Why we should be grateful that God does not let us see the future

“The Madonna and Child with a Female Saint and the Infant Saint John the Baptist,” oil on panel painting by Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), 1530s, Kimbell Art Museum

How good God is to leave us hope! We may often wish that we could foresee the future, but would it still be a human life if we lived each day according to a well-read script? Or would that make us cogs in a machine? Consider for a moment: Could you summon the strength to move forward if you knew that you were a year away from the death of a loved one or a month out from the day when you are told that you have cancer?

Maybe that is the core difference between creator and creatures. God lives with all of time present to himself; the creator holds the past, present and future in his hands. We creatures cannot. We start to lose our grip on the present when we mentally dwell in the past or the future.

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A baby boy is born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, long after the time for such a birth has passed. Years of hopes frozen melt into hope flowing. The goodness of God truly exceeds their expectations; it broadens the very boundaries of their faith. Elizabeth holds her baby boy in her arms. Zechariah embraces wife and child. They are suffused with joy and gratitude to God.

God the creator holds the past, present and future in his hands. We creatures cannot.

The creator, who sees every movement and moment of the human heart, knows their joy. Yet being God, the creator also knows the man who will come to be called the Baptist, sees his head on a platter. Even while gazing on the babe, God sees John killed for speaking truth to power. From the moment of his conception to his last moment of consciousness, God the creator beholds and holds the entire life of John the Baptist.

“All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, ‘What, then, will this child be?’ For surely the hand of the Lord was with him” (Lk 1:66). The Baptist comes to us by way of the Gospels. He is given into our history as the forerunner of the promised Messiah. Seen in the dawn of Christ’s resurrection, the light in which the Gospels were composed, we hail John as victor and martyr.

But Herod would have adjudged the Baptist to be a fool, one who did not know when to shut up. The king’s courtiers would have thought him a failure: one more man with a mission who goes down. Even more sobering, the world itself, the world that mattered back then, did not even note his death. For virtually every person of the vast Roman Empire, his beheading meant nothing. John lived and died without any significance.

The great Gospel irony is that God owes us nothing yet promises us everything.

The same is true of us. If it were not for paying taxes, most all of us would pass through this world without a trace. And if only our anonymity were all! Why do we work all of our lives, spend all those years seeking love and security, only to watch all that we have done, all that we ourselves have become in the doing, slip from our hands, however tightly we try to clasp them?

How good God is to leave us hope! God does not let us foresee the future. For all we know, our heads may soon lie on a hospital pillow, contorted in pain. Our bodies may be thrown from a crashing car. Or we may be blessed with a long life and good health, in which case we will watch as all that we have desired and all whom we have loved fall away from us.

The sobering, searing truth is that God does not promise us a long life of love, joy and contentment. God is the creator. God owes us nothing. Sin says to the soul, “Despise the creator for all that he has denied you.” Grace whispers back: “But how can the gift chide the giver? You do not hold your own existence in your hands; existence holds you!”

All that remains to be revealed is the role that our lives, long or short, blessed or cursed, will play in Christ’s glory.

The animals, who have never offended God, live with even less. Yet they do not charge their creator with cruelty or callousness. Leaves slip from trees. Birds fall to the earth. In calling ourselves and our world “creation,” we acknowledge that we do not hold our existence in our own hands. We come from the unknown, and to the unknown we return. If there is no giver, if all is not gift, then we are simply the one part of the cosmos that curses itself by desiring more than life offers.

The great Gospel irony is that God owes us nothing yet promises us everything. The Gospels were composed and are ever proclaimed to tell us that our lives matter. They matter because, like that of John, they are taken up into the resurrection of the Christ:

Concerning this salvation,
prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours
searched and investigated it,
investigating the time and circumstances
that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated
when he testified in advance
to the sufferings destined for Christ
and the glories to follow them (1 Pt 1: 10-11).

The Gospels tell us of a God who gives life, who redeems life and who sanctifies life by raising it into the Godhead. If that is true—and you can only know its truth by surrendering yourself to it as truth—then each and every part of our lives finds its truest meaning, its deepest significance, in the light of God’s glory yet to be revealed.

How happily we picture the newborn John as a gift of God’s grace. And with what horror do we imagine his severed head on that platter? The distance between the beauty of birth and the deformity of death is the curse of the sentient creature. We see and understand creation, but we cannot fully comprehend creation because, unlike God, we do not stand above and outside of creation.

To acknowledge God as creator, redeemer and sanctifier is to confess that each moment of our lives only finds its meaning in a totality yet to be disclosed. Yet that meaning has been announced in the death and resurrection of the Christ. All that remains to be revealed is the role that our lives, long or short, blessed or cursed, content or restless, will play in Christ’s glory.

Readings: Vigil: Jeremiah 1:4-10 1 Peter 1:8-12 Luke 1:5-17; Mass during the Day: Isaiah 49:1-6 Acts 13:22-26 Luke 1:57-66, 80

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