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"Going Forward"

Web posted on January 12, 2018

Hey Jude!

You hear the expression "going forward" a lot in radio and TV interviews these days. It's a neologism that has become part of the current "business speak". As it's often used, it's an unnecessary substitute for plain-speak "next" or "in the future".

But as we entered the New Year it occurred to me that maybe this neologism actually fills a need. Maybe it was invented because "next" and "in the future" don't say what really matters to us. What we crave in business, as in every other sphere of life, is a future that's not merely "next" but actually "expansive" and "filled with hope".

That's what we'd all like in so many different ways. And that's what so often escapes us. As a friend of mine said to his wife when she awoke on her 40th birthday, "Well, dear, it's all downhill from here!" The house, he admitted later, was chilly for several days after that.

But in a sense that we might prefer to forget, my friend was right. Despite the joys we have in our lives, and the fixes we're able to make when problems intrude, entropy besets everything. It's not just biological systems that degrade over time; all things seem to run down like the unwinding of a clock. That's what St Paul meant when he wrote that God has subjected everything to "futility" ("vanity" in the King James Version, but maybe read "entropy") (Romans 8:20). Paul was recalling that well-known line from Ecclesiastes: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."

Another friend of mine recently reconnected with the love of his life, whom he first met twenty years ago. There was thunder and lightning on both sides, and she urged an early engagement. My friend was eager to be the father that her kids never had. Then over Christmas, barely weeks into the engagement, she dumped him. All his "going forward", expansive and filled with hope, came crashing down. And what distresses him most is his powerlessness to fix it.

Entropy is a fact of life that infects our bodies, our businesses, our politics, our machines, our personal relationships, right down to our very souls. Crummy as that is, it has a strange upside - it shows that we have a sense of what ought to be, which is opposite to how things currently are.

But what are we to make of that "ought"? Is it just a figment of our wishful thinking? Or is it a foretaste of something better to come. When our clocks have all unwound, are we then out of time? Or will Somebody reset them and wind them up again? Paul writes, curiously, not just that God subjected everything to futility, but that he did so "in hope" (Romans 8:20).

Years ago when I was in teachers' college, we used to talk about "learning readiness" - the idea that things are learnt well only when kids come with the necessary conceptual framework and maturity of experience. Might it just be that our experience of that pervasive entropy creates a learning readiness that enables us to see through our powerlessness to the reality of an all-powerful Creator? To Someone who can and will, ultimately, and in ways we cannot imagine, fix the stuff that we could not?

Centuries before Jesus and Paul, the prophet Isaiah looked forward to a new age, an age of which God would say, "Behold, I am doing a new thing" (Isaiah 43:19). Many of us think that Jesus - crucified, raised from the dead, and coming again - is God's key factor in that "new thing". But these days, so enmeshed as we are in the ups and downs of the present world, Jesus may actually seem irrelevant. That's where the "learning readiness" comes in.

Jesus does not become relevant to us until a crack appears in our present world-view, and through that crack we see the "new thing", the sense of what ought to be, as a live "maybe" beyond our present reality. It's then that we find ourselves going forward to a future filled with hope.

No one has said that better than St Paul, and no one has made Paul more readable than J. B. Phillips in his New Testament in Modern English:

"In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality [literally "has been subjected to futility"], not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God's purpose it has been so limited - yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!

"It is plain to anyone with eyes to see that at the present time all created life groans in a sort of universal travail. And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension while we wait for that redemption of our bodies, which will mean that at last we have realised our full sonship in him. We were saved by this hope, but in our moments of impatience let us remember that hope always means waiting for something that we haven't yet got. But if we hope for something we cannot see, then we must settle down to wait for it in patience" (Romans 8:18-25).

Best wishes for a New Year that's expansive and filled with hope, because it's going forward in Jesus.

________________________

Rev Robert Lyon is the assistant at St Jude, Guelph, a congregation of the Anglican Network in Canada, that meets at 10 o'clock on Sundays at the Evergreen Centre, near Riverside Park. Robert welcomes your questions and comments, and will be pleased to discuss topics on request. Contact him at nm@albedo.net.
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