This past Sunday we had a guest preacher at our church. Actually he was a very familiar face, since he is the retired, founding pastor of the congregation – Jack Freed. You may recognize the name because he is also the author of the daily blog that I often quote here – Jack’s Winning Words.
One of the themes that Jack used in his sermon was not to spend lots of time looking back at things that have already happened or trying to look ahead to predict what might happen. Instead, he suggested that you look up (well, he is a preacher, after all) to God for guidance.
Good advice, but I wanted to expand a minute on the theme of not looking back or forward. It’s that time of year when we are inundated with “The Best of 2013” articles in print and on TV shows. People seem to like having lists made by others of the top 10 things in almost any category, especially within a time frame that we can relate to. There are also lots of articles by supposedly learned pundits with prognostications about the coming year.
The writers of articles about the past have a much better track record of getting things right that the predictors of the future; although, neither group is 100% accurate. Where the stories about past events stray off into the bushes is the point at which the authors abandon the reporting of known facts and start speculating upon causes, whether they be the motivation for something bad done by someone or which factors (usually out of many) can be identified as the tipping point for an event. I always get a kick out of the Wall Street “experts” pontificating about the causes of a market rise or fall, which, by the way, they never saw coming.
That brings us to the prognosticators, the forecasters, the swamis of the future. If there is one thing that everyone should have learned by now it is that the future is unpredictable and unknowable. Yet, supposedly learned men and women continue to waste their time and ours by trying to predict what will happen in the coming year. As, we, as consumers of the media, eat this drivel up. Most of the supposed seers of the future base much of their forecast upon two things – an understanding of what has happened in the past and a belief in the continuation of trends. They look at the data about whatever it is they are forecasting and projects the trends that they see out into the future – the coming year. It’s a method that appeals to our belief in the “scientific method.”
Yet, when I think back of the past few decades there doesn’t seem to be a year that I can recall where there was not some major, disruptive event; an event that interrupted the trend lines and made them irrelevant. Whether it is a terrorist attack, a major oil leak, major weather events or something else, there are always unanticipated events that provide an inflection point for radical change in the trend lines. It is the very nature of the future that it cannot really be anticipated or forecast with any degree of certainty. So take all of those articles and shows about the coming year for what they are – a different form of reality show entertainment and nothing else.
So, if you can’t predict the future, what can you do about it? There are groups, loosely categorized as “survivalist”, who spend much of their time preparing for Armageddon, the collapse of society’s as we know them. I think that’s a bit extreme, but their extreme view of the future is as likely as the views expressed by many other so-called futurists. Perhaps the answer is to live in the moment. Certainly, you can spend some time studying the past, to see if you can learn anything from what happened; however, it is foolhardy to spend much time pondering the future, beyond things that you have some control over, such as saving for retirement.
If you look at history and spend any time contemplating your future, you will eventually realize that no one has ever lived forever and that you are unlikely to become the first to break that record. That might eventually lead you to the conclusion that Jack was preaching about, that you should look up – towards God; if there is a God. That is a question that each of us deals with eventually.
So, I’ll not spend much time looking back at 2013 (or further back) and will only as an amusement read or watch the predictions for the future. As I get older I do spend a bit more time looking up and find comfort in my belief that there is a God and a future beyond death. Try as I might, I cannot wrap my head around what it must be like for those who conclude that there is no God. To have nothing at the end of life must be a desolate feeling.
I guess that does lead to one prediction for the future that I feel relatively safe in making – we will all come to the end of life on this earth, whether in 2014 or date beyond. What lies beyond that date is pretty much up to you.