Thursday, April 6, 2017

Pondering the Future Presents Problems in the Present

Seems like there’s no time like the present to obsess about the future. Have you noticed how much the future dominates our thinking these days? Whether it’s about what’s going to happen in the White House and Washington, D.C.; the ever-present threat of global terrorism; wondering what in the world’s going on with the weather; where the economy will go, or any number of other looming concerns, everyone’s wondering what the future holds.

I don’t know who said it first, but with each passing day the quip, “The future isn’t what it used to be,” sounds more profound. Consider the visions we held just five or 10 years ago – certainly 20 or 30 years ago – about what the future would bring. Many of these expectations have not only proved inaccurate, but we’ve also discovered some of what did happen didn’t fit anything we could have imagined.

As a boy and young man, I enjoyed pondering the future. I read a lot about it – books by H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and others captivated me. No one has yet invented a means for time travel, but that hasn’t stopped the making of films like “Back to the Future” and its sequels, dystopian horror-thrillers that feed on fears of what may lie ahead, or the recent surge of time-travel dramas on TV that explore both past and future.

It’s a good thing the future doesn’t hit us all at once. As Abraham Lincoln noted, “The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.” In his case, this observation was especially poignant since President Abe had no inkling of his tragic encounter at the Ford Theatre with John Wilkes Booth.

Even minor car accidents have a way of
thrusting aside concerns for the future.
Even one day at a time, however, anticipating the future can prove unsettling. This is hardly a 21st century phenomenon. Fretting about what the next hour, day, week or year might present is a practice as old as time. Wondering is one thing – but worrying is quite another.

In addressing how pointless it is to worry about what could be, Jesus offered this caution: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Proverbs 27:1 expressed this truth a bit differently: Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”

As we’re stewing over tomorrow’s uncertainties, unplanned and unexpected events have a way of rattling our todays. Like my quick run to the grocery store several weeks ago when another driver steered her car into mine. She apparently forgot the law of physics that two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time. My planned few-minute trip lasted nearly a half-hour, and portions of the next several days were spent dealing with the aftermath.

For those of us who profess to follow Jesus Christ, preoccupation with the future is symptomatic of an even greater problem: Lack of trust in the Lord. Speaking to an assembled crowd, Jesus asked, Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? (Luke 12:25-26).

Perhaps this realization was a backdrop for King Solomon’s declaration when he said, Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom(Ecclesiastes 9:10). We risk becoming so concerned about the future we can’t control that we fail to properly handle matters that are within our present control.

As the apostle James wrote, Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes(James 4:14). Sobered by the realization that we could be here today and gone tomorrow, we’d be wise to give the present most of our attention. It’s foolish to get “misty” about the future with the concrete present at hand.

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