by John G. Stackhouse Jr.
Oil prices recently sank to a four-year low and the International Energy Agency, a consultancy to 29 countries, predicts they will fall further in the year to come. As Canada’s economy depends so much on oil production, our petrodollar is only in the “high 80s” and likely to drop further. Remember when our dollar was at par with the American, and oil prices were expected to go up and up, and Alberta’s tar sands looked like a really mucky gold mine?
Who foresaw the new Russian czar risking war to annex parts of Ukraine? Who predicted ISIS’ reign of terror? Who, besides some paranoid screenwriters, imagined something like Ebola making its way out into the rest of the world?
At the end of interviews on a recent event or trend, journalists customarily ask the experts on the hot seat to predict the future. This practice continues even though we all recognize that no one will remember what they said and hold it against them five years from now, so they can say what they like. And no one can infallibly predict what will happen five months or five weeks or five days from now, so now it really doesn’t matter what they say.
Most of the Bible and other literature of Christian spirituality were written in precarious times. Writers and readers had a much stronger sense than perhaps most of us middle-class Canadians of how fragile life is, how quickly and drastically our situation can change, and how little we can properly predict.
Aleksandr Men was a Russian Orthodox priest who ministered in the turmoil between Khrushchev and Gorbachev. He wisely taught his reader to “live wholly in the present moment, fully joining God’s will…. Try to complete the task at hand as well as possible, sweeping aside cares about the past and the future.”
The Apostle Paul wrote to a hard-pressed church from his own prison cell, “Do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6). And to slaves – among the most vulnerable members of his society – he counselled, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart” (Colossians 3:23).
And their Lord Jesus Christ preached during tumultuous times as well, giving similar advice. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).
Many of us try to manage the future through wise investments, healthy eating, proper exercise, careful driving, prudent job training and plenty of insurance. Some of us, in fact, are so devoted to such concerns that we’re called “control freaks” (although I prefer the term “control aficionado”).
Aleksandr Men, however, knew the times in which he was living – which are the times in which all of us actually live. Frequently harassed by the state police, he served as he could with vigour and creativity, and was murdered with an axe when only 55 years old.
The Apostle Paul likely lived somewhat longer, but his life was fraught with frustration, mob violence and imprisonment, and it too ended violently.
The Lord Jesus died a young man, also a victim of selfish and witless powers, only a few years after His public ministry had begun. And he knew, as no one else did, that His whole nation would be crushed only a generation later, as Titus swept in with his legions to suppress another rebellion once and for all in AD 70.
How many of your acquaintances, once perfectly healthy, now struggle against versions of just one single disease – cancer? How many faithful workers have lost jobs even in the last few years? How many friendships have faded, partnerships dissolved and romances fallen apart? The churn is relentless.
Pundits have been telling us for a long while now to “prepare for change,” that “change is the new normal.” But no one can prepare all that much. After all, none of us knows what’s coming.
Those of us who profess to heed God, then, need to heed the advice of His spokespeople. God leads, but God leads day by day, hour by hour. We can count on God to provide for us whatever glimpse of the future we need to execute today’s duties, endure today’s trials and enjoy today’s pleasures. But God rarely affords us more of a look than that. And most of today is going to be properly spent not peering out dimly into an unseeable tomorrow, but focusing clearly and faithfully on what is evidently and providentially at hand.
That, I find, is usually enough to keep me plenty busy.
John Stackhouse teaches at Regent College in Vancouver and is the author of Need to Know: Vocation as the Heart of Christian Epistemology (Oxford, 2014). This column first appeared in the Jan/Feb issue of Faith Today. Read more of Stackhouse’s columns here. Subscribe now for Faith Today’s lowest price ever — and never miss another Stackhouse column.