The Future of Emptiness
2016 has come and gone. As the Steve Miller Band so mesmerizingly reminded us in 1976, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.” We are, in many respects, now living in George and Judy’s world. What was once considered impossible (or, was only dreamed of as being possible) is now part of the very fabric of the everyday experience of those living in the Western world. The irony? People are just as hopeless and unhappy as ever. Though men continue to grasp for a utopian society of sorts, a sense of malaise is shared by even the cultural innovators themselves. No amount of manufactured optimism can ever take it away. No pessimism overcomes the sense that there has to be more. If we’ve learned anything in 2016, it’s that you can’t cure hopelessness by technological advances, emotional appeals or medication. So why, if there are more cultural and technological achievements than ever before, are people just as–if not more empty than ever before? The answer is actually quite simple.
The old prophet summed up this perennial problem when he wrote:
“A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.”
Herman Bavinck carried this truth thousands of years forward into our modern world when he wrote:
“Among all peoples of the world, we encounter a sense of sin and misery, and all feel the need and a hope for redemption. Optimism is powerless to override the first fact and to completely reconcile human beings to themselves and the world. Pessimism, however, never succeeds in undoing the second fact and in eradicating hope for the future from the human heart…Granted, human beings have at their disposal many means to maintain themselves in the struggle of existence and to protect themselves against the forces of violence. They are not alone but live in communities. They can combine forces with others and seek strength in union. They have brains to think with, hands to work with, and can by labor and struggle conquer, establish, and expand a place for themselves in the world. It is noteworthy, however, that all theses aids and supports are not enough for them. However much people may have achieved culturally, they are never satisfied with it and do not attain the redemption for which they are thirsting. For while all culture satisfies needs, it also creates and arouses needs.
While, on the one hand, culture prompts men to take pride in the great progress they have made, on the other, it gives them a progressively clearer sense of the long road they still have to travel. To the degree people subdue the world under their feet, to that degree they feel more and more dependent on those heavenly forces against which, with their limited power and puny means, they avail nothing. To the extent they solve problems, to that extent they see the riddles of the world and of life multiply and increase in complexity. As they dream of progress and civilization, they at the same time see opening up before them the instability and futility of the existing world. Culture has great, even incalculable, advantages but also brings with it its own peculiar drawbacks and dangers. ‘The more abundantly the benefits of civilization come streaming our way, the emptier our life becomes.'”1
The emptiness that perpetually resides in man’s heart and life is a direct byproduct of the fall and can only be removed by the Redeemer. The great need for all men in 2017 is not that which necessity and the human imagination produces. Our great need continues to be the reconciliation of man to God through the only Savior and Mediator, Jesus Christ. Augustine summarized this so succinctly at the end of the 4th Century (and it holds no less true today) when he said, “Our heart is restless until it finds its rest in You.” The human heart has an insatiable sense that there is more, precisely because there is more. There is so much more in the economy of God’s eternal plan. As you “dream of progress and civilization” and, in turn, come to terms with the fact that “the more abundantly the benefits of civilization come streaming your way, the emptier your life becomes,” may God grant you the grace to see that time is not simply “slippin’ into the future”–it is moving toward the reconciliation of all things in heaven and on earth in Christ.
There is a day of consummation coming–a utopia that far exceeds anything that the human mind or heart could imagine. For those in Christ, it will be a day of eternal joy and rest. For those who reject the only Mediator and Redeemer, it will be a day of unimaginable sorrow and misery that never ends. In 2017, may God send an outpouring of His Spirit and grant that men and women everywhere will come to Christ for the rest that He alone can provide through His redeeming death and resurrection.
1. Bavinck, H., Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2006). Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ (Vol. 3, p. 327). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.