Gaze Deeply into the Crystal Ball

You do not even know what will happen tomorrow.

James 4:14

Think predicting the future is hard? Check out this slide show of French postcards from a century ago and see how eerily accurate some guesses turn out to be. (If you find the Curious George connection in slide 15, I’ll award you 10,000 interwebz. The insignificance of interwebz can be found in the middle of this post.)

A lot of people have tried, some more successfully than others, to convince the world that they can predict the future. I think some of those predicters sincerely thought they had a gift, but most were just con artists trying to separate gullible people from their money.

The Bible warns about trying to predict the future. One passage is in James 4:13-16 –

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. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.

Another is in Deuteronomy 18:22 –

If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

I get two principles out of this – well, actually three.

First, we shouldn’t claim we know something we don’t know. We don’t know the future. Why act as if we do? Even those who are good at seeing trends and figuring out where they are headed will tell you that nothing is a sure thing. That’s why those stock broker commercials on television always add a disclaimer that past performance is not a guarantee of future earnings on your investments.

Second, we shouldn’t get wigged out by someone who claims to speak for God if what they say doesn’t come true. God himself told us “do not be alarmed” when that happens, and he’s someone whose advice I think we should all follow.

I said there’s a third principle in all of this, right? Here it is: both James 4 and Deuteronomy 18 lead to the conclusion that none of us know the future. The Bible states this truth clearly in Ecclesiastes 7:14 and 8:7 –

“Therefore, no one can discover  anything about their future.”

“Since no one knows the future,  who can tell someone else what is to come?”

If everyone knew this truth, the market for fortune tellers would dry up. Let them look for that in their crystal balls!


My thanks to Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy for starting me thinking on this with her post here.

P.S. Bonus fourth principle – God knows everyone’s future: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16.)

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24 Responses to Gaze Deeply into the Crystal Ball

  1. When I was a single young woman, a lady from church took me aside and told me that the Holy Spirit had revealed to her that I was supposed to marry Mr. Such&Such. (She had a DREAM about it!) I was introduced to Mr. S&S and I was COMPLETELY MORTIFIED by his arrogance. During our first conversation, he talked about his stock portfolio (!)

    So yes, I completely agree with your point today. Neither the well-meaning matchmaker nor I would ever have guessed that I would marry a professional rodeo cowboy! I’ve only been to one rodeo in my whole life.

    Also I enjoyed the French postcard slideshow!! Fun link!!

    • housewifetheologian says:

      Ha! Adriana, I knew someone who had a guy knock on her door and tell him that God told him he was to marry her. She responded that God didn’t seem to give her that message, so no deal 🙂
      Tim’s article does point straight to the sufficiency of God’s Word recorded in Scripture. There is no “new revelation” (Heb. 1:1-3).

      • Tim says:

        I once read that C.H. Spurgeon made a similar response to a man who claimed that God told him to preach in Spurgeon’s church the next Sunday. I think we can safely assume the man did not fill the pulpit!

    • Jeannie says:

      She had a dream about it!?! I know dreams had lots of significance to people in the Bible but I’m awfully glad MY dreams haven’t accurately predicted my life events: missed exams, forgotten appointments, running and never getting anywhere … Hmm, maybe those are bad examples …

      • Tim says:

        I’m right there with you, Jeannie. My dreams would make lousy realities most of the time. People can spiritualize anything, including dreams, but as Aimee says it is God’s word we can trust. It thoroughly equips us for our walk with him. (2 Timothy 3:16-17.)


      • Mary Anne says:

        I always liked one explanation I heard about dreams, that some of them really are indicators of things we need to know, but a lot of them are just the brain doing its laundry!

        Emptying the washbasket,

      • Tim says:

        I like the laundry analogy, MA. My psych teacher back in community college said something similar, that dreams were the brain’s way of dealing with things that we weren’t done thinking about yet.

  2. Tim says:

    Hey, my dad was a rodeo cowboy! He competed in team roping when a teenager. He was also a working cowboy, though. He rode cattle on a ranch outside Ellensburg, Washington, before he went off to serve in WW2.

  3. Mary Anne says:

    Re: Curious George—well, there seem to be several clones of The Man in the Yellow Hat . . . 😎
    Cool postcards! Very steampunk.

    Yeah, these people who walk up to you with “a message from God”—snarker that I am, I usually say that I’ll wait until I’ve heard from Him myself!

  4. LLM says:

    Hi Tim! Good post. This is a topic I feel really strongly about. The Bible says we walk by faith, not by sight. But it seems some Christians want to walk by sight…because they want specific answers before they will move forward. They seek a modern day prophet to reveal things to them (there are Christian groups that believe in a modern prophetic gift) , or expect a dream, or for God to speak DIRECTLY to them, etc. I had a detailed series of 3 posts on this called “How does God speak to us today?”. I agree with housewifetheologian when she says that there is no “new revelation” (Heb. 1:1-3).

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Laura. When it comes to people claiming the gift of prophecy today, I have not yet heard of anyone meeting the standard God set in Deuteronomy 18:20-22 –

      “But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

      You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.”

      Presuming to speak in God’s name is serious, but for those who hear it happen God tells us not to be alarmed. I think that means we are supposed to let God handle it. That’s what I plan to do anyway.

      • LLM says:

        You are preaching to the choir Tim! : ) I have close friends in the Vineyard, and when you mention the standard of Deut. 18:20-22, they immediately refer to the one so-called exception in 2 Samuel 7 where the prophet Nathan was wrong and had to go back to David and correct himself. “See prophets can be wrong!” Sigh… I totally agree that presuming to speak in God’s name is SERIOUS!! Yikes in my book! Speaking for God? Who do I think I am to speak for the God of the universe?

      • Tim says:

        They want to build a ministry on an exception? Incredible. Besides, I don’t see that Nathan’s statement in verse 3 is really prophecy. It sounds more like encouragement, and God then gave him a prophecy to correct David’s understanding of what he should do.

  5. I have always felt so saddened by people who feel the need to live by their horoscopes and who want to know if things will turn out well for them or not. The point of the matter is that it is all in God’s hands and I like the ability of knowing that He knows what is best for me and knows my life. I loved those old postcards by the way!! They were great! Your post was as well!

  6. Saw the slide show via Victoria’s FB page this morning. I was especially impressed with their version of Skype. 🙂

  7. 21 comments on a (great) post on a new blog! I’m so impressed, Tim!

    Your #2 is my favorite. As a born rules-follower, I have a hard time NOT being wigged out by people who say they *know* what’s going to happen, or that God has spoken to them, or whatever. But the proof is in the pudding (or the prediction, I suppose), right?

    Also, that slide show was crazy! Tennis in the air sure looked a lot like quidditch to me 🙂

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Anne. I used to get worked up about the false-predicters, but gave up because there was nothing I can do about them anyway. Now I just figure they can answer to God for their error ridden teachings. Any of us who aspire to teaching are held to a certain standard and all that.

      And as for 20+ comments on a post, you’ll notice that almost half of them are mine, so that probably doesn’t count.

  8. Oh, I’m going to count it 🙂

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