At Work & Public Square & Theology 101

What Advent and Interstellar Teach Us about Human Progress

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I’ve always thought human progress to be somewhat of a paradox. The world seems to be getting both better and worse at the same time.

On the one hand, I am amazed when I think about human progress:

  • A few years ago, I certainly never dreamed of a drone delivering packages to my doorstep or 3D printing my own kitchen appliances at home. But both will likely be realities soon, and this gives me hope for a better future.
  • Over half of the world’s worst poverty has been eradicated since 1980.
  • Global life expectancy is at an all-time high.
  • There is even an app designed to fight government corruption in oppressed nations.

But on the other hand, one hour of the nightly news makes us well aware of the sin and suffering in the world.

  • Fears of climate change, degradation of the family, escalating unrest in the Middle East, and mass persecution of Christians around the world make it easy to think the world is only getting worse.
  • Sometimes it may seem like our society is ever-backtracking in the moral sense, even though we know, “there is nothing new under the sun” as King Solomon said (Ecclesiastes 1:9). The obvious evils I see on a day to day basis give me a strong sense of longing for a better world.

Why is the world like this, in such paradox? So full of hope and flourishing, yet so full of despair and longing for a better world?

Are we supposed to love the world or want to escape it? I found insight to these questions in both ancient Christian tradition and modern pop culture.

Advent and Interstellar

Thinking about Advent in the context of this human progress paradox, I see the same themes: longing and hope.

Advent is a time to reflect on the first coming of Christ, but also a time to long and prepare for his second coming. Contemplating the first coming of Christ gives us a renewed hope that our present longing will be fulfilled one day in complete joy.

Oddly enough, I saw the same theme in Christopher Nolan’s recent film, Interstellar.

Facing a global crop blight, a second Dust Bowl, and limited educational and career opportunities for his children, main character Joseph Cooper sees a suffering world and longs for a better one. He says, “Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here,” implying that the world is not our ultimate home.

Cooper longs, yet remains optimistic despite the poverty and despair surrounding him. He says to NASA scientist Professor Brand, “We will find a way Professor, we always have.”

His hope for future flourishing is driven by his understanding of man’s capacity to create and adapt, as well as his love for his family.

Longing and hope for a better world is one of the primary motivators for Cooper and his NASA colleagues in their decision to risk their lives to travel through a wormhole in order to save the world.

The combination of longing and hope seems to work powerfully together. The sense of unease that longing creates, and the sense of wonder and glory that hope elicits, creates somewhat of a catalyst for humankind to accomplish great things and truly progress.

God’s Plan for His People

We will probably never be able to fully explain why the world seems like it’s always getting better and worse at the same time.

One thing I do know is that God wants us to fully long and to fully hope at the same time, whether it’s through Christian traditions like Advent, Hollywood films like Interstellar, or all the horrible and glorious things happening around us and to us each and every day.

It’s exactly what we need in order to recognize our desperate need for Christ, while at the same time having full confidence in the day he will come again to make all things new.

Now when I look at the world and see such dreadful sufferings and wonderful marvels side by side, I no longer think of the world as a paradox of human progress, but as God’s perfect design in giving us just what we need to draw closer to him.

We are supposed to love the world dearly, while at the same time, we must desire a world much greater.

This is exactly what Cooper did in Interstellar. The combination of longing and hope acted as a powerful motivator for him, driving him to take huge risks to accomplish great things for others.

If you lived your everyday life in the spirit of Advent, in full longing and full hope for Christ, how might that affect what you set out to accomplish right now on Earth? While suffering is everywhere, God’s plan for his people is flourishing – true human progress – here and now as only a glimpse of what is to come.

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