Why Bother? There’s Hope for the Dwellers in Dystopia

an African American woman wearing a VR headset, deeply immersed in a virtual reality universe. She appears to be enjoying the experience and is the main focus of the scene.

“Happy 18th birthday, man!”

“You can just flush your entire birthday and your present right down the toilet!” Jermaine flung a crumpled piece of paper at me in disgust, while making his best cat-vomiting-up-a-hairball sound. I laughed out loud and smoothed out the piece of so-called “garbage” that had been so carelessly thrown at me. To my surprise—shock, really—it was his voter registration card!

I opened my mouth to say something, but he beat me to it, and loudly complained, “why do I even bother? I mean, next week we’re supposed to have our Presidential Primaries, but all the candidates are . . . I mean, what’s the point? I’m not even going to waste the time.”

This is a Presidential voting year, and I’d been working with Jermaine for over a year; this is long enough to watch him get interested in politics, get excited about politics, and then, get over politics. I wondered how it was possible that Jermaine, who hadn’t yet voted in one political election, and was already frustrated, discouraged—jaded, even?

Presidential Pickax Plundering

On July 25, 2018, Police responded to a 911 call of a man vandalizing President Trump’s “star” with a pickax on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. At the time of the alleged perpetrator’s arrest no motive had been discovered, but it’s probably safe to say that he was not happy with the president.

In fact, the Los Angeles Times reported that “since the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump’s star has endured several publicized episodes of vandalism, including a spray-painted swastika and “mute” icon.” People have been seen stomping on it, spitting on it, and writing on it as they pass by.

“In October 2016 a man was caught on video bashing the star with a sledgehammer. He was charged with felony vandalism.”

High Hopes Smashed Again

Why do we put such high hopes on human leaders’ abilities to make things right? And when they (inevitably) don’t—or can’t—we lose it! Well, maybe not to the extent that this person did, but our basic response is the same: we get angry, frustrated—to the point of losing hope and faith in civic engagement—or in humanity altogether!
Maybe the problem is not in the hoping, but in the who we’re hoping for.

Solomon may have said it best when he wrote: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). In the Old Testament the Israelites felt the same way about their first king, Saul. God was the Israelites’ first (and best) King, but they were dissatisfied and wanted to be like the surrounding nations. They complained to God and asked for a king of their own; they told God, with a straight face, that they were dissatisfied with His leadership.

So, God picked a king for them; but only after giving them some dire warnings about what would happen if they decided to go down the “human king” road (see 1 Samuel 8). Saul was physically handsome, stunning, really. The prophet Samuel wrote that Saul stood head and shoulders above everybody else (1 Samuel 9:2). People had such high hopes for Saul, but (you guessed it) he let everyone down. God warned them that choosing a human being to try to do the job that only God could (and can) do would ultimately and always be a disaster.

So what is the answer to this age-old dilemma? Well, simply put, we need to put our faith only and consistently in God, not in human beings. But this doesn’t let us off the hook. As citizens of a democratic republic we should endeavor to choose leaders who are moral, upstanding, and God-fearing; not just in their words, but more importantly in their actions. We ultimately have to recognize what an effective and successful, God-fearing, career leader, and politician wrote: “Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. [Only] He controls the course of world events; [only] he removes kings and sets up other kings” (Daniel 2:20, 21, NLT).

God, the maker of all things, longs to be our King; both as a nation, and more importantly, in each of our hearts. When we make Him such, His Son, Jesus, the bright and beautiful Morning Star (Revelation . 22:16), can never be destroyed; not by any human with a pick-ax, and, more importantly, not by Satan!

As citizens of a democratic republic we should endeavor to choose leaders who are moral, upstanding, and God-fearing; not just in their words, but more importantly in their actions.

Utopia vs Dystopia

I try to keep up with everything the middle and high schoolers are reading. As I began to educate myself on many of the titles, I made a startling discovery: one of the most popular genres was “dystopian fiction”—stories that detail how the future will be horrendously worse than the present.

Sadly, this trend doesn’t end with these types of novels. Popular culture is dishing up scenario after scenario of oppression and genocide—toxic ecologies and toxic societies. It feels like every time I turn around, there’s another movie, book, TV show, or website injecting this perspective into our cultural psyche. It’s making me freak out a little! Can you imagine how a consistent diet of this stuff is affecting us?

This led me to three hard questions. First, is it beneficial or healthy for a culture to focus so deeply, and so often on dystopian themes? Second, why do people enjoy this genre so much? And lastly, how do we find an alternate future that is not dystopian, but instead, full of hope, peace, power and purpose?

Garbage In, Garbage Out

As a child, I would complain to my father because he would never allow me to watch TV shows or movies that were violent or scary; he would shake his finger at me and softly, but firmly, say, “Son, garbage in, garbage out.”

What we choose to focus on profoundly affects us. As a long-time mental health professional with almost 30 years in the business, I know the value and power of a positive perspective. There’s a ton of research proving the validity, benefit, and power of positive thinking. Furthermore, I have counseled many clients and can attest to the fact that if they choose to consciously focus on positive things, they have a healthier, happier overall life experience.

Interestingly enough, the apostle Paul actually gives us a wonderful checklist of what types of things we need to focus on: “ . . . keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper” (Philippians 4:8a, CEV). Furthermore, he tells us how often we need to be focusing on those things: “Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8b, CEV).

Paul tells the Roman Christians: Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Romans 12:1,2, MSG).

Why So Negative?

So what’s the draw? Why are so many people—not just teenagers and young adults—interested in negative, dystopian genre? The numbers don’t lie and consumers speak—no, they shout—their preferences with their money.

Writer, Mindy Weisberger, in her essay exploring this fascinating phenomenon, titled: “End of the World As We Know It: What’s the Draw of Dystopian Sci-Fi?” basically posits that this is a way for people, in general, to work out their own anxieties and fears into something in a somewhat productive and healthy way. She also states that, really, many people feel that dystopia is the way the world is ultimately headed—they recognize the threats of global warming, artificial intelligence, cyber-crime and weapons of mass destruction. Writers use dystopian fiction as a way to introduce and explore these serious and crucial topics in a way that promotes healthy dialogue about what can be done now to avoid a dystopian future.

The tragic truth is that many of us in this world have no real and lasting peace or hope; no personal connection with our Creator and no sense that He has a plan for our future. In the midst of all the bad news happening around the globe, it’s almost as we’re on a collision course with self-destruction. In fact, the Bible, despite its promises of a bright future, describes our present state like this: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22).

Laughing at a Funeral

Several years ago, I worked in a hospital emergency room assessing people in mental health and substance abuse crises. On one notable day, I was paged to interview a woman who was brought in because she was laughing and making merry—during a funeral! (I would later find out she was a long-time sufferer of schizophrenia and a frequent visitor to the ER.)

Do you think the people at that funeral noticed that she wasn’t sad, grieving or crying? You bet they did. She didn’t have to say a word. Her total 180-degree-deviated emotional response to the present situation clearly gave her away.

It was a tragic situation—both for the funeral-goers whose grieving was interrupted, and for the woman and her family who had a long-term serious mental illness to cope with. But it was hard not to see a funny side to what happened as well. There’s comedy in the incongruous—when there’s such an obvious mismatch. And the situation reminded me that the Bible says people who are connected to God will have “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Translation: people who don’t know God intimately won’t be able to make sense of a Christians’ unnatural peaceful and hopeful response to the apparently dystopian events that surround us.

Paul clearly makes the point that Christians have hope, not only because of what Jesus did for them on the cross, but more importantly, because of what He did for them at the tomb. Paul tells a group of believers in 1 Corinthians 15:12–26 that if Jesus hasn’t been raised from the dead, then they have believed a lie, and not just the message they’re sharing with others but, by extension, their lives as well are useless and they are without hope . . . actually worse off than unbelievers!

But, if Jesus’ resurrection is true; if it’s real, then Christians have something to look forward to, as well as something to offer this hope-less world: a forever relationship with God, the Originator and Giver of hope.

Choose Hope

Let me ask you another question: “Do you have hope?” Or to ask it another way: “If you died today, do you have a hope and a peace that you would have something to look forward to? Something better than this broken existence on this broken planet has to offer?” I certainly hope that you can answer Yes.

If you don’t have a Christian faith, don’t despair; you don’t have to be hopeless about today or tomorrow because God’s got it covered. You don’t have to read make-believe books, or watch movies or streaming shows about how much more depressing the future will be. No! You can begin to connect with and follow Jesus today—right now, in fact! He loves you so much that He came to this earth to live the perfect life, and died a horrible criminal’s death so that you could have the opportunity to live eternally with Him (John 3:16). How’s that for hope?!

If you want some real hope, read the real-life, nonfiction, last book of the Bible about God’s joy, peace, and, yes, hope. Revelation 22:3–5 says:
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
Today, purposely choose to make a paradigm shift, and focus, not on a specific candidate, political party or system, or dystopia, but on the coming utopia that having a forever relationship

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