When you needed divine instruction in the ancient world, you went to an oracle. If you waited in line long enough and paid a priest the right fee, then you would be granted access into some inner chamber or subterranean recess. And just maybe, the god of local sponsorship would give you a word (whether you understood it or not would be a different story, of course).
Approaching the one, true God of Christian faith, however, requires less fanfare. His accessibility is less regulated. His presence is not localized within some isolated temple to which we must make pilgrimage each time we need to interact with Him. And, of course, we have the internet….
Over the past several months of my life, I had been awaiting news from three graduate schools in both the UK and the US. I had submitted book proposals to a couple of publishers. And in case the grad schools didn’t work out, I had my application in to a couple of really exciting ministry jobs. So my life was acutely transitional—our third child was due in June and we didn’t even know what country we would be living in come August.
Desperate for news, I found myself frenetically clicking on my e-mail server’s Inbox icon—today could be the day when my future unfolds and I hear about that scholarship! Today could be the day when dreams come true and I hear that an editor loves my manuscript! Today could be the day when that job opportunity becomes a reality! …and in feverish excitement I watched as the webpage opened regularly to reveal “No New Messages.”
This little exercise of checking my e-mail so regularly and desperately for news of my immediate future had become an exercise in oracular consultation. I seemed to have been treating the Internet as an oracle through which God would reveal His plans for me.
But consulting an oracle in the ancient world was usually a self-centered act. Most of the clientele came seeking the god’s insight or instruction over the gods or goddesses themselves. And I am noticing that this is similar to how I was treating God.
Was I more concerned with unfolding news about my life, or with Jesus? Was I more desperate for God, or for the plans I expected Him to reveal through some e-mail? My internet surfing had taken on the eerie feel of rubbing an Arabian lamb or peering into a crystal ball. But I wasn’t interested in the genie or the fortune-teller, I just wanted to know the next step.
We can find ourselves rather neurotic about knowing the future. There is a passage that always pierces me when I find myself becoming more interested in God’s future plans than in God Himself; when I am more interested in having Him rush the future than in enjoying Him in the present:
“Woe to those… who say: ‘Let Him be quick, let Him speed His work that we may see it; let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near, and let it come, that we may know it” (Isaiah 5:18-19, ESV).
It is a good idea to avoid anything that is preceded in Scripture by “woe to those who…”!
Finally, through a series of e-mails, phone calls, and face-to-face encounters, plans did unfold for me. No scholarships, but one of those exciting ministry jobs was graciously extended to me. The greatest Treasure, however, never changed. I may now have the sense of peace that comes from knowing (or thinking I know!) the plan, but the greatest Treasure was already mine. Though we are quite often deprived of knowing what God has in store for us down the road, we are not deprived of God Himself in the present. I wished I had spent more praying and enjoying God in the present than with clicking that mouse in search of my future. I wished I had been more engrossed with Jesus than with His plans for me.
When Galadriel allowed those hobbits to look in her Mirror, they did not get to see the future per se, but strange visions of what could be that locked them more solidly in their commitment to the quest, no matter the eventual (and likely dreadful) outcome. This blog makes no claims to be oracular. But maybe the conversations will spur us on to think more accurately and savor more passionately our Lord.
So forget divining the self-oriented future. God’s (often silent) presence is better.