God’s Future, Our Now

Holy Scripture is full of references to the future. And it is all God’s future. “Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it?” (Isaiah 43:19). “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Good News” (Mark 1:15). “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:1).

We normally think that our future is a product of our past: our genetic heritage, our family upbringing, our choices in love, finances and career, other people’s choices that have affected us for good or for ill. And certainly there is a degree of truth to that perspective. But the German theologian Jurgen Moltmann has suggested a different way of looking at the relationship of past-present-future.

The future, in a very real way, says Moltmann, gives birth to the present. If we believe that a just and loving God is bringing the future to pass, we will live toward that future hope. “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). And we will live out of that future hope, fearlessly, with sturdy integrity and an unflagging optimism based not in our own capacities, but in God.

As I write these words it is not yet Thanksgiving. Leadership positions for the New Year are not yet filled, the 2014 budget is not yet in place, nor is it fully supported with faith promises, and our relationships with partner ministries are in flux. And for many of us — really, most of us — “church business” takes a back seat to the personal and family activities of the holiday season. Of course it’s not all challenges; we rejoice in the beauty and inspiration of Advent and Christmas worship experiences, and we are reminded of the world-altering “new thing” that took place in Bethlehem’s manger.

Our understanding of God’s values — God’s justice, mercy, grace and generosity, God’s concern for “the least of these” — will shape the decisions we make as individuals and as a congregation. Our faith in God’s sovereign oversight of the future, and our understanding of God’s promises about the future — promises about a New Jerusalem free from suffering and death, a great banquet to which all are invited, a resurrection body which marches forward free of deformity and decay — will shape how we live now. Believe in God’s future, and live boldly toward it in the New Year.

— Dr. David L. Wheeler