“Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” James 4:13–14 NLT
I was talking to my grandfather this afternoon and he told me something that seemed to be extremely profound and wise. He said, “I’m actually glad I don’t know the future.” What a counter-cultural, “upside-down” statement for someone to make. Think about all of the money spent on “fortune-telling” in our world today. And for those inside the church, we have our own version of this often cloaked under the guise of “prophecy.” The bottom line is most people want to know what’s next.
I think in some ways this is a form of idolatry. Here’s why I say that: The unknown element of the future is one of the few mysteries left in our world today. Not knowing what’s next requires you to have a little faith. We know the past for the most part, or a least our past. We know where we’ve been, the people we’ve met, the mistakes we’ve made, and the joys we’ve experienced. We also know where we are in this present moment. Most people understand (or should) where they are and what got them to this point. But what we really want to know is what’s next. What should I do next? Where will I be? Who will it be with? What type of work will it require from me? Will it be painful? If so, will I have enough resolve to make it through it? These are the questions that dominate most people’s lives, but apparently not my grandfather’s.
The more I think about it, the more I believe he has it right. Knowing what is ahead would be a terrible burden to carry. We would dread each twist and turn. We would fight against the future in an attempt to chart our own course. We would, ultimately, try to remove God from the equation. That’s honestly why so many people want to possess the power to foretell what’s coming next, so they don’t have to rely on faith. The problem with being “future oriented” and constantly worrying about “what’s next” is that you might miss what’s right in front of you.
The funny thing is that the Bible does not go into as much detail about the “future” as some claim it does. Scripture more often talks about the past and the present. God calls us to remember so that we can be reminded that He is faithful and so that we can learn from past mistakes. God calls us to engage this present moment because it is all that we have been promised. As far as the future goes, He tells us to trust that He is good and hope in Him alone.
Hope is a beautiful thing when it is exercised in the right context. Misplaced hope is a dangerous and destructive thing. Hope is a different mindset than believing that “everything will be ok” on this side of heaven. Hope is a different mindset than believing “what’s next” will be painless. That is misplaced hope and something God just doesn’t promise you. Hope is trusting that God will somehow, someway reconcile all things to Himself either on this side or the other. Faith is believing that this process is already underway. So, I guess I’m with my grandfather: I’m actually glad I don’t know the future. I simply want to remember the past, be faithful in this present moment, and put my hope in God alone.