Today everyone wants to know how long this pandemic is going to last. So number-crunching, trend-predictors daily try to forecast the good news and bad. History-readers are sure the past is a clue to what will happen in the future. Christians read the future-oriented parts of scripture and try to understand what is happening now and what will happen soon. Everyone wants to know what’s going to happen and when. Is there a prophet in the house?
Prophets in the Bible spoke of the future but were more concerned with the times in which they lived. They did speak about the future—in order to change their own day. Think about the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah and about John the New Testament prophet who wrote the book of Revelation.
Over twenty years before it happened, Jeremiah prophesied the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of God’s people to Babylon. Was that because God wanted a generation of “preppers”? Did God intend for folks to stock-up foodstuffs, sharpen a cabinet full of swords and arrows? Were the people to form a militia to defend their land against the Babylonian invaders? Or were one and all, from King to servant, from priest to soldier, old and young supposed to listen to Jeremiah and prepare their hearts by turning to God?
In Jeremiah 18:5-10 God “tipped His hand.” God revealed the reason He gave Jeremiah and his nation a word about the future. Whether God announced a future of peace or a future of war, the purpose was to call His people to trust Him, in times of stress and times of calm, to trust Him. Old Testament history reveals the nation’s response.
But that’s all history. Jeremiah’s future is long past. What of the prophet John? (I know we seldom refer to this John, the disciple of Jesus, as a prophet; but he wrote his God-given message about the future in order to change his day—and ours.)
John wrote the book of Revelation because God revealed to him something of the future. And since John’s writing of the book, it has become a favorite for people who comb scripture trying to understand what is happening, what is going to happen, and when will it happen. Despite Jesus’ words that no one but the Father knows when the events are coming (Matthew 24:36), we can’t resist the temptation to try to figure it out. Was God teasing us with words about the future or calling us to trust Him for the future and the present? Was He calling us to insert our present crises into Revelation’s predictions (or the other future-oriented scriptures)? Or was He calling us to live with confidence and trust in this twenty-first century?
Throughout our nation, people are looking for rays of hope. People want to know when “this thing” will be over—the pandemic, the economic woes, the justice issues, the anger and fear these have brought. Even Christians have been caught up in this mood. We want out and our prayer is that God will get us out or bring an end to this. But God speaks about the future in order to change the present.
What if our lives begin to reflect faith and love as well as hope? What if our trust in God is such that we can pray truthfully “Father, if these times lead to greater trust in You, these times are good. If these crises teach us how to love as You love, these times are good. If these circumstances lead us to love the Kingdom of God and to seek it, these times are good.” Wishful thinking or God’s will for us today?