Monday, April 16, 2018

What does the Future Hold?

A woman visits a fortuneteller to inquire what her future holds.  The fortuneteller goes into a trance-like state for about a minute, during which time she groans and shacks and gasps with fear.  When she emerges from this condition, the fortuneteller says to woman, “You need to prepare yourself to be a widow because your husband will die a horrible, violent death within a year.”  The woman, visibly shaken, takes a few deep breaths, steadies her voice, and says, “I have one more question… will I be acquitted?”

As near as we can tell, humans are the only creatures on the planet who wonder about the future.  Every parent and grandparent who has held a newborn baby has looked into the infant’s eyes and wondered what the future holds.  Who and what will this child become?  As children, teenagers, and young adults we ask this same question about ourselves.  Who will I be in life?  What will I do? 

We wonder about the future of the world in which we live.  No era in history has experienced the kind of rapid change we have today and the pace of innovation is only going to accelerate.  Businesses specializing in futurism – thinking about what is next and helping corporations figure out how to profit from it – are booming.  Many report their revenues are doubling on a yearly basis.  Why are we so interested in the future?  Well, as George Burns once said, “I look to the future because that’s where I’m going to spend the rest of my life.”

Harvard theoretical physicist Michio Kaku has written several books about the future.  I started to read one, but put it down when he began to describe the inevitability within 100 years humans will live forever by having our personalities downloaded to a hard drive.  This, I thought, is not a world in which I want to live, if you can actually call it ‘living’. 

For those of us who won’t be around long enough for technological ‘advances’ to enable us to spend eternity as an Apple computer, we wonder what the next life holds.  We turn to religion for answers.  There seems to be three main possibilities.  One holds there is nothing after this life.  Once you die you are done.  Another possibility is the soul is eternal and gets reincarnated in some new form, either as a person or a plant or an animal.  This is a popular notion in many eastern religions.  A final option is the soul lives on, perhaps in a place like what we call heaven.  Within this position there are many nuanced possibilities, such as a bodily resurrection.    
As I read the bible I do not find one single, specific, vision of the future, but rather several different ideas and possibilities.  It is a mansion prepared by Jesus with a specific room for each one of us.  It is a place we to which we will go immediately after we die – “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”  Or, it is a place we go only after Jesus returns and wakes the dead from their sleep.  It is a city called New Jerusalem, which in the Book of Revelation descends from the sky and is established on this earth.  Other images abound, which you might try to reconcile into one coherent vision, but I choose not to.  Embedded in these diverse images is a deeper hope of heaven being a place where dying is no more, neither sorrow nor crying.  It is a place of joy and peace and light. 

This morning we hear the author of I John (whom scholars refer to as “the Elder”) speak very honestly about what we know and don’t know about the future.  Here is what we know.  “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”  The Greek word for what used here in “what love” literally means “of what country?”  What an amazing kind of love it is, something totally foreign to us, that we should be called children of God.  God’s love is as astonishing as it is bewildering.  Why should a sinner like you or like me be considered by God to be God’s very own child?  There is nothing we can do to make this happen.  It is a designation and opportunity either we graciously accept or defiantly reject.

“Beloved,” writes the Elder, “we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.  What we do know is this: when Jesus is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”  This, I think, is the single best statement in all of Scripture about the future.  Right now we are God’s children.  We don’t know exactly what the future holds, but we hope and believe one day we will see Jesus and when we do, we will be become like him.  I am comfortable with this sort of minimalist statement.  To argue for anything more is to push the envelope of what is believable or provable.  It adjusts our vision from the future – what will become of us – to who we are now – beloved children of God.  And as beloved children, how should we act and what should we do?

When I was in my twenties, Nike aimed an advertising campaign at young men like me.  Featuring Michael Jordon – the most extraordinary basketball player of the time – it featured commercials of this incredible athlete doing amazing things on the court and it ended with the slogan “Be like Mike.”  It was grounded in the premise we all want to imitate greatness.  The Elder encourages us to be like Jesus.  Purify yourself, just as he is pure.  Do what is righteous, just as he is righteous.  Every time in this life we get a glimpse of Jesus, we are compelled to become a little more like him.  In the end, when we see him in all his glory and majesty, we will become like him.  This is the faith and the hope I will carry with me to the grave and to what is beyond the grave.     

What does the future hold?  It is a question we ponder, some more than others.  It is a question that controls and consumes some people.  The Elder encourages us to hold it lightly with regard to the specifics and the details.  More important is now, today.  Today, now, you are a beloved child.  The question is, will you live and act the part?