Spoiler alert: Skip to the third full paragraph if you want to avoid knowing too much about the movie Arrival or the novel 11/22/63
Last weekend some friends and I watched the Academy Award nominated film Arrival. Beautiful and thought-provoking, the film explores the linear nature of time. Linguist Louise Brooks (Amy Adams) learns from talking with an alien life form that she will one day have a daughter, and that daughter will die of an incurable disease at a young age. She chooses to marry the girl’s father and have the baby anyway, but then tells her husband what is going to happen to their little girl. He leaves, devastated that she chose to conceive their daughter knowing how her life would end.
If you knew ahead of time how your choices would turn out, would you live your life differently?
Stephen King’s fascinating novel 11/22/63 approaches time from a different angle. Al Templeton offers Jake Epping a chance to travel back in time, on the condition that Jake attempts to prevent the assassination of JFK. Al reasons that if Kennedy had lived, our country would be far better off, so they plan to stop Lee Harvey Oswald. After several tries, Jake is successful, but when he returns to contemporary America, he finds that meddling with history has had unforeseen and disastrous consequences for the entire world…
If you could go back and change the past, would your present actually be what you want it to be?
We want fortunetellers and horoscopes to lift the veil off the future and reveal what lies ahead. Movies like Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow offer the fantasy that if we could just relive the same day over and over, we could eventually do that day right- stop the bad guys or get the girl. Philosophical musings like these are entertaining in books and movies, but there are a few times in life when these questions beg for answers. Let’s face it: accepting a new job, moving to another city, committing to marriage or parenting, all of these have profound consequences affecting the rest of our lives. Who wouldn’t want to have a peek ten years down the road? In the next two months one of my sons will make his first major life decision when he chooses a college. To some extent, that choice will open some doors and close others, and he has no way of knowing the ripple effect of this one choice.
When I think about the choices our fictional heroes Louise Brooks and Jake Epping face, I realize that living life with no knowledge of the future and no control over the past is one of the great mercies of God. When Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:24), He knows that we simply aren’t equipped to live any other way. In fact, Jesus urges us to shake off both fear and regret and live one day at a time.
Fear by definition is the dread that something bad will happen in the future. The perceived danger may be imminent or years down the road, but fear not only clouds good judgment, it can lead to paralyzing indecision. Going back to the college choice, my son might reason fearfully like this: At school A I might take a class with a professor who inspires me to pursue a productive and fulfilling career, but I might meet the woman of my dreams at school B. If I go to school A, will I ever meet the woman at school B? I can only pray my son chooses a path that eventually leads him to both.
Furthermore, fear of the future robs us of the present. In His wisdom, Jesus doesn’t just tell us not to worry, He offers us something we can do now, in the moment, to substitute for worry: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) If my daily occupation is seeking the kingdom of God, I will not have hours or days left over for anything else, and every day I have on this earth will be worthwhile.
God gave the Israelites a very literal image to demonstrate how this daily seeking works. In the wilderness, God provided manna each morning for His people to gather and eat. They were instructed only to gather what they needed for the day (except the day before the Sabbath, when they gathered two days’ worth). Any manna they tried to hoard overnight, just in case God didn’t provide, would spoil. (Exodus 16) The metaphor is vivid: imagine being a parent going to bed each night with no food for your family. Every morning the work of gathering the flaky bread off the ground signified their humbling dependence on the day-by-day provision of God. Centuries later, Jesus declared that He is “the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (John 6:33) If we are wise, we seek our “Manna” in the morning with even greater urgency than they gathered theirs.
So just like the Israelites, we can joyfully say, “This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Certainly the verse stands alone as a true statement of faith, one we would do well to declare daily. But the verses which surround it show why we rejoice. It’s about Jesus:
I will give thanks to You, for You have heard and answered me, and You have become my salvation [my Rescuer, my Savior]. The stone which the builders rejected (Jesus) has become the chief cornerstone. This is from the Lord and is His doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This [day in which has God saved me] is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. O Lord, save now, we beseech You; Oh Lord, we beseech You, send now prosperity and give us success! (Psalm 118: 21-25 AMP)
Through Jesus we have been saved, permanently and forever, and we enjoy that salvation every single day. But it is equally true that each day we are also in the process of being saved- from the power of sins like worry and fear- if we will take hold of that freedom which He died to give us. He has saved us, but He is also saving us now, today, in this moment.
His salvation is accomplished. His salvation is ongoing. His salvation is forever.
And so now, today, let us rejoice and be glad in it.