Friday, September 23, 2011

The Future Through the Eyes of the Past

A couple of weeks ago I was watching the 1987 non-classic Arnold Schwarzenegger science fiction film, “The Running Man”. And no, I’m not proud of this. The film tells the tale of a man in the totalitarian future of 2017 who is unjustly accused of a crime and is therefore sentenced to fight for his life on a gladiatorial TV reality show. Based on a Stephen King story, the film attempts to say profound things about the dangers of voyeuristic media but is chiefly remembered for the being the one place you can see Richard Dawson outside of “Hogan’s Heroes” reruns and “Family Feud” Youtube clips.

But the reason I bring this fairly lame film up is because of a prop used in the film. Again, the film is set thirty years in the future for the filmmakers and is six years in the future for us. There are many scenes of sadistic TV show host Dawson making threats and demands in his phone. So the film’s property master was assigned to make this phone of the future.

The property master had to think about what a phone of the future would look like. He or she came up with a kind of cool design of a thin, white cylinder for the phone. And it’s corded. Yes, this phone of the future is not a cell phone and Dawson is tethered to a 5 foot radius as he plots his nefarious schemes with his evil phone buddies.

The makers of the film didn’t dream of such a thing as a cell phone, or even a cordless one.

This is an interesting thing about science fiction film and literature. It often says more about the time it was written rather than the future. If you watch 1960’s era Star Trek you’ll believe that the future is mini-skirts and sideburns. According to “2001” Pan Am took us on commuter flights to the moon a decade ago -- but sadly, Pan Am is no more.

And “Back to the Future II” says that in three years we’ll still be going to books to look up our sports trivia.

That’s one of the big things the creators of science fiction missed. The internet. With all the whiz-bang rockets, robots and computers envisioned throughout the first ninety percent or so of the twentieth century, no one imagined what has become a central facet of modern life.

All this makes me think of heaven. Yeah, it’s a long and winding road from Arnold schlock films to the Celestial City, but I think it’s worth the trip.

Those who write about the future are limited by the vision of the present. In 1638, Francis Godwin, the Bishop of Hereford, made the bold imaginative step of writing about a trip to the moon. But the mode of transportation of the hero of the tale is a chariot pulled by geese. It wasn’t in Godwin to imagine rockets.

In the same way, we have a difficult time imagining heaven. As Christians we might inwardly mock the Muslim vision of heaven for men as the Prohibition singles bar where seven babes are waiting.

But is our vision much better?

We think of seeing loved ones or a grand banquet or a big mansion and Scripture allows for those images. But there will be more than we can imagine.

C. S. Lewis said our attempts to envision heaven are like a little boy who’s told about the intimate love between a man and woman. The boy wonders if chocolate is involved.

A simple rule about Heaven: Jesus in John 14:2 said that He is going to prepare a place for us. He said in John 10:10 that He came to bring us life to the full. Whatever we think of as glorious in Heaven will be a mere shadow of what is to come. It will be so much better than we can think.

But to close on a completely different note: we are just eight years from the time of “Blade Runner”. Where’s my hover car?

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