“Desiring the Future”
A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper
Toronto – May 27, 2012
Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Mat. 6:34).
We live in a future-oriented age. We have become so used to taking about what we think is going to happen as if it is already fact that we may not even notice it anymore. On TV and the radio we hear things like, “Later today in a news conference, the Prime minister will announce….” One of the most popular parts of TV news is the weather, and even though we know they are wrong more often than they are right, we still watch every night because we are hungry to know what is going to happen tomorrow – and next week.
The more we know of the world around us, the greater the concern we have for our future. Today it seems that every nation in the world is facing some kind of terrible problem. We live in a time where great events are unfolding, and we don’t want to be caught unawares. We feel that we must try to see the future so that we can prepare for it as best we can.
(Maybe great events have always been unfolding, but before the days of the telegraph people just didn’t know much about anything outside of their own village. Today we have instantaneous access to the whole world. Every other week I meet with a group of minister who are in North America, Europe, and Africa – and nobody is surprised by that.)
We strive to know the future, we worry about what will happen so that we can plan for it, we believe that if we knew what the future held, we would be happier — but would we really? Imagine what would happen if we really could know the future with absolute certainty.
Just for example, let’s say that you knew with absolute certainty that you were going to have a serious automobile accident, and you could also see all the steps leading up to it. You would have to proceed step by agonizing step toward the accident until it finally happened. The pain and suffering would be nothing compared to the agony of anticipating the accident with the knowledge that there was nothing that could be done to avoid it.
When most people hear that example their immediate response is to start thinking about what they might do to change the course and the result, thus changing the future.
If you can change it, then it’s not really the future, it’s only one of many possibilities, so you can’t say that you knew the future! (I know the reasoning is circular and difficult here.) The point is that you can’t know the future with certainty because it is the sum total of the choices you (and others) are making in the present.
This is where the problem with the desire to know the future lies. If we really could know the future with certainty, we would not be happier. We would lose our spiritual freedom and be miserable. The whole point of our life in this world is to make ourselves into the people we wish to be by a series of free choices in spiritual things.
It’s the specifics of the future that are hidden. It’s okay for us to know that summer follows spring. It’s okay for us to know that life in this world is followed by life in the spiritual world. And it’s also important to know that the quality of our future spiritual life depends on the kinds of choices that we make today.
Certainly, the future concerns all of us. We can deal with the needs of the future by making and following plans for today. If we spend all our time worrying about our lot in the afterlife to the point of forgetting to amend our lives today, then our concern for our future is self-defeating. We can, however, approach the future by saying, “I want to go to heaven when I die, so I will try very hard to shun this sin today.” The present is the only appropriate path for us to reach the future. What we really need to remember is that the present is where we were created to live, to work, and to begin the work of repentance, reformation, and regeneration. The present is the only place where our choices have an effect, where we can exercise our freedom of choice in spiritual things.
We are told in the Heavenly Doctrines that the angels have a sense of time where both the lessons of the past and the hopes of the future are brought together into their sense of the present, and because of this, and because of their trust in the Lord, they do not have any concern about future things.
The devils in hell would very much like us to believe that we rule ourselves because the more we take on ourselves the things that belong to God, the less clearly we can see God’s part in our lives. When we believe that our future depends solely on our actions and decisions we begin to be anxious, we begin to worry about things not going well, we worry that we will be blamed for mistakes, and so we try to imagine all the things that could go wrong and head them off with contingency plans. We take it all on ourselves. We blame ourselves when things go wrong, and we suffer because of it. We take credit to ourselves when things go well, and so become proud in our self-intelligence – and all the while we are building more and more walls of selfishness and anxiety between the Lord and ourselves.
The whole area of concern for the future falls under the heading of the Lord’s Government, or the Divine Providence, which must, of necessity, operate without anyone’s conscious knowledge. We read from the Divine Providence that, man would have no liberty to act according to reason and there would be no appearance of self-activity if he perceived or felt the activity of Divine Providence, for if he did he would also be led by it.
Do you think that if you could actually hear the Lord’s voice and actually feel His presence in your heart and mind, you would be able to refuse to do what He was telling you to do? And, if you could not but do the Lord’s bidding, would you still be spiritually free?
The Lord actually leads all people all the time by means of His Divine Providence. An essential element of that government is that each person shall feel and believe that he leads himself, and that he should be able to acknowledge that the Lord leads from the man’s own understanding of the Word. We read further that:
if man had a living perception or sense of being led, he would not be conscious of living life and would be moved to make sounds and act much like a graven image. If he were still conscious of living he would be led like one bound in manacles and fetters or like a yoked animal. Who does not see that man would have no freedom then? And without freedom he would be without reason, for one thinks from and in freedom; whatever he does not so think seems to him to be not from himself but from someone else. Indeed if you consider this interiorly you will perceive that he would not possess thought, still less reason, and hence would not be a human being”.
The Lord has, in His Infinite Wisdom, deliberately withheld certain knowledge of specific future events from us, because He desires that we should be free in spiritual matters for the sake of our eternal happiness.
Foreknowledge of the future would destroy our delight in planning and doing useful things. In order to bring our dreams into being we try to figure out the best way to make them happen, we guide our course towards accomplishing our goals by means of our powers of reasoning.
We love to take our ideas and make them work. If, from the very beginning of a project, the finished product and all the steps leading up to it were foreknown, we could play no real part in them. Part of the fun is coming across unexpected problems and figuring out how to solve them. There would be no dreams to dream, no plans to plan, no joy of anticipation as we wondered if the reality would match the dream. If there was no love, no excitement, there would also be no challenge, no thought, no hope.
Marriages begin with “borrowed” states of heavenly joy which then have to be earned back by the effort of building the marriage. When successful, however, the daily pleasure of each other’s company in shared uses can give a picture of how “forever” can be a heavenly thing.
Since certain knowledge of the future would take away a person’s ability to reason, it also takes away from humanness itself. So the Lord has provided that no one is permitted to know the future; but everyone is allowed to form conclusions from their own observations and thought as to what the future might hold, for then a person’s reason is in its own life. For this reason no one may know his lot after death, nor any other event large or small, until he actually experiences it in his own present.
The desire to know the future is taken away from those who trust in the Lord’s Divine Providence; and these trust that the Lord is in control of every aspect of their lives, and will provide for their eternal welfare at all times.
It is difficult for us to form this trust in the Lord’s Divine Providence because we cannot see it directly. For all the reasons already mentioned, the Lord provides that we cannot see the operation of the Divine Providence in the future, for it would take away our freedom to act as-if-from-self. However, all of us can, if we wish, see the activity of the Lord’s Divine Providence in our lives.
Every so often, we need to take some time to look back at the course of our own life, to reflect on the important, memorable things that have happened. Most of us can look back and see things that, when they actually happened to us, seemed to be terrible personal tragedies but have actually worked out for the best in the long run. Or, some may be able to trace a series of seemingly unimportant unconnected decisions that lead us through a series of improbable circumstances to find the one who would eventually become our eternal partner.
When we see the course of our lives in retrospect we can see the hand of Divine Providence. Having seen it in hindsight we can then have the confidence to say with heart and mind that since we can clearly see that the Lord’s Divine Providence was working for us in the past, it must therefore be working for us in our present and future. The Lord is constantly leading us into our own individual future with a sure and gentle hand.
The future does not yet exist for us. The past is gone. We live only in the present for the sake of our rational eternal lives. The future is governed by the Lord’s Divine Providence, and we cannot know it until it arrives. If we are to be rational, happy people, without anxieties about what will happen in the future, we must learn to live day by day, and trust in the Lord.
This does not mean that we are to ignore the future, and make no plans, for we are told that it is the desire to make things better, to hope for improvement is something that gives us joy and makes us human.
Ÿ What we need to do is have dreams for the future, and do all we can to accomplish them – today.
Ÿ We need to shun evils as sins – today.
Ÿ We need to be kind to our neighbour, not sometime next week, but today.
Ÿ We need to trust that the Lord will provide for our eternal happiness – today.
Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
Lessons: Genesis 21:1-7, Matthew 6:25-34, AC 5177 (port.)