Does the future exist?
by Jim Powers
Seems like a strange question to ask, right? Does the future exist? But whether it exists depends on our point of reference, and for us it is rooted in our biological nature. Our belief about the future is an existential one. Every choice we make, or don’t make, nudges the outcome one way or the other. Do we have any responsibility for the future?
We are biological beings with a limited lifespan. As Oliver Burkeman observed in his book Four Thousand Weeks, if I live to be 80 years old, I have about 4,000 weeks. If you are 20 years old, that seems like forever; but, from my perspective as a 71-year-old, my life has seemed astonishingly short, with only a few hundred weeks left. From a purely personal perspective, beyond my physical life, there is no future. Once I die, the past, present, and future no longer exist.
The theologian will insist, though, that I’m wrong about that, that I am more than just my physical body and mind, and when my body dies that part of me that exists outside the physical realm, call it the soul if you are in the Judeo-Christian tradition, will transition, intact, to a different realm of existence and continue forever. I am, from that perspective, immortal.
Others argue that I don’t need to worry about the future of the physical world because, when it gets bad enough, God is going to redeem it, creating a new heaven and a new earth. When the last tree dies, he will simply hit the reboot button, creating a better world than the first one, that cannot be corrupted by corrupt mankind, and warn us not to screw it up again.
Many people seem to be willing to gamble on the prospect that our planet, culture, and society might be saved at the last minute with the intervention of a heavenly cavalry. Maybe. But we have been waiting on that for thousands of years. As Christians, we clearly don’t understand the scale of God’s timeline. And we don’t agree on God’s intention for not only this planet, but the universe.
My belief from studying the Bible is that it teaches God is not going to fix our mess for us. I’m an amillenialist and believe that in the moment we die we are redeemed, that there is no corporate resurrection of the dead on a new physical earth. From the perspective of the dead Christian, that is a good thing. But for those who must live out their lives on earth waiting for that personal redemption, I believe we have a responsibility.
Yes, I believe we have a responsibility to the future to protect the environment and even if that means short term pain for us today, we should create sustainable practices, capitalism be damned. But it goes well beyond that.
We must create a future where people are valued beyond their economic output. From a purely Christian position, we can’t value one person more than another. Jesus’ most fundamental teaching contradicts that view. But even from a purely humanistic position, it also makes no sense. We say the words that all people have value, even to the point that we argue a fertilized egg is a person and should be protected by the state yet will try to make the lives of those who are hungry and living on the street even harder than it already is.
We routinely hold beliefs that people that are different from us have no place in our society (while declaring loudly that we do not). And we use the power of the state to marginalize “others.” We have a religious right that openly support Christian Nationalism and believe that their religion should rule this country. None of this is Christian. It’s not even human.
We owe the future a society with the primary goal of providing health care to everyone, a roof over their heads and enough food to eat. These should be core values of society. And, yes, we owe future humans an unpolluted earth, with air they can breathe, water they can drink, and land they can grow food on. Our obsession with Capitalism will not allow that. The result of Capitalism is always the same. The wealth of the country is shifted to a very few individuals at the very top, people only have value to the extent they can produce wealth for those few, and the environment exists only to exploit for their financial benefit.
What do we owe the future? What do you owe your children? The future depends on the choices we make now.
Jim Powers writes opinion columns. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Polk County Publishing Company or its owners.
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