Ebenezer Scrooge, when he met the Spirit of Christmases-Yet-to-Come, said, “Of all the spirits I find you the most dreadful.” And when he says that in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, we all somehow understand what he means.
The thought of that which is yet to come can often stir a tremendous dread in our hearts. The future – that which is yet to
come – is the least known, the least knowable of the three time frames of our lives – past, present, and future. And evidence of the almost universal anxiety that we human beings feel about the future – even among us modern, rational Americans – can be seen in the fascination we have with such supposed future-telling methods as horoscopes. Just about every newspaper in America includes a horoscope. Think about that for a moment.
Newspaper space is really quite valuable. Anyone who has paid for advertising knows in dollars and cents terms just how valuable those newspaper column inches can be. And yet, every day in nearly every newspaper in the country, bottom-line focused publishers and hard-news oriented editors devote often a couple of columns of space to what some self-proclaimed astrological expert thinks about the future based on the motions of astronomical objects. Why on earth would they do that? They do it because a large number of people who buy their newspaper want the horoscope to be there.
Lots of rational, sensible modern Americans regularly check out their horoscope. Now, I’m sure that if you were to ask the average reader of horoscopes in American newspapers if they actually believed that astrology could accurately predict their future, they would say that they don’t really and that they just read it for its entertainment value.
But whether all those horoscope readers really believe that astrology is a reliable window into their future or whether they only wish it were, the fact that horoscopes are popular enough to command valuable newspaper space in modern America is testimony to the fact that in all of us there is a deep-seated desire to know what the future holds in store for us. And when we feel as though we do not or cannot know what our future holds, we are prone to feel more and more anxious. When Scrooge speaks of his dread of what may be yet to come, he speaks a word that we all understand in our heart of hearts.
Of course, the future stirs all sorts of feelings in us. When we are feeling optimistic, we may feel excitement and anticipation about what we think may be coming. But then, we watch the television news or scan the front page of the paper, and the uncertainty of our troubled world washes over us. Then dread and anxiety creeps up in our throats. I’m confident that there is no one reading this column, who is not intimately familiar with worry and anxiety about what the future may hold for us. It is a universal human experience.
Jesus himself recognizes our tendency to worry and feel anxious. One of my favorite passages for those times of worry in my own life comes from Jesus Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6: 31, 32, “So do not worry saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ . . . your heavenly Father knows that you need [these things].” Apparently Jesus knows just how prone we human beings are to worry. And why shouldn’t he know? He’s lived in this world the same as we have. And so he tells not to worry, but he also gives us a reason why we shouldn’t worry. We shouldn’t worry, because our heavenly Father knows what we need.
In the past several “Pastor Note” posts to this blog, I’ve been writing about the tenses of faith: past tense, present tense, and now future tense. We live our lives in the context of time. We can’t live any other way. And so that means that our faith finds expression also in the context of time. That’s what I mean, when I talk about the “tenses of faith.” We are to live our lives by faith. But that faith will take on a different form depending on what its orientation in time is. First I described to you how faith, that is oriented toward the past, that is, faith that remembers, takes the form of gratitude. In other words, the past tense of faith is remembering and gratitude. Second, I described to you, how faith that is oriented toward the present takes the form of obedience. In other words, the present tense of faith is obedience.
And now I am describing to you the future tense of faith. This future tense of faith is the opposite of worry and anxiety. The Bible has a special word for this future orientation of faith. The Bible calls it hope.
In everyday life we use the word “hope” in a way that is very different from the way it is used in the Bible. In fact, it is almost the exact opposite of the way the word “hope” is used in the Bible. For example, on a day when we have a picnic planned, we might say, “I hope it doesn’t rain.” By that, we usually mean something like this. “I really don’t want it to rain. But I think it might.” Or, we might say, “I hope the Red Sox can hold onto first place.” By that, however, we probably mean, “The Yankees are surging, and I don’t think the Red Sox will be able to hang on.”
So, as you can see, most often when we use the word hope in ordinary, everyday language, we are actually using it to express doubt. In other words, we use the word “hope” to talk about something that we desire to happen but doubt that it will happen. And as I say, this is really the exact opposite of what the Bible means when it uses the word “hope”. For example, Paul tells us that his ministry and, indeed, the whole Christian life is based “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.” [Titus 1: 2] It doesn’t sound to me like there’s a lot of uncertainty or doubt involved in this hope that Paul is talking about. That’s typical of the way that the Scriptures speak of hope. And in fact, that verse that I quote from the book of Titus makes it very clear that hope is based not on my desires but on the faithfulness of God. In other words, as I said earlier, hope is the spiritual act of projecting our trust in God, our faith, into the way we think about the future.
Hope is the future tense of faith. Living in hope means affirming and holding onto the belief that God is reliable and trustworthy. God is good. That is one of our basic affirmations of faith. And so living by faith means living out our trust in God’s goodness. Trusting God’s goodness about the past is expressed in the form of gratitude, thankfulness for what God’s goodness has done in my life in the past. Trusting God’s goodness in the present is expressed in the form of obedience, living in such a way as to trust that what God wants is good. And trusting God’s goodness for the future means living with hope, trusting that God will be good to me and to the world in the future, just as he has been in the past and is now in the present. The more I trust God’s goodness, the more I live hopeful about his goodness in the future, the more worry and anxiety will be crowded out of my life.
And so there you have the three tenses of faith: gratitude, obedience, and hope. All of it is based on our knowledge of God and of God’s faithfulness, trustworthiness, and goodness. That’s what I want for you, my flock, my people, my dear ones: a heart that knows God and his goodness in all the times of your life.
©2012 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.
- Pastor Note #45 — Living in Time, Living with God, Part 1: Introduction (gachorpenning.wordpress.com)
- Pastor Note #46 – Living in Time, Living with God, Part 2: The Past Tense of Faith (gachorpenning.wordpress.com)
- Pastor Note #47 – Living in Time, Living with God, Part 3: Disciplines of Christian Remembering (gachorpenning.wordpress.com)
- Pastor Note #48 – Living in Time, Living with God, Part 4: Obedience – Faith in the Present Tense (gachorpenning.wordpress.com)