Receiving the Future: In ten years time.
Any discussion of how the people of God are to cope with the future is a waste of breath if it does not begin with the prior question of what the future actually is. Only as we consider what we are entering can we properly think about how to enter it.
Our society has a lot of assumptions about what the future really is, and those assumptions go largely unquestioned by the church. Even if we believe that Jesus Christ will return to draw history to its climactic fulfilment, we can still have a mistaken view of how the future affects our present day-to-day living.
Those for whom the ideal leader is an upbeat visionary mover-and-shaker, the future is symbolised by the great icon that stands as the central focal point in many of our churches. It is the projector screen. It eclipses the pulpit with a blank sheet of openness, begging us to project our image upon it. And this is how many of us have come to think of the future: as a vast open expanse of unlimited possibilities, just waiting to be conquered by the crusading forces of Christian enterprise. An empty screen waiting to be filled with colour, a blank sheet waiting to be used, an unwritten history destined to be penned by those at the cutting edge of prophetic insight. But there is neither prophecy nor insight here. Only the monotonous ring of history repeating itself as the very sin to which Adam gave way beets its rhythm through the centuries.
To see the future as a vast and empty space means that humans are tempted to create the present ‘out of nothing’ (ex nihilo). Like Adam and the builders of Babel, this is an attempt to ‘be like God’, the only one who truly can create ‘out of nothing’. Today this Adamic sin has produced a deluge of purpose-driven diarrhoea that hits the ground in the endless slurry of aims and objectives, ensuring the same old predictable futures. Thank God the future is not under human construction, and is not a realm into which godly visionaries march and conquer.
The future is nobody’s birthright, but a gracious gift that none of us deserve. It is not something that the people of God move towards, but a gift that moves graciously towards us. It is not to be conquered boldly, but to be received gratefully. The future is not something we enter, but something that enters us. It is the full presence of God with his people. How then, are the people of God to prepare for such a future?
It is by walking the painful and joyful journey of being in relationship with brothers and sisters in Christ. As we encourage and are encouraged by one another, challenge and are challenged by one another, our characters are transformed. This can be unpleasant, because it often means hearing things about me that I don’t like, and wish I could change. Sometimes it means being vulnerable with people I would rather impress. Occasionally it means saying things I would rather not say. But in these kinds of relationships God’s voice grabs hold of me, Scripture becomes 3 dimensional, and the Spirit’s presence is gloriously obvious.
One of the consequences of being the body of Christ in this way is that we receive the future differently. Without believing in the myth of progress, without obsession with the latest technology, and with no compulsion to establish a vision for the future – the people of God are transformed from one degree of glory to another.
One of the great privileges of working with students in Cambridge is that many of them have seen that aims, objectives and visionary plans for the future are prone to override God’s plans for our present. A new and exciting group called Fusion, now the largest Christian organisation in the university, is exploring ways of modelling Christian community that are having an astonishing impact. Here and now, unchurched students who have already heard the facts about Christianity and rejected them, look at these groups of Christians who are serious about building good relationships and they effectively say of them what the angels will one day declare: ‘the dwelling place of God is with people’. That is the presence of the future.
It is an ancient way of life called ‘church’, and will always slip through the fingers of methodologies, structures and strategies. So what can we say about God’s people in ten years time? They will still be the people whose relationships are shaped by the disturbing presence of Christ. If Christians shy away from that today, what happens tomorrow is irrelevant. God has given us no search beam into the future, only a lamp unto our feet (Ps119.105).
Published in Mainstream Magazine, 2004