Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” An inspired idea, to be sure. But is predicting the future by creating it something we’re even capable of?
John Donne’s poem reminds us that “no man is an island.” What each individual does effects all others. So even as we are creating the future, we are not doing so in a vacuum. Others create the future with us. Others are free to support, oppose, or ignore our own efforts in pursuit of their own notions.
Think beyond your own circle of family, friends, and acquaintances. Besides those strangers alive now, unfathomable numbers lived and died long before we were even aware of the world; and many of these lived and died in far-flung places and times we’ve only ever read about.
Look To The Past For The Present and Future’s Context
That is the mysterious thing about studying history, as I was just this morning explaining to my Sunday School class. Take Biblical history for example. Try just focusing on Jesus. But then ask yourself who Jesus was. And when did he live? Where was he born, and where did he die? And what did he do in the meantime? We cannot understand Jesus as an island, or disconnected from history, culture, and geography.
As you peel back the layers of the onion you find the larger context in the pertinent details. The gospels tell us Jesus was born in Bethlehem to Jewish parents of the house and lineage of King David. But who was King David, and why was he important? The Roman Empire ruled the Jews when Jesus was born. Why? King David was a Jewish king, but the Jews must have been conquered at some point because they did not govern themselves in Jesus’ day. How did that come to be?
Moving backward in time through the generations, we see that Israel was split into two kingdoms after David. And one line of kings ruled in Israel while another ruled in the separate kingdom of Judah. But how did the Jewish people come to the land before that? And what was their purpose there?
Before David Was King in Israel
Moving backward in time again, we learn that the descendants of Jacob were slaves in Egypt for four centuries. Then Yahweh God sent Moses to command Pharaoh to let his people go. And after hardhearted Pharaoh finally relented, the children of Israel left Egypt. Eventually God brought them into the Promised Land of Canaan to possess it.
After that we also see that God commanded the nation of Israel to completely drive out those people who had lived in Canaan. God warned Israel not to follow the false gods of Canaan or Egypt or the surrounding nations; rather, they were to serve only Yahweh God because he had chosen them as his people.
If we go backward again we see that before Moses, God made promises to Jacob and his forefathers, Isaac and Abraham, to bless their descendants and make mighty nations of them.
Before that, only Noah and his family were saved from the flood God sent to destroy all life on earth. And why did God flood the earth? It was because mankind had become so corrupt and wicked, and because the earth was so constantly full of violence that God regretted creating man in the first place.
Before Noah we know of Cain and Abel, the first sons of Adam and Eve, the first children born to mankind and raised after sin entered the world and mankind was evicted from Eden. And even that early, Cain became jealous of Abel’s sacrifice being accepted by God while Cain’s sacrifice was rejected, and Cain murdered his own brother rather than repent and amend his own ways.
“What’s Past is Prologue”
“What’s past is prologue,” as Shakespeare so eloquently wrote in The Tempest.
Adam to Noah down to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then on to Moses, and then to David – all of it was prologue to Jesus being born to a virgin as God’s only begotten Son. But for all their influence over countless millions and billions who’ve lived over the millennia, which of these men either predicted or created the future?
More to the point, are each of these separate, or are they one story? And do we think of each of these stories as being primarily about different people? Or are they all about one person? The answer seems plain with even a cursory glance at the Biblical text. If no more than one person can do as Abraham Lincoln said and predict the future by creating it, that one person is Yahweh God.
It was Yahweh God who created our first forefather Adam, and gave him a wife Eve in Eden. This God blessed him with the ability and command to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28, ESV) This same God generations later preserved Noah and his sons and their wives on the Ark, and reiterated that command after the flood to replenish humanity and to “increase greatly.” He made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be their God. And he promised he would make their descendants into great nations. Through their lines, and through the line of King David after them, he sent the Christ to be born to redeem those who believe in Him. And not only did God promise. God made certain to keep his promises.
Predicting the Future By Creating It
God both predicted what would happen in the future and created the very future he had predicted by intervening in history repeatedly to ensure his promise of grace and salvation and a conquering of sin and death and hell and Satan would be accomplished.
By comparison, our own predictions and creations pale. What are plans conceived of in minutes and hours, or days, weeks, and even years compared with God’s promises and actions over millennia? It is for this reason I believe James writes what he does in his New Testament letter:
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15, ESV)
That’s the real ticket, isn’t it? What we plan and purpose is a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things, particularly when God’s will is considered alongside. Perhaps this is why President Lincoln once also wisely quipped, when asked whether God was on the side of the Union or Confederacy during the Civil War, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”