Hugh Bates is not above taking a few hints from the children of this world
FIRST, A WORD of gratitude to John Goldingay and Michael Moynagh, for drawing my attention to the (?) new discipline of Futures Studies (*). One can now take a Master’s Degree in this at the Metropolitan University of Leeds. Like the Wise Man of old, ‘I grow old learning all the time’.
Futures Studies is a serious business. Not the noddy course that it might appear at first sight. A grasp of factors like the possible directions of new research, the increasing or decreasing availability of resources amongst other things is vital for the formation of corporate policy or the production of business plans. Politicians and political parties that are proactive to a greater rather than lesser degree need to have a firm grasp of what the Future might hold as they seek to form their policies in areas like Pensions, Healthcare and Education.
Close acquaintance with the appropriate demographic studies is essential. Futures Studies makes us ask the questions, What situations do we wish to bring about? What Situations would we prefer to avoid? What courses need to be adopted to produce the desired results? Or, suppose things turn out as we would have wished, or not, as the case may be, What has happened to produce this effect?
Futures Studies often proceeds by the construction and examination of various different possible scenarios, in order to estimate which is the most plausible and probable. An example, quoted by Goldingay and Moynagh is South Africa back in 1991, when white majority rule was clearly on its last legs. A group of twenty two members of all shades of political opinion was convened.
Each was invited to present a picture of what might happen (not necessarily what they would like to happen) after the departure of the white government. During the presentations only two kinds of interruption were permitted. The first, ‘Why does that happen?’ The second, ‘What happens next?’ If the presenter was unable to answer either of these questions, he/she had to sit down and the presentation was disqualified. Apparently only four out of a possible thirty presentations survived. How far the new government still uses them is not known – not by me at any rate.
This is yet another sad example of the way in which the children of this world are, in their generation, wiser than the children of light! We should have been into Futures Studies ever since God called Abraham from beyond the River in Ur of the Chaldees. The Prophets were doing it in the Old Testament. In the New that much neglected and misunderstood document The Revelation of St. John the Divine offers a series of vivid and brilliantly constructed scenarios. Our Lord himself was doing it when he re-enacted Zechariah’s vision on Palm Sunday, and over and over again in his parables like that of the wicked husbandmen and the various harvest parables. None of these are predictions. They are not offering us timetables of coming events in world history. They are not disclosures of confidential details of the planning and organisation of the New Jerusalem. What they are seeking to do is to open our hearts and minds and our wills to the possibilities, the realities, of what the future might hold for us. What might we want to avoid and how? What kind of things might we wish to bring about – if we could?
The Collect for Advent Sunday (BCP) contrasts the first coming of Christ ‘in great humility’ with his second coming in glory ‘to judge the living and the dead’. How might the techniques of Futures Studies be applied in this context? They will certainly be of no help in predicting ‘The Day or the Hour’. Even if the Almighty has something in mind, He may not be all that bothered about keeping to a strict timetable. We can hardly expect much by way of punctuality from one to whom ‘a thousand ages are like an evening gone’!
THE LAST WORD
The important thing is the promise that, sooner or later, He, the Almighty is going to have the last word. He is Alpha and Omega. Everything begins and everything ends with him.
In the meantime it is possible, necessary indeed, to construct a wide variety of scenario about what this last word might be and to whom it will be addressed. Might it be the kind of word we will be glad to hear, or the kind of word we might wish not to have been spoke Some scenarios may serve as a warning or a challenge; some may serve as grounds for confidence and hope. In building these scenarios we will be renewing our acquaintance with the work of the prophets and seers of generations past and adding our own contribution as we make their work our own.
Taking thought for God’s tomorrow in this way would give a new slant to the sometimes weary parish Bible Study Groups. Of course, it is too late for Advent now …but there is always Lent!
Hugh Bates is a retired priest living in the diocese of York.
* John Goldingay and Michael Moynagh, Old Testament Prophecy and Futures Studies, November/December, 1999, pp.416-23