“Read the Book!”

By Tim Ahrens ’85 M.Div.

“What is the future of God?” To someone who has spent his life reflecting on God and the presence of God, this is an enticing, intriguing, disturbing, and mystifying question. For the longest time, I took it “to the Lord in prayer,” as advised in the old hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus. Silence mostly. Then there were normal rumbling of my mind and the movement of Holy Spirit blowing through my being. I heard also the still small voice of Jesus trying to break through my consciousness. 

Worry about worship attendance, institutional trust, future relevance—none of those things really matter. What matters is faithfulness, honesty, integrity, community, and connections with people.

But then, one day, I heard clearly, “My children at Yale Divinity School want to hear about my future? So be it. I am ready to talk.” God had some things to share about God’s future, if we were really ready to listen. I sat still and took notes in my conversation with God.

Whose Future Is In Question?

I heard God say, “I am laughing—just a bit. You’re wondering about my future, but it is not my future you should be concerned about. I created the heavens and the earth and all that is herein. I named you as stewards of creation and caretakers of this planet—just one of billions of planets I created, in case you forgot. You have failed in your caretaking and destroyed what was made for life and your sustenance and success and co-creators and friends of the earth. I have been faithful since the beginning. Overall, you, as a human race, have fallen short of your glory and failed to love one another—something my son emphasized repeatedly, on my behalf. Your future is in question—not mine.

“Have you really read and absorbed the guidebook? Every verse of every book in the Bible speaks of justice. Justice is what you are called to do. The entire text guides you to right relationships. You all seem to take grace and redemption, mercy and justice for granted. Read the Book! Long after you preachers have preached your last sermons, filled with funny stories and personal antidotes, My Word will live on. Justice will be crying out from every verse of the text forever. Your future depends on you and everyone else living fully within my Word and bringing justice to every relationship. You must figure out what has been taken from whom, and you need to return it to them. Think about it. This is your true calling.”

A Divine Silence

At this point, God took a deep breath. God was silent again. God was silent for a long time—active listening is what God spends much time doing. God listens, observes, reflects, and saves—all coming out of God’s deep silence. God was silent now. The silence went on for what seemed like an eternity. Then God spoke again. 

“Timothy, you and all your colleagues are worried about worship attendance, declining numbers, institutional trust, and present and future relevance. None of those things really matter. What matters is faithfulness, honesty, integrity, community, and connections with people. Show up and be real and respectful of all people—no matter your differences. Reflect this in your daily living. Pray constantly. Listen more, speak less. Pay attention. And love.  

A Good and Gracious Plan 

“Finally, Timothy, please tell your divinity friends and colleagues to follow Jesus sincerely and completely. As you follow him and receive his light and share his light with others, you will regain your hope for the future. He is pure love and all that he does comes from love. And I sent him to you. Follow him. I love you and all my creatures great and small. Please share these reflections with others.” 

With that, God stopped speaking. 

I believe God’s future is bright—as bright as the suns burning across the universe of God’s creation. What about our future? Is it bright? It can be. Let’s spend what little time we have left on this planet fulfilling God’s gracious and good plan for life. Let us dedicate ourselves to follow Jesus and share his good news with all we encounter. Let us do justice and set the world right. It is the least we can do with all the faith, hope, and love we have been given by God.

The Rev. Tim Ahrens ’85 M.Div. is senior minister of First Congregational UCC, Columbus OH. He. received the YDS William Sloane Coffin Award for Peace and Justice in 2008. He earned a D.Min. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2015, with a thesis entitled “Young and Growing Stronger: Creating a Model of Social Justice with a New Generation of 21st-Century Prophetic Witness Leaders.” His new book is called The Genius of Justice (Cascade, 2022).