A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Do You Really Want to Know the Future?

The stories of late concerning massive fish kills in Arkansas and Florida and the hundreds of birds that have literally dropped out of the sky dead over Arkansas, Louisiana, Italy, and Sweden have led to lots of speculation as to what is going on. That the cause is natural is highly likely, but that hasn't stopped some conspiracy theorists, who think everything is a government plot, from speculating. And while most Christians have refrained from shouting that it is another sign of the end times, some have pondered that it might indeed be the case, especially in light of Zephaniah 1:1-3:

The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi son of Gedaliah son of Amariah son of Hezekiah, in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah.

I will utterly sweep away everything
from the face of the earth, says the Lord.

I will sweep away humans and animals;
I will sweep away the birds of the air
and the fish of the sea.

I will make the wicked stumble.
I will cut off humanity
from the face of the earth, says the Lord.

In this post I am not interested in how one should read and interpret apocalyptic and prophetic texts, though that is certainly important. I will only say that such writers as Tim LaHaye seriously distort the biblical texts in their eschatological weather forecasting. Whether or not The Left Behind series is good literature or not, others will have to judge, but it is definitely based on an extremely bad reading of Scripture.

What is of interest to me at the moment is how almost obsessed some Christians are with knowing the future. In every church I have served, there are parishioners who want me to lead a Bible study on the book of Revelation; and in every church I respond that I am more than willing to do so, but they will be disappointed if they think they are going to get a road map outlining current events and their meaning for the future. I suppose there is this deep desire in the human psyche to know the future so we can somehow prepare for it. But one thing is certain: the biblical writers are not nearly as interested in the details of what is to come as they are in affirming that the future as well as the present are in the hands of God.

One thing I ask people who regularly comb the pages of the Bible in order to discover what is to come, is "Are you sure you really want to know the future?" If we give a little bit of thought to it, is the knowledge of what is to come something we can live with? Do we want to know the date and time of our death? Do we want to know how we will die? Do we want to know how and when our children will die? Do we want to when we will lose the job we love or do we want to know that our son is going to marry manipulative wife, or that our daughter is going to marry a no-good loser for a husband? When we think about it, do we really want to know what is to come? And for those who say they want to know the future so they can avoid the disasters that are coming, I respond that if we could change things because of our knowledge of the future, then it would no longer be the future. Moreover, the Bible gives us better advice on how to avoid some of the difficulties yet to come-- make wise and prudent decisions in the present. Should it not be sufficient for Christians, who believe that God is in charge, to know that as we journey into the future, come what may, God travels with us?

The late Archbishop of Canterbury, F. Donald Coggan, wrote the following prayer many years ago:

O Lord God who hast called thy servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by ways as yet untrodden, through perils unknown, give us faith to go out with a good courage not knowing whither we go but only that thy hand is leading us and thy love supporting us, to the glory of thy great name. Amen.

Jesus himself said, Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today (Matthew 6:34).

Friends, let us not worry about the future; for God is already there.
*For some brief commentary on this passage see John Byron's post on the matter.


Jim Jensen, Jr. said...

Allan, I couldn't agree more. But we do need to figure out what actually _is_ happening, biologically, before we end up with a real disaster of "Biblical proportions" (sorry, couldn't resist) on our hands.

Incidentally, at my last appointment I finally broke down under repeated pestering and taught a Bible study on the Revelation of John (which required a lot of study myself). To my surprise, no one in the study objected to a more contextually sound interpretation (though a few NOT taking the class had a fit).


Allan R. Bevere said...

Jim, I've had the same experience-- No one objects to my approach, but every time I have taught it, some stop coming after three or four weeks because once they realize they are not going to get the details of what is to come, they lose interest.