Taking Thought for Tomorrow
by R.C. Sproul
“I’m too busy enjoying summer to think about winer,” the grasshopper told the the ant.
—from the Grasshopper and the Ant, by Aseop
MY FATHER’S FAVORITE BIBLE VERSE was Jesus’ admonition in the Sermon on the Mount, “Take no thought for tomorrow, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink.…” He never tired of quoting this text to me when I was a boy. Yet my father did take thought for the future. He bought life insurance, fire insurance, health insurance, etc. He also had a savings account. He preached a philosophy of delayed gratification. With my weekly allowance, he insisted that I first take 10 percent of it and give it back to God. Then he required that I take a second 10 percent and put it in savings. Then he said I could spend the remaining 80 percent on my special needs and wants.
Was his philosophy contrary to his favorite Bible verse? By no means. He understood that what Jesus was teaching was not a prohibition against prudence but a message against the anxiety that robs us of our trust in the good providence of God. The providence of God, among other things, has to do with His provision for our needs. “Provision” literally means “to see beforehand.” As God’s creatures, we not only are to trust in His providence, we are to reflect His character by being provident ourselves rather than profligate. The apostle Paul teaches that the father who fails to provide for his household is worse than an infidel (1 Tim. 5:8). Scripture repeatedly enjoins us to be prudent stewards of the gifts we receive from God.
When God revealed to Joseph that the land would experience seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, he spent the seven years of plenty preparing Egypt for the coming famine. As a superb administrator, he prepared storehouses in which grain was preserved for times of emergency. By his actions, not only were the Egyptians able to survive the famine, but Joseph was able to provide his own family with a refuge from the calamity, which, in the providence of God, ensured the survival of His chosen people.
Joseph did not take a simplistic linear or uniformitarian view of history. He understood that history is subject to intrusions of the catastrophic. Like Noah before him, he believed that things would not remain the same but that drastic changes were coming—and he prepared for those changes.
In October, weather forecasters noted the formation of a tropical storm far off in the Atlantic. It was given the name Mitch. No one was too concerned until Mitch picked up force and became a huge hurricane bearing down on the Caribbean. Soon people were boarding up their homes and business establishments, and making preparations for evacuation. Many people in Honduras, Nicaragua, and throughout Central America learned the folly of linear thinking the hard way beneath the wrath of Mitch.
A perennial debate goes on in the field of geology between those who argue for uniformitarianism and those who argue for catastrophism. Some steer a middle course between the two. We understand the changes that are wrought over protracted periods of time via erosion and other methods, but it is risky business to assume that all of the changes that have occurred on our planet have been the result of gradualism. The volcanic explosion of Mount Saint Helens produced a stratification effect on the area in a matter of hours that paralleled changes often assumed to have taken millions of years to have occurred. And a mastadon found totally preserved in the polar ice cap had undigested food in its stomach that included tropical vegetation, indicating a sudden change in climate. A strange anomaly indeed.
The Y2K scare that confronts us today warns us about the possibility of a catastrophe unprecedented in the world’s history. Hurricanes, floods, and volcanic eruptions come and go, and we have experience in dealing with them. But the threat of a massive infrastructure collapse on a global scale is something with which we are not familiar. We are so dependent on this infrastructure that it boggles the mind to contemplate what would happen if it suddenly collapsed.
For several months, like a nervous Floridian tracking hurricane coordinates, I have been reading everything I can get my hands on regarding the Y2K problem. In a nutshell, I have learned that the only thing I know for sure about Y2K is that nobody knows for sure about Y2K. I hear experts from various sectors saying that Y2K will be a mere hiccup in history, with no significant damage to the status quo. I hear other experts forecasting a global catastrophe of epic proportions. And there are other scenarios in between.
Basically the prognosticated are predicting one of four possible scenarios: 1. A hiccup (much ado about nothing). 2. A recession with rolling brownouts in power. 3. A major depression with bank failures, power blackouts, and severe shortages in fuel, food, water, etc. 4. The meltdown of civilization with one billion fatalities—the end of the world as we know it.
In wading through the literature on this matter, I have passed through a sequence of psychological states. The sequence has moved from awareness to concern to alarm to action. I still do not know what will happen or which of the possible scenarios actually will take place. Of the four I mentioned, however, the one I least expect is number 1.I think the odds highly favor that the impact of Y2K will be at least number 2 and possibly number 3 or number 4.I am hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.
I believe I would be acutely irresponsible if I didn’t take steps to prepare for life-threatening scenarios such as those posited by Y2K. As a husband and father, I am responsible not to keep my family in toys and luxury but to do all I can to provide them with the basic necessities of life, such as water, food, heat, etc. But as a Christian and a minister, my responsibility goes far beyond my own household. Whether it’s the threat of Y2K or any other possible calamity, our concern must always be for our community—for the church and for my neighbor. Joseph made provision not only for himself and his family, but also for his countrymen. When calamities occur, local or national rugged individualism or isolationism simply won’t do.
We cannot control the future; it belongs to God. This is His world. Our confidence for tomorrow must rest in Him. What we can control is our behavior in the face of danger. We can be prudent or we can be fools.
I see no simple solution to the problems ahead. Every option we have has risks. It can be painful and expensive to prepare for difficult times, but it can be far more painful and far more expensive to fail to prepare for difficult times. The problem is exacerbated by the relentless reality that to make no decision about this matter is to make a decision. The decisions we make today will have consequences tomorrow. This is why I ask my friends and acquaintances to, at the very least, get informed about the possible perils of the days ahead. To be uninformed is to be unprepared. My concern is that most people will be like me in that they will take no cautionary action until they move through the stages of awareness-concern-alarm. Please do not assume that history is linear and uniform. Nothing disproves that assumption like history itself.