A used bookstore is truly an amazing place. The value of such a place transcends the monetary worth of its holdings. A good used bookstore serves, not only as a repository of history’s most influential ideas, but also as a storehouse of expired cultural fads and obsessions. For example, you can walk into any used bookstore in America and find copies of the Left Behind series.
Left Behind was a series of sixteen novels that began being released in the mid-1990s and sold over 60 million copies. The novels were unique in popularizing a brand of theology known as dispensationalism. In short, this approach to Christianity derives from the Bible a detailed timeline of history, both past and future. The Left Behind series portrayed a fictionalized account of how the world would end.
I read the Left Behind series as a teenager. Growing up in the Bible belt, I was well-aware of the popular phenomenon. I wasn’t interested in following Jesus at that point in my life, but I was absolutely captivated by the books’ potential to tell me the future. Who wouldn’t want to know the world’s future destiny before it ever happens?
Human beings have been fascinated by the future since the beginning of time. In 1 Samuel 28, King Saul, fearful of an impending battle against the Philistines, sought out a medium to consult the dead prophet Samuel in order to tell him the future outcome. In Acts 16, the apostle Paul commanded a spirit to leave a slave girl. The owners of the slave girl, however, were angered and had Paul and Silas thrown into prison because the slave girl made them money by fortune-telling. Their means of profit ended as the spirit left her body.
The business of fortune-telling is still around today. To this day, even in a culture as secular as America, you can easily find psychics in any town and tarot readers in major parks. A Pew survey conducted in 2017 found that over thirty percent of Americans believe in astrology and that number is growing. We are obsessed with knowing the future.
Our future-obsession seems especially intense in our current digital age. New technology has a way of making the past seem dull and the future look exciting and full of potential. Our economy functions only by creating novelty. There will continue to be new iPhones with new features, not because you need a fourth camera lens, but because Apple needs to turn a profit. Some have called this phenomenon the “organized creation of discontentment,” and its completely future-oriented.
But I have a suspicion that there’s another reason why we’re so interested in the future. We want control, and knowing the future allows us to operate under the illusion that we have it. Unfortunately, we are increasingly worse at predicting the future. Have you seen the polls from the last two election cycles? Our obsession with knowing the future combined with our inability to accurately know it puts us in quite a quandary. We are reporting historic levels of depression and anxiety.
Christmas is a time for the church to be reminded that our assurance in a chaotic world does not derive from knowing the future. Our hope does not rest on new technologies, a cure for cancer, world peace, a presidential election, retirement, education, or a vaccine. Christmas is a time for us to remember that comfort and joy does not come from being seated at one end of a fortune-teller’s table, but from the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.
Over 2000 years ago, God entered history and became a man. This world-changing event was the fulfillment of centuries of prophecy and God’s sign to us that he had not abandoned his creation. God the Son took on human flesh and entered our broken world in order to save us. In the words of Titus 2:11, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”
While we separate Christmas from Easter in our calendar, the two bookends of Christ’s earthly life must not be separated in our imaginations. Christ was born to die. He came to redeem. His birth marked the beginning of the end for all of our greatest enemies. Jesus came to defeat sin and death and suffering by his own suffering, death, and resurrection. This Christmas let’s be reminded of the true source of our assurance and hope. It’s a story we’ve heard a thousand times, but it’s a story we are daily in danger of forgetting.