Two Versions of the Future

Rachel Chimits

“Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily…” (Luke 18:7-8 ESV).

French has two forms of future tense: “l’avenir” and “le futur.”

The first form refers to what will result from people’s actions in the present. The second is more ambiguous and open-ended because there are simply certain turns in future events that cannot be predicted.

Knowing how we, as believers, should view the future can feel tricky. It’s very easy for Christians to fall into the idea that we have full control, or none at all, over our fate.

Letting It All Go “in Faith”

For some believers, looking forward at the future becomes overwhelming. Maybe we’re dealing with some deep hurts in our past, or very present struggles, that seem to strangle our ability to plan or even pray for whatever’s coming.

For others, we’re in a good place. We don’t have to think about what will come, so we’re more than happy to spout quippy maxims like, “Just trust God for the future.”

Sometimes this blithe myopia is born out of uncertainty about how we would handle our life suddenly being disrupted. Other times, it comes from reliance on how we’ve set up our own life, a subtle refusal to consider life’s unexpected turns.

Ian Paul, professor and theologian, mused on this aspect of human nature when we’re confronted with an uncertain future: “We are tempted to lapse into what the French psychologist Jean-Baptiste Fressoz calls a state of “désinhibition”, which describes the sense of inertia we experience when confronted by the apparently impossible scale of the challenge.”

Like a swimmer faced with an enormous wave, we can quickly become hopeless when we honestly consider, even for a moment, our weakness in the face of the huge forces of secular culture, natural disasters, oppressive governments or incurable medical issues in the world.

It can become incredibly easy to go limp and give up.

Actively Waiting for God’s Voice

The major problem with this “let it all go” mentality, especially when it’s given the guise of faith, is that it usually avoids really leaning into our need for God’s provision.

When he was being pursued through the wilderness by Saul, David didn’t sit down and say, “Well, men, we just have to let go and let God.” Instead, he prayed with fervency and agony in Psalm 69 about “those who hate me without cause” and then he took action to protect himself and his friends.

In Luke, Jesus encouraged his followers, “I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened (Luke 11:9-10 ESV).

Nicky Cruz described this state in his own life. “When I first made my commitment to God, I had nothing to give him but my heart. I was a cocky and socially unskilled gangster. A kid from the streets.

“I went to a Bible college in California to straighten out my life, to get away from New York and the gang life. One night I was in my room feeling more lost and alone than ever. Lying on the floor, flat on my back and staring up at the ceiling, I began to pray, “God, why do I have to suffer so much? What do you want me to do? Please give me a sense of direction and peace.

“For hours, I lay on the floor pleading with God to break His silence. Suddenly I felt an amazing calm in my spirit. ‘Nicky,’ God said to my spirit, ‘my son, don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten you. I have plans for you, Nicky. I need you to trust me.’”

Sometimes God seems to remain in silence for a short time, waiting for us to pursue his voice with all our strength.

If we passively throw up our hands, we may lose the chance to hear him speak.

How to Guarantee the Future (or Not)

The apparent opposite of apathy to avoid worry would be extreme diligence when preparing for the future. Maybe if we work hard enough and take the right actions and make the right connections, we’ll snatch success out of the jaws of defeat.

This take-your-own-life-by-the-horns mentality is highly reminiscent of some “Christian” pop-spiritualists who espouse the mantra, “if you want it, go get it, and God will bless whatever you do.”

This self-help attitude is very difficult to justify biblically.

It gets even harder while looking at verses like Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”

In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus talked about a man who makes grand plans for future prosperity only for God to say, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

Christ then goes on to give even more seemingly counter-intuitive advice, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on…. Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” (Luke 12:22, 25-26).

These verses do not justify passivity or failure to make any provision for the future, but they do speak against making future security and success our top priority.

What We Choose and What We Trust to God

Trusting God for what will be and walking forward in that faith can feel like a careful balancing act.

We will doubtlessly wobble toward one side or the other, but if we keep our face turned toward our heavenly Father, he will help us stay in that perfect tension of reliance and taking action.

“L’avenir”—the here and now, the next moment, the next choice—is our duty and responsibility. Do we reach out to that lonely person? Do we work diligently at our job? Do we choose the healthy food option? Do we respond respectfully to our parents, boss or pastor? Do we pray about our fears?

Our opportunities, health, family—“le futur” is in the hands of God.