United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was once talking about man’s tendency to assign present-day circumstances to the future in the context of the highly contentious confirmation hearings that surround every judicial appointment.
Chief Justice Roberts pointed out that senators inevitably ask nominees about the day’s hot button issues, like abortion, gun rights, etc. Instead, he contended, they should be asking them about their judicial philosophy concerning issues we’re going to be facing in the future – like artificial intelligence and genetic engineering. Those are the subjects that new justices to the high court will be primarily ruling on in the coming years.
At the root of this habit is our tendency to assume tomorrow will be an extension of today.
For example, conventional wisdom holds that we know who both major political parties will nominate for president in 2024. Pundits take to the airwaves on a nightly basis and wax eloquent about their respective and collective inevitabilities. Polls are cited as evidence, as well as political war chests as another reason for their invincibility.
In reality, we don’t really know.
“For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be?” warned the writer of Ecclesiastes (8:7). A few chapters later we’re told, “A fool multiplies words, though no man knows what is to be and who can tell him what will be after him?” (10:14).
James was even more blunt and practical.
“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,” he wrote. “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 is willing, we will live and do this or that’” (4:13-15).
I suppose our tendency to assume what tomorrow will hold is understandable. After all, routine and predictability often lull all of us into a sense of complacency.
Think about it. We all have our morning and evening routines. Many of us sit in the same seat near the same people on the train or pew in church. We like what we like, and in our modern society, systems and habits can often lead to anticipated outcomes. We plan vacations and school schedules.
Afterall, planning is a habit of the wise and responsible, isn’t it?
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” warned Benjamin Franklin. “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established,” wrote Solomon (Proverbs 16:3). Yet, just a few verses later he tempers such a declaration by noting, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
Then there is the ultimate statement of God’s sovereignty: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21).
It’s the assurance and belief in God’s sovereignty that can instill in the heart of a Christian a spirit of confidence and even optimism. We are not assured of a tomorrow we want, but we can go to bed at night knowing nothing that comes in the morning will take God by surprise or occur without His permission.