Thursday, March 10, 2011

Our Future Belongs to God

Ps. 131; Mt. 6:24-34[1]

We are a people oriented toward the future. Unlike other cultures, where the past or the present defines people’s lives, it is our looking toward the future that defines us. The future is something that fascinates us. We are fascinated by the possibilities of the future—possibilities we may only be able to imagine. But the future can also be unnerving, because we can never know for sure what it will bring. That’s why faith is so closely connected to the future. Anyone who looks to the future is a person who has faith.

Now, you may find that a surprising statement, since many people in our day and time reject what we would typically call faith. They have given up on the traditional faith in a God who loves us and cares for us and provides for us. In fact, they may view it as incredibly naïve to approach the future from a confidence borne of traditional faith in God. Many in our day and time—even we who claim traditional faith—live as if the future belongs entirely to us, as if the future depends solely on us, as if the future holds nothing in store for us except what we make of it.

The argument we use to support this way of life is to claim that we are approaching life from a realistic, clear-eyed, practical point of view. The way the world works is plain to see for those who have eyes to see it—we’re essentially on our own. If you want anything from this world you have to go out and get it. You really cannot rely on anyone else to do it for you. It is the essential creed of our American individualism.[2]

But that points us to the problem with this point of view. It’s not that this is a “reasonable” outlook in contrast with those who prefer to embrace “faith.” When we insist that we are on our own and that we have to go out and get what we want from life on our own, we have simply embraced a different kind of faith. We have chosen to believe that the future is in our hands, and that if we don’t do what is necessary to make it turn out the way we want, it won’t happen. And so our motto is, “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”[3] And we live a life whose essential characteristic is seeking and striving.

Then there’s Jesus, pointing us to the birds and the lilies. What are we to make of that? We tend to be very happy with our striving and seeking and not yielding to make the future what we want it to be. And Jesus stands there pointing to birds and flowers as prime witnesses to a different faith.[4] It is the faith that says, “all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care.”[5] It is the faith that believes in a God who reigns over this world with grace and mercy and love. It is the faith that entrusts our future into God’s hands, and in fact that is confident that “in life and in death we belong to God.”[6] In other words, our future—all of our future—belongs to God.

The skeptic will be quick to point out that this promise of a God who cares for us and provides for us has been around for a long time. And yet, throughout the ages there have been many people of faith who have trusted in this promise and have been left wanting. Through no lack of faith on their part, their experience of life was such that they were not rescued in their time of need. They did not have their needs provided in time to stave off famine. They did not find protection from those who would do violence to them. From this point of view, the skeptic insists that it is foolish to go on believing in a God who provides for us.

And then there’s Jesus again, perhaps gently shaking his head, asking us, “Who’s the fool?” Is it more foolish to believe that we belong to a God of grace and mercy and love, even though sometimes those who believe in God find the promise of God’s care lacking? Or is it more foolish to believe that we can somehow wrest the future into our own grasp and mold it to suit our desires? Jesus would say you might as well try to add a foot to your height (Matt. 6:27)—it makes about as much sense as trying to control the future! In many ways, Jesus points out with some irony that all our efforts to control the future are futile. All our striving and seeking and not yielding are illogical. Our faith in our own ability to secure our future is the real folly!

We have the choice: we can choose to approach life and the future based on the creed that says you’re on your own and your future depends entirely on you. It is a creed that ultimately rests on fear—on the anxiety that Jesus warns us against. And it is a creed that is defined by striving—striving to control our future.[7] Or we can choose to approach life and the future based on the faith that says that everything we are and will ever be is secure in God’s hands, regardless of the circumstances of our lives here and now.

The reality is that it is the creed of striving that is truly naïve. Faith does not spring from naiveté, but rather it comes out of the experience of loss and suffering and hardship that the skeptic believes disproves faith’s confidence in God. Faith is the way of life of the Psalmist, who can sing the song of faith only after singing the song of sadness.[8] Faith is the way of life that says, “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother” (Ps. 131:2). In contrast to the foolish striving that tries to control the future, faith reflects the wisdom of surrender—surrender to the simple human limitations that mean it is impossible for us to make our lives come out the way we think we want them to.[9] Surrender to the faith that we don’t have to keep up the futile effort to secure our future because our future belongs to God. Surrender to the comforting and restful truth that in life and in death, I belong wholly to God.[10]

[1] © 2011 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 2/27/11 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2] The chief prophet of this faith is Ayn Rand. Cf. Jennifer Burns. Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. Cf. also Amy Benfer, “And the Rand Played On,” in Mother Jones Times (July/Aug 2009); accessed at .

[3] Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses,” line 70.

[4] Cf. Charles Carlston, “Matthew 6:24-34,” Interpretation 41 (April 1987): 180.

[5] Isaac Watts, “I Sing the Mighty Power of God,” from The Presbyterian Hymnal, no. 288, stanza 3.

[6] “A Brief Statement of Faith,” Book of Confessions, 10.1.

[7] Cf. Richard J. Dillon, “Ravens, Lilies, and the Kingdom of God,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 53 (Oct 1991): 618-19.

[8] Cf. H. Stephen Shoemaker, “Psalm 131,” Review and Expositor 85 (1988):89-94.

[9] Cf. Dillon, “Ravens, Lilies, and the Kingdom of God,” 621-23.

[10] Cf. “The Heidelberg Catechism,” Book of Confessions 4.001.

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