reading,
“But perhaps the more compelling, and historically consistent, feature of dystopian fiction is the hero’s quest. Faced with an unimaginable tragedy, there is a character who rises to the challenge, faces unbeatable odds, and sometimes beats them, though often suffering grueling pain in the process” (Feed the Hunger)
If this is what dystopian literature is and the reason we are so attracted to it, then I believe it is safe to classify the Bible as both utopian and dystopian at the same time. The Bible begins (Genesis 1-2) with the exploration of a world in which all is right. No wars. No hunger. No strife. No violence. No pain. No environmental concerns. No storms. No tears. The world is so perfect in fact that lion and lamb lie together and the lamb is not dinner. This utopian order of the world lasts 2 very brief chapters, whereas the dystopian order lasts the entire rest of the Bible. The dystopian order begins in Genesis 3 and is not remedied until the book of Revelation (end of the Bible), where once again the utopia is restored:
“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. 4 They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. 5 There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:1-5).
If the Bible speaks of our present dystopia, including what can be done about it, then why would the Bible not be on Amazon’s top list in recent weeks along with the other dystopian works? It could be that people in America have presuppositions about the Bible that prevent them from considering it from the start. It could be that most people do not know the Bible offers any answers to our current predicaments. Both of these would be likely propositions. However I believe the real reason the Bible is not on Amazon’s list in recent weeks is for another reason altogether.
In every dystopian story the hero is always someone we can relate to. He or she is not a perfect person, but he or she has the inner strength to rise up in the midst of a difficult situation and overcome. The reason these stories are so compelling to us is because we desperately want to believe we can overcome. We want to believe in the hero deep inside of us. In a dystopian story like Peter Pan we want to believe we could rise to the occasion if need be and save our fellow boys. Or more presently, in a situation like the Hunger Games, we want to imagine we could be like Katniss, a self-made, self-sufficient girl who can make fires, climb trees, find water and take down a squirrel with a bow and arrow if need be. We want to believe that if the world ever came to it, we could rise above the pressures, deliver and be the hero. For us New Englanders on Sunday night, all of us wanted to be Tom Brady. We wanted to be the one to come back from unbeatable odds and march into Boston on Tuesday as self-proclaimed hero.
All of us so madly want to believe we can arise and deliver and hold the torch til the end, but the Bible will not allow this ending. The Bible tells that our desire to hold the torch is the very villain that knocked us out of Utopia in the first place. The Bible says that our desire to be Superman who lives by his own rules in someone else’s world is the very thing that bumped Adam & Eve out of Paradise permanently. The Bible tells us that the Garden of Eden could have remained the utopia it was if Adam & Eve would have embedded themselves beneath the dependent, helpless, powerless assertion that they were not God nor did they have any capacity to be God. It was this exertion of power, this boldness to be one’s own god and to think oneself powerful that destroyed it all for us, and it is this fiction of powerfulness that continues to destroy our world today.
The Biblical story of the world says that the world fell apart when mankind exerted his power. This obviously does not make a great storyline for a new movie because it does not place us in the hero role; a role we so ardently want to play. In the tumultuous chaos of our time it will not do to blame the government or the rich or the elite for the state of our world. They must take responsibility for their wrongdoings, certainly. But the problem with the world is not them only; it’s also us. They may have guilt but I have the same disease. This is especially true when it comes to American politics. Politics in America is more a reflection of America than it is a influencer of America. We have formed Donald Trump into our President much more than he has formed us into his subjects.
According to the Bible every single one of us is the villain and the only hero is Jesus Christ. The solution to our wayward world, therefore, is not the more creative assertion of power or a silent uprising against the majority or a fixing of the environment to prevent future calamity (although we should care for God’s world and not irresponsibly pollute it). The solution to our wayward world is a complete and utter surrender to the one Hero of the world, Jesus Christ. It is to admit we are powerless, helpless, babies in need of nursing from our Maker not strong men who can function without one.
I do not argue that we have corrupt systems, businesses, schools, etc. and that those entities need fixing from the inside out. I do argue, however, with the form of idolatry promoted in dystopian fiction that believes we can save ourselves. Whatever problems exist in those arenas of our world exist because of sin (a desire to be our own god); and sin is not something we can save ourselves from. We need a hero for sure, but that hero is not us. The sooner we can admit we need a hero and find it in Jesus Christ the sooner our Hero will come to save us and make things right through us. As it is we cannot even intentionally be used by our Hero because when it is all said and done we want to be God more than we want to be a servant of God. To say it another way, we cannot see what is right until we see how wrong we have been. This is the Biblical narrative anyway.
Raising Jesus Christ every Sunday as the only Hero of our dystopian world~ shaun.