In his newest book, Great By Choice, author Jim Collins writes, “Life is uncertain, the future unknown. This is neither good nor bad. It just is, like gravity. Yet the task remains: how to master our fate, even so.”
Collins is neither a philosopher nor a theologian, but his view is commonly held – consciously or not – even by many who read the Scriptures and want to trust in God. So let’s break down Collin’s statement into three parts and compare them to God’s Word.
Is “life uncertain, the future unknown”? Or can we know what will happen in the New Year? As I write this, my mind and heart are reeling from the news that a dear friend and colleague has inoperable (though not untreatable) lung cancer. Recently married, he was never a smoker and has always lived a healthy and active life. He received this diagnosis of stage 3B cancer on his 28th birthday. Who could have foreseen this?
Such unexpected news is shocking, deeply unsettling, even disorienting and traumatic. It’s not that this young man’s prognosis is without hope. I absolutely believe he can survive, either through God’s use of medical procedures or by divine healing, for which we can and do pray. The point is, at times like this life does seem uncertain indeed. Hundreds and thousands of people are impacted by the news of some life-threatening condition every year. Around 155,000 people die each and every day and, should the Lord tarry, we can all expect to do the same whether sooner or later.
I don’t mean to sound morbid. I only wish to point out that in one sense we actually have a great deal of certainty about the future – suffering will come, and sooner or later, death. This is no surprise. As King Solomon exclaimed, “That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Job said that, “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).
But Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world”(John 16:33). In this one verse we have two indisputable certainties about life.
Suffering and death are inescapable, but we can be fully confident about our future and, yes, even cheerful, knowing that the Lord Jesus has overcome all those things that appear so very tragic to us. He promises us a future and a hope that anchors the soul in holy certainty, rooted and grounded in His indestructible life.
Collins’ second assertion is that the supposed uncertainty of an unknown future “is neither good nor bad.” The Bible tells us differently, and gives us a perspective on the fact that inevitable and often tragic “surprises” come our way. The vagaries of this life, the suffering and death we endure, are all part of the curse of sin that has infected the entire creation.
Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life… . For dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17,19).
Even when our sin has been dealt with and forgiven, we still live in a world that is riddled with the effects of the epidemic. So when we experience sickness, sorrow and loss, we can be quite sure that these are very bad things indeed. Paul describes death as a mortal enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). Yet once again, the Bible offers another truth to balance our perspective. Death’s doom is sure.
O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57).
What is more, until that day of final victory, death remains the portal through which we can pass into the presence of the great eternal God who loves us and welcomes us home when we do finally die. Even the great evils of suffering and death can be transformed for great good in the hands of a sovereign God, helping us develop patience, humility and trust in God and His promises.
Yes, we can hate suffering and death for what they are and what they cause in this life. Yet we can also rejoice in what God certainly can and will do when we turn to Him to transform our trials into triumphs, though we don’t understand how He will do it. And that leads to the third of Collins’ statements we must challenge: “the task remains: how to master our fate, even so.”
The Bible never tasks us with any such thing. Solomon concluded,
Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12)
You see, the task is not for us to master our fate but to entrust our fate to the Master
You see, the task is not for us to master our fate but to entrust our fate to the Master, and live our lives through His wisdom and strength. He truly knows what is best for us, wants what is best for us and will do what is best for us and those we love – for all who truly love and trust Him.
Paul exclaimed, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Like Paul, we need to consider all that will happen in this New Year – good or bad – not worthy to be compared with the glory yet to be revealed. It is with that kind of consideration and certitude that I want to enter 2014. It is with that kind of comfort that I want to speak to my suffering friends as I also share in their suffering. It is with that kind of far-sighted certainty that I want to lovingly proclaim the good news to the Jewish people and to all I come in contact with in this New Year.
My father tells the story of my grandfather Nathan’s funeral. He died of cancer only weeks after trusting Jesus as His Messiah. At the graveside, grandpa Nathan’s mother was wailing and crying out in Yiddish, “Oh my Nathan, he’s in the ground, he’s in the ground, he’s in the ground.” My grandmother Bernice, a new follower of Jesus herself, whispered through her tears to her mother-in-law, “No momma. He’s not in the ground. He is in heaven with the Lord.” You see, Jesus makes all the difference in this world of suffering and death. It is for that difference, that hope and that certainty that we so long for people to know Him. This is the gospel. This is our message and our sure and certain hope in the New Year.