John Stackhouse says we cannot reclaim Eden, we cannot achieve Utopia, and we are not going to some pearly-gated community:
We do not go back to the garden, and we do not go up to heaven. We go forward to the garden city of the New Jerusalem:
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
"And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.'
This vision is our "imagined future," without a clear sense of which no one can resist the relentless conformist pressures of our culture and strive for something different and better. This vision is the hope of shalom, the rich Hebrew word that goes far beyond the cessation of hostility and disruption to encompass flourishing: each element (human, animal, plant and so on) flourishing as itself, enjoying flourishing relationships with everything else, and joining with all creation in flourishing relationship with God.
We therefore should engage in life avoiding especially two deadly sins and according to two lively principles.
The deadly sins most pertinent here are pride and sloth. Reinhold Niebuhr is well known for admonishing us for the sin of pride, whether in thinking we can replace the current order with one that will work nicely for everyone or in congratulating ourselves that we already have achieved a perfectly just order in this or that institution. In his own day, in the middle of the twentieth century, his main targets were Marxist utopianism and liberal optimism, both of which, half a century later, we even more clearly see have not delivered on their extravagant promises.
We can also take aim, however, at a truly foolish pride at the individual level, the pride of Disney movies and after-school television shows, the pride of university graduation addresses and sales seminars: "You can be anything you want to be. You can have it all, and you can do it all. The world is your oyster and you are the captain of your ship." No, no, no, no. This is a deadly sin, and to indulge fully in it will mean ruthlessly treating others as mere objects until one is finally a living corpse oneself, a ravening black hole of unfulfilled ambition.
Niebuhr also, however, cautions us against the complementary sin, a sin that is perhaps in more need of exposure today in a time of greater doubt, even despair, over the possibility of real, lasting and beneficial transformation of ourselves or of the institutions in which we work. Niebuhr warns us against "sensuality," by which he means the abandonment of our freedom in order to take refuge in the status quo - what Karl Barth perhaps more helpfully called "sloth." Writes Niebuhr, sloth "represents an effort to escape from the freedom and the infinite possibilities of spirit by becoming lost in the detailed processes, activities and interests of existence, an effort which results inevitably in unlimited devotion to limited values."
We need [then] to be guided by the two lively principles of realism and hope. We must not assume that we can completely remake anything in our world, but we also must not assume that things must remain as they are...Where you want to go, and where you think you're going, affects who you think you are, what you value, and what you try to do. We are not going backward to the Eden. We are not going up to heaven. We are not going upward to Utopia. We are going forward to the new city and the new earth.
That is a compelling vision of the future. That is a star on the horizon by which we can steer each day, realistically taking life's difficulties as they come, but never losing hope as that star shows the way.