In over a hundred years of Major League Baseball, only 16 men have homered four times in one game. Most of them were power hitters. Twelve of the 16 hit 200 or more career home runs. Nine of them hit 300 or more.
Then came Scooter Gennett, a 5-foot-10, 185 pounds utility player who spent his Major League career bouncing from one team to another. Scooter had only 38 home runs in his entire career and was on an 0 for 19 slump, when he came to the plate for the Cincinnati Reds on June 6th, 2017. In that game, he hit one single and four home runs (including a grand slam). No one in the ballpark was more surprised than Gennett. He didn’t see that coming.
In his novel Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry has his protagonist say, “Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there … I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led…”
My wife and I know what Jayber meant. When we left college, neither of us imagined that I would be a pastor for nearly forty years. We did, however, think that we would work overseas, probably working with the poor in Latin America.
We had a general idea of how the future would work. We’d get jobs. (Did that.) Get married (Did that.) Get a master’s degree. (Didn’t do that.) Apply to our denomination for credentials. (Did that.) Do two-years of required home service (did that), probably as a youth pastor (didn’t do that). I would be ordained (did that), receive approved missionary status (didn’t do that), and move to South America, maybe Ecuador, where we would spend our lives. (Not even close.)
That’s how we thought things would work out. Instead, I, who never had a pastoral ministry course and hated the idea of talking to a room full of people, have spent more than 38 years pastoring and preaching, mostly in rural southern Michigan—and am grateful for it. But I didn’t see that coming.
The fact is none of us can see what’s coming. We try to shine a light into the darkness that is the future by making plans, but it remains pitch-black. How many people can say life has turned out as they expected? Only a few, and not many of them are over the age of 40.
We make plans and try to use them like battering rams to force our way into the future, often irrespective of God’s plans. Jesus once told the story of a successful businessman who had done well for himself, had a significant income, and expanded his holdings.
Jesus tells the story like this: “He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.””
Jesus ends the story this way: “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.’” He didn’t see that coming.
St James, who regularly echoes Jesus’s teaching, wrote: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.”
Humans cannot see what’s coming. Days before the stock market crash that initiated the Great Depression, the economist Irving Fisher assured the Builders Exchange Club that stock prices had reached “what looks like a permanently high plateau.” He should have read the Book of James.
Admitting that we don’t know what is coming next is both intellectually honest and emotionally daunting. Yet, if we have experienced the love and goodness of the God who does know what’s coming, the future can be faced with courage, no matter what it may bring.
First published by Gatehouse Media