Why We Need Not Fear The Future
Reflecting on the future of the human race, Anne Lamott said candidly:
A hundred years from now?
All new people.
Similarly, George Bernard Shaw quipped:
Life’s ultimate statistic
is the same for all people:
One out of one dies.
I’ve always liked reading Anne Lamott and George Bernard Shaw because both of them cut to the chase and, raw and unfiltered, tell the truth about life. And the truth about life is, at least for now, that life is temporary, fleeting and fading…
…like a vapor.
Because the current mortality rate is “one out of one,” none of us gets to ride off into the sunset. At least it doesn’t seem that way.
But for those whose personal stories are anchored in the Story of Jesus, the threat of death, we are told, is not a cause for despair. To be sure, it is a cause for momentary grief and sorrow and weeping, but attentive hearts also know that death is a prequel to Paradise. The Bridegroom and the Garden-City of God await, ready to catch us on the other side:
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, 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, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Trustworthy and true. What a relief.
In the end, death will lose its sting. Because Jesus is risen, we, too, will rise with renewed bodies and perfected hearts, minds and motives. If we can imagine it (and even if we can’t), every single day will be better than the day before. The “aging process” will no longer be marked by getting older and weaker, but younger and stronger, for infinite days.
This future vision, anchored and secured and irrevocably etched into the pages of Scripture, presents us with a hope that can carry us “through many dangers, toils and snares.” Its promise is that for every believer, the worst-case future scenario is resurrection and everlasting life in Jesus. Yes, in the end, that’s as bad as it can possibly get for us in Jesus…uninterrupted, unhindered, perpetual bliss in the Garden-City of God with a tree in its center that is there for the healing of the nations.
The empty tomb affirms that all these things are, and forever will be, trustworthy and true.
But what about now? What about the in-between time—these broken, never-predictable, wild, sorrow-filled, out-of-our-control, afflicted, fallen days in which we live? These are the days that bear hopeful glimpses and shadows of the world to come, but they are also the days that are, as Job the sufferer reminds us…numbered and hard.
This is a critical question for me, if for no other reason that scores of people look to me for answers to this critical question…because I am a pastor.
As a pastor, part of my job is to help others through the numbered-ness and hardness of their days. But like those to whom I am called to minister, I am also a jar of clay, a finite and fallen man, restless and frail, foolish and vulnerable, self-doubting and sometimes doubting of God.
I have been anxious and depressed. I have doubted my calling and been through a vocational crisis. I have questioned the meaning of life and begged God to end it all. I have contemplated the inevitability of my own death. I have, at times, been made vulnerable—having been involuntarily “lifted up” by the Creator who, as C.S. Lewis faithfully reminds us, is always good but never safe—and have been struck by Him.
And yet, even (and especially?) in the striking, we also find an occasion to rest in the mercies of God. Said Annie Dillard in her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:
I had been my whole life a bell,
and never knew it until at that moment
I was lifted up and struck.
Even and, if our hearts can receive it, especially from this place of affliction, it is from this place of being struck, that God intends for us to become most receptive and most consciously needful of a story that offers hope—one that, as N.T. Wright would say, helps us to imagine God’s future into our present sorrows and losses, and in the imagining—in finding our place in the Story that is trustworthy and true—find truth, beauty, meaning and hope.
Isn’t this true of us all, that we need a Story of life that outlasts the story of death—a Story that says, “Hang in there and hang on, for this shall pass”—a Story that helps us find joy in the sorrow, beauty in the ashes, light in the darkness, intimacy in the fear, love in the losses, water in the wilderness, music in the angst, and yes, even life in the dying?
The truth of death from Anne Lamott and George Bernard Shaw notwithstanding, there is also a truth that assures us that, though “one out of one dies,” one out of one in Jesus also lives forever, world without end.
Having said all of these things, I think I’ll give C.S. Lewis the last word this time—it’s an excerpt from The Great Divorce, which has been a great comfort to me…especially in the low times:
(You) cannot in your present state understand eternity…That is what mortals understand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into glory…the good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven…” And (they) will speak truly.
Lord, give us eyes to see, and hearts to receive. For your words–all of them–are trustworthy and true.
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