Do you want to know the future? All of us do at one point or another as we face uncertainty in the circumstances around us. In the U.S. of 2017 issues of immigration, health care, free trade, North Korea, Russia, ISIS among other things dominate the nation and international scene. Donald Trump, his cabinet, the Republicans and Democrats, courts and the states all vigorously compete that their ideas might dominate. Many figure that if we knew the future in these issues then we could make more informed decisions right now.
The Grand Strategy
What about the cold war? Where did that come from? Who shaped it? Did it work?
An answer to these questions can be deduced by studying the men who were there at its creation. One of the most important men started off behind the scenes. He was insecure and introspective, but learned from the things that he he witnessed during his stints in Moscow during the mid-1930s and mid-1940s. He also learned from the things he read. Pondering from such things he concocted what became the grand strategy of containment that we know as the cold war. George Kennan was his name and the thumbnail sketch of this policy can be identified from the “X Article” which was published in 1947.
John Lewis Gaddis was the authorized biographer of George Kennan. In a 2011 lecture to the U.S. Naval War College1 Professor Gaddis pointed to two literary works with which Kennan was familiar. One was historical: Edward Gibbons’ The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The other was fictional: Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family.
Gibbon’s work on the Roman empire taught that within the confines of an empire are the seeds of that empire’s destruction. A thing which almost goes without saying is that conquered civilizations don’t like to be conquered. Nor do they wish to remain that way. Eventually the empire gets hollowed out by things intrinsic to itself. Like osteoporosis the skeleton becomes weaker and weaker even while the skin, the façade, may look the picture of health. The Buddenbrooks family declined from within over the four fictional generations that Thomas Mann shaped in that his first and very celebrated German work.
Kennan predicted a good outcome for the West and for the U.S. by applying firm and continual pressure against the Soviet regime. Their highly flexible policies result in an inherently unstable union which Kennan proposed would either breakup or gradually mellow. On December 26th, 1991 nearly 45 years after Kennan’s article was published the U.S.S.R. was dissolved. The steady containment was not by any means immune from unintended consequences, but World War III, the thing so much feared in that era, never materialized.
Most of us do not hold positions in the U.S. Foreign Service, all of us are people created by God and go through life with various uncertainties. While our conclusions may not result in U.S. policies that span multiple decades we still have lives to live and things to conclude. People and communities can be influenced for generations by our ways and our means
How shall we then write?
Remember how Kennan learned? He observed the people around him. He studied and read. Of the two works mentioned as influences in his life Gibbons was non-fiction and Mann was fiction. Both of these informed him of the way that the world worked. That grasp in his mind led to decisions in his life.
There is a far better “classic” upon which our lives should be built: The Bible.
“19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” (Revelation 1:19–ESV)
In it we are given everything we need for life and godliness said Peter.
In Revelation 1:19 we see that Jesus himself tells John the Apostle to record the things that John has been the witness to as well as the things that he was currently being shown. Those were to be written down. Those became what we have as the Bible. Just as George Kennan recorded things he saw and developed perspective from them and from books so must we.
The Bible is a magnificent work spanning several thousand years, multiple people groups and includes both history and prophecy. Many of those prophecies have already come to pass and as such we can know so much more by sight than the men and women of old. Peter says in his second letter (Chapter 1 verse 19) that we have the words of the prophets made more certain.
Here in Revelation we see prophecy given by Jesus regarding the end of all things. I don’t think that the contexts of Revelation are likely to give us actionable prophecy for our current times, but they are very good for hope in our moments and the future. While Revelation does not give specifics of ISIS or Russia or immigration or other things in 2017 we can have confidence that no matter the direction our world goes God is still the end of it all. God still stands as the bookends on history encompassing all things.
Jesus told John to write some things. John told us we would be blessed if we learned them. The choice is mine and the choice is yours. The Bible will not give you specifics on whether you should buy this car or that house, pursue this career or that spouse, but it will give guidance that can be trusted as we face these uncertainties. It is really more than just the Bible. It is God himself who loves us and has given himself up for us.
Much farther than George
George Kennan spoke of earthly things and predicted that the Soviet Union would disintegrate. It took about 45 years, but it did disintegrate. Not all predictions that man give come to pass, but there is another man, the man from heaven whose predictions do, always come to pass. Jesus did not say, “things that probably will take place,” but things “that are to take place.” While many on earth will disregard the words of the Bible and of Jesus, they do so to their own peril. The Bible is a well attested book. Much of its historicity and many of its prophecies are already in place. We would do well to make it a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.
In the scripture we see that God loves and values all men. George Kennan, Walter Isaacson, John the Apostle and us are loved of God and given an array of opportunities to be involve with God’s doings. As I read and as I write sometimes I have inklings that place the revelations of God to John the Apostle in a different category than Isaacson. In some manner I even consider Isaacson different than those he wrote on: different and detached.
The question that came to my mind as a result was: how are soulish things and earthly things co-experienced? The answer was that we should be taking confidence for the future that is God revealed into the realities that each of us manage on a daily basis.
I must assemble schedules, monitor study hours of the ophthalmologists I am training along with their surgical volumes and academic progress. I must coordinate their evaluations and coach them along through ups and downs. Layered on top of these are patients, some needy, some not so needy. Awareness of God shapes the doing of these things. Awareness of end times will effect a man of action as well as a man of introspection. The effects may be different, but if each person is submitting to God as God weaves then the outcome will be like a beautiful tapestry.
Each of us must work at a thing with all our heart and mind and soul. We must work with God’s strength and from his perspective revealed in the Holy Scripture. We do well to add the insights God has given to our mental repertoire. They will not be specifics, but they will be necessary hints that feed back into our moments holding us onto the course God is rolling out before us.
Not often does the writer of scripture get as direct an involvement as John had with God himself. In this revelation not only was the content given, but also the outline was.
- Chapter 1 – Things seen
- Chapter 2-3 – Things now (for John)
- Chapters 4-22 – Things in the future
“20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (Revelation 1:20–ESV)
The outline of what John was to write was not the only thing mentioned. Jesus even went on to explain crucial symbols that were present in the beginning of this vision. There are several interpretations of the word angel that John uses in verse 20, but the most reasonable one in the context here is that angels were actually the pastors, overseers of the churches. While the supernatural being, angel, messenger of God would be the easiest interpretation that breaks down when the messages of each letter are considered. The angel is assigned fault or responsibility and those things are not assigned to angels. Angels with faults are fallen angels, demons. Too, while angels are usually messengers of God that is not what is happening in this passage. The message to the churches is to come through John via a letter, not via transmission by an angelic minister.
The lampstands represented the actual churches, bodies of believers who would receive the letters. Note that a lampstand is not the light. The lampstand supports the light which shines in a dark world.
What do we have today?
We have books written by the prophets of God including the book of Revelation. There are angels assigned to our churches delivering the messages of God to the church leaders and members. The Holy Spirit is active and engaged as well. All of this is over the souls of people. Even the members of the churches are to be lights in the world, lamps on a stand dispelling darkness.
What will we do? What role will we play? Hopefully, prayerfully, we lay our ambitions at the foot of the cross offering all we are and have at our disposal to his will and counsel.