I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!
From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
One of the things that distinguishes humans from most other animals is our ability to develop extended long-term plans. While some animals are able to anticipate the future and recognize how their actions can lead to different outcomes, humans are able to think extensively about our plans and futures in a way that no other animals are capable of. Whereas other animals are familiar with the “tactics” of life, humans are capable of strategically seeking to implement their long-term goals.
This ability to plan and implement has many useful applications. A wonder of the world like the Eiffel Tower would not be possible if humans did not have the ability to formulate long-term plans. One does not simply decide to build such a monument on the spur of the moment, but it takes a ever-recurring series of steps of thinking, brainstorming, filtering, implementing, and receiving feedback to augment plans in order to be able to accomplish such feats. As God created us to have dominion over His creation, the ability to plan gives us the capacity to fulfill God’s long-term purposes for us and His creation.
Yet, this capacity to make long-term plans also bites us. It is the source of worry and pain as we can “foresee” possible futures where we might be harmed or become irrelevant, so we develop long-term strategies to to try to ensure our continuing security, if not dominance. Our ability to plan for the future leads us to worry about how we can protect ourselves in the future. Armies are raised and trained, resources are stored and hoarded, people are manipulated and pull towards supporting agendas all because we fear the possible futures and we make plans to circumvent those fearful possibilities.
Now, sometimes bad things are approaching and we have reliable enough advance warning to take action now (reliable doesn’t mean perfect). However, much more frequently that that, we are caught worrying about the possibilities and taking action based upon mere possibilities. Our distrust about our security leads us to take action to protect ourselves even though the fear possibilities is incredibly unlikely. In such a condition, we take strong, if not possibly extreme, actions that will entail sacrifices elsewhere, and often we expect and inflict upon others the sacrifices in order to ensure our security and well-being; sacrifices that were not needed, sacrifices that bring grief and harm to ourselves and others, all to ensure our own safety and security.
The Scriptures, particularly the Old Testament, repeatedly warn against trusting in armies, alliances, and rulers. For instance, Psalm 20.7 says:
Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
but our pride is in the name of the LORD our God.
This “trust” in other persons or things other than God emerges from our ability to foresee and plan for the future. At the core of idolatry is our ability to see and plan for the future by appealing to some idol or expecting some earthly thing to have the power to ensure our security and well-being into the future. Not only do these things cause harm, but they are also unreliable for long-term planning, as so many things can thwart our various sources of power and security. This is perhaps part of the reason Jesus refers to wealth as an idol, as the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12.13-21 shows what happens when one makes elaborate plans to build storage for his craps in order to prosper in the future: their plans are cuts short and are powerless when God decides their time has come.
In the end, so many of our efforts to protect our future are foolhardy. There are those cases where we need to take the steps today to be ready to take action in the future when they occur, but most of the time, we worry about the future and try to make plans for things that are likely not to occur and these plans may not benefit us like we hope for.
Alternatively, the Scriptures speak of a different way of life: trusting and waiting upon God. Unfortunately, trusting and waiting on the Lord is often times understood as a form of passivity in face of difficult times and troubles, but that isn’t what trusting God is about. When Jesus tells his hearers to trust God in Matthew 6.25-24, he isn’t saying “Don’t do anything, just wait on me to provide.” No. Jesus’ point is that we have enough to focus on today that we need to address, there is no need to try to worry and plan for the future also. Trusting God is about not feeling the need to take account of every possibility about the future and our well-being, but to wait on the Lord to provide when we feel the crunch of the future possibilities that we can not interact with. Otherwise, we will be tempted to take foolhardy action for the future that we foolishly trust will address the future, which will ultimately divert us from what Jesus calls people to seek: God’s Kingdom and His righteousness. It is here that we see what waiting and trusting upon God is ultimately pointing us towards.
At the heart of the Scriptures call for waiting on and trusting God is not some therapeutic mode of coping with the difficulties of life. The purpose is not our ability to cope. Rather, through learning how to cope by trusting in God, we become freed and attentive to seek God’s will and purposes. Coping is instrumental for seeking God’s Kingdom. However, when we do not cope through trusting God well but instead get caught into trying to make big plans for the future, we risk working against the interests of God’s Kingdom. Our hearts become ‘hardened’ to the leading of God to bring good in our present circumstances as an immediate opportunity of the moment, but we are caught interpreting our circumstances through our long-term plans and the potential benefit or risk they have for those plans. Our hearts become prone to overlook, if not even resist, the righteous thriving of life in favor of our other concerns and goals.
However, the truth is that much of our planning for the future is rooted in a subtle yet pervasive feeling, much like the sounds of howling ghost that one hears even if there is nothing we can see and readily point to: despair. We despair our life and the potential threats to our well-being, so we seek to plan for security and progress. At the heart of the compulsive, long-term planning for security and progress is this existential despair that fuels and feeds planning. Flannery O’Connor one observed that “we live in an age which has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily,” and so we live in an age that domesticates and pushes the awareness of despair to the margins of our awareness by dreams of progress in the future.
At the heart of this despair is something demonic, the denial of the goodness of life. Certainly, those who plan for a glorious future believe there are good things in life and the dream of these things may fuel hope and happiness, but at the core of the compulsive dream of progress is this existential despair that disagrees with God’s word that creation is good. This compulsive dream of progress is, at its core, bereft of trusting and waiting on the Lord to face off against the challenges to life, but instead takes matters in one’s own hands, becoming oblivious to the costs and sacrifices that come at the cost for this vision of “progress” that will never occur. Since the Enlightenment, the West has become drunk on this devilish spirit, believing that the world was fundamentally error and wrong and that a select group of people in as specific period of time are especially privileged and enabled to bring a good future. Time and time again, these dreams of progress have lead to nightmares. The barbarity of the French Revolution, the persistent oppressions committed after Communist revolutions, Western Europe’s dream of progress fall into the terror of world wars and genocide, etc. Dreaming and planning for the future because the world as it was was somehow fundamentally bad has not brought about blessings, but spiraled us into deeper despair, only for us to remember these atrocities and to continue to drink this devilish spirit to get us out this despair THIS time. Like an alcoholic who continues to wash away his woes with a drink, only to bring more pain and suffering, the drunk dreams of “progress” speak of a fundamental distrust of God’s creation and bring about unintended nightmares as a consequence.
This is all because we as humans are planning creatures who try to protect ourselves from the threats we see in the world. If we don’t truly believe and trust that creation is good but rather, narcissistically, that “MY” or “OUR” life is good in a bad, evil world, our fear and anxiety will constantly trigger, tempting us to plan for our well-being and security into the future. We won’t so much see the actual, real threats, but we will hear ghosts that are not really there (we may even miss identifying the real threats because we feel so inundated with the possibilities that we won’t give attention to what really needs attention). Then, it is our long-term planning, which has the capacity to help us to fulfill God’s vision for human life to be in the image of God, that will be turned into a tool that works against the fundamental goodness of God’s creation.
However, if we learn to wait and trust in the Lord and His goodness for this world, we will be able to seek after His Kingdom and His righteousness, to be part of God’s life-giving, loving purposes for His creation. There is a time to plan and strategize, but much of the time we are tempted to do so, we are missing the will of God and acting foolishly, if not unrighteously.