The problem with the future is that….

…it’s in the future. And the only thing anyone can say for sure about the future is that it is largely unknown. We can guess; we can speculate; we can imagine. But, especially in the COVID days, no one knows with any degree of precision what the future is going to look like. The arrival of the Coronavirus demonstrates for sure that it is beyond human power to predict with absolute accuracy what tomorrow may bring.

The prophetic novel Wolf Among Wolves, by German novelist Hans Fallada was written on the edge of the chaos that became Germany under Nazi rule. The story is set in Germany in 1923, a time when no one could possibly have imagined the horrors that lay ahead in the next two decades. The world Fallada portrays in this novel is a world poised on the brink of unimaginable catastrophe. No one in the novel has any idea what the future is going to hold.

Hans Fallada wrote his extraordinary book in ten months from July 1936 to May 1937. By the time Fallada finished the book, the Nazis had been in power in Germany for four years. The horror of their regime was beginning to become increasingly evident to anyone willing to pay attention. Fallada saw with unusual clarity the nightmare emerging in his country.

Fallada wrote of a world that was becoming increasingly harsh, cold and uncaring, a world that was about to be driven into a painful wilderness:

Frau Hartig had stood there like Hagar driven into the wilderness. Tears had had no effect on the old lady, nor sobs on Frau Eva, nor pleadings on the Rittmeister; all had suddenly become different, a new wind was blowing. (p. 377)

Although the “new wind” was beginning to make itself known, even in 1936, the true horror of the approaching storm could barely be grasped. The future was shrouded in darkness.

In our own day, who could have imagined at the beginning of 2020 that we would spend two months in the spring, hiding away in our homes with schools closed, clinics shut, children banned from playgrounds, air traffic reduced by 90%, faith communities unable to gather for public worship, small businesses out of business, coffee shops and restaurants unable to serve customers, elective surgeries cancelled, and thousands of people suddenly working from home? Who could have imagined sporting events, concerts and theatres, all unable to entertain audiences? Who could ever have thought that for months the border between the United States of America and Canada would be shut?

And now as we begin slowly and cautiously to emerge from this long stretch of physical distancing and social isolation, who can predict what the future will hold? What is human community going to look like in the shadow of COVID? How will we worship? What will be the shape of entertainment? Will we ever again sing together? How will businesses pick up the pieces and start to realize a profit?

Yes, we need to be sensible and try to be responsible preparing for the future. But, all we can know for certain is that what is coming will not be like what has been. We can plan, and strategize, speculate and vision all we want, but the future remains beyond our control. We may wish it were otherwise but we simply are not the masters of our destiny. Life can throw us an unimaginable curve ball at any moment. Suddenly, the game has been irretrievably altered and we are all having to adjust to dramatic new realities.

But, faced by the blank wall of the future, aware that we are hemmed in on every side by uncertainty and that we cannot know what the future will hold, there is one thing about which we can be sure. It is certain that how we live in the present will shape how we are able to live in the future. The better we live now, the better we will be able to make adjustments for human well-being when whatever is coming finally arrives.

In his novel, Wolf Among Wolves, Hans Fallada has Wolfgang’s mother say to him,

when your engine was broken you were sorry afterwards about the way you had treated it. But that’s futile, and you’re no longer a child. Retrospective repentance is useless, my boy: you must learn in the end that life goes on, ever on and on. One can’t change the past, but one can change oneself – for the future. (p. 134)

So how do we live today in the midst of all we do not know, in ways that might best prepare us to face whatever the future may bring?

I find several pointers in Wolf Among Wolves that might help situate us in the present to be better prepared for the future. I will explore these over the next few days.