Why I no longer fear the future

 
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Image credit: Nikko Macaspac

I don’t like change.

This isn’t a deep dark secret of mine. Anybody who knows me is aware that, despite my willingness to try new things and have a joke about them, I do have a pre-defined comfort zone that I like to stay within. Perhaps it’s more correct to say that I don’t like the uncertainty present in a new environment or new situations—things outside that comfort zone are often outside my control. I’ll try new things if I have a degree of control or certainty over the circumstances. It’s when I’m dealing with big changes completely out of my hands that I start to feel uncomfortable.

Maybe I’m just a control freak, but I feel like many people can relate.

Unfortunately, my reticence in regards to being able to embrace change or uncertainty means that the end of the year is often a source of stress or anxiety for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the holiday season as much as everybody else (as long as it doesn’t start before November 25th). Christmas gifts and lunches, catching up with family, celebrating the New Year and watching the fireworks are all things I love. But the end of one year and the beginning of the next tends to prompt a degree of reflection in us about the year just passed and the one still to come. And the uncertainty of the future can make me worried. What will I be doing next year? Where will I be living? Will I be working? Will my friends still be around?

These anxieties are especially prevalent for me this year. In some ways, I acknowledge that I am extremely fortunate to have many of these questions answered, some of which were uncertain even a year ago. I had my doctoral studies enrolment confirmed, multiple avenues of work to pursue and a secure living situation—all things I did not have this time last year, and that many others still do not have.

But despite this there are many unknown factors that poke at my anxiety. The emergence of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus may threaten my holiday plans to reunite with family in Tasmania—family I have not seen all year. Enrolment in my studies does not mean that smooth and simple data collection is guaranteed, nor that I will receive a passing grade. Even with the assurances I have, there remain many variables that cause me stress.image

These anxieties are not only caused by personal factors though. On a broader scale I find myself worrying about the ongoing lack of action regarding the climate crisis and the issues of an increasingly divided society which are being exasperated by platforms like Facebook and Google. And while I know there are rational explanations that can ground my perspective on these matters and help calm that anxiety (and have written articles about these explanations), it does not solve the problem.

Of course, looking to the future is only half of what is involved when it comes to end of year celebrations. There’s also the all-important look back on the past. Unfortunately, if the future gives me anxiety, I’ve found very little reason to celebrate over the past few years. If anything, trends seem to show that the future is looking just as rough.

While many hoped that the Covid-19 pandemic would recede into the background after 2020, this year has shown it to be a persistent threat to our way of life with multiple variants causing all manner of lockdowns. Even as vaccination rates rise, the future of our life with Covid-19 seems as uncertain as the past.

And while we often look to our leaders for support in trying times such as these, this year revealed a culture of corruption and misconduct in the halls of our highest authorities—a culture which those in power refused to substantially acknowledge. And lest you think that this was an issue that was resolved back in the first half of the year, a recent report highlighted that these issues continue to persist. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that things will change anytime soon—Australian parliament is more focused on passing laws which would make it easier to sue those who speak out against them on social media than critically engaging with these reports.

Entertainment struggles to provide an escape either. Behind the scenes, similar struggles regarding misconduct and abuse are taking place, and on the screen we seem to be more and more obsessed with villains, anti-heroes and irredeemable characters.

Perhaps it’s an overly cynical take, but the world at the moment seems as bleak as ever. Research shows that current generations growing up are amongst the first in centuries to come of age in a society where their living conditions are worse than those of their parents. Looking at metrics like this, it’s easy to feel that the world is backsliding, regressing and that all our progress is fading away. I know I certainly do at times.

And yet, I remain hopeful.

I wouldn’t fault you if you said that sounded absurd. I’ve spent the past 800 words outlining why the current and future state of the world is in chaos and disarray, only to turn around and say that I remain hopeful. Whats there to be hopeful about? you may ask. Where do you get your hope from? you may continue.

These are fair questions, and I believe that both have the same answers—answers which they draw from a single source.

As a Christian, I gain hope from the promise of a better future. At the core of the Christian faith is an acknowledgement of the world’s imperfect state, and an offer to participate in a better world—a new world where “There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). In accepting the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, we can partake in this future. “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

In this way, the Bible tells us that Jesus can be the answer to both of those questions. I receive hope from His actions in the past, and I am hopeful about His return in the future and the better world it will bring. This is the hope of all Christians—the hope at the heart of Christianity. No matter how dire or uncertain the past has been, and the future may seem, there is the promise that all will be well in the end.

Of course, some may criticise Christianity for focusing on future promises rather than dealing with the troubles of today. A perfect world existing an indeterminate amount of time in the future doesn’t hold much hope for somebody whose 2022 seems likely to be as bleak as the past few years were.

Thankfully, the Bible shows that there is a more immediate hope for them too.

imageSee, Jesus ultimate goal and promise is of salvation, but that is far from the only thing He did. During His time on earth, Jesus provided a perfect example of love, charity and kindness which—if we use as a model for ourselves—can help combat some of the issues of our uncertain future. Jesus covered a lot of ground in three years of ministry before His crucifixion, and during that time He stirred up a lot of controversy. The Jewish community at the time had their expectations about how the prophesied messiah would bring about a better future, and He didn’t align with any of them.

Instead of leading a revolutionary movement against the Romans who occupied their land and restoring a sovereign Jewish nation, Jesus preached His message to all people, not just the Jews.

Instead of accepting the norms and traditions of the time, He rebelled against them, making sure that love, kindness and compassion were at the heart of all of His actions.

Instead of taking a role in the religious institutions of the time, He criticised their corruption and misconduct, preferring to preach His message and advice directly to the people.

His message was one which placed love first and above all else. Love for Him, love for God—but also important—love for humans from all over.

This is the other half of why I remain hopeful for the future.

The world may seem like it’s backsliding, but it isn’t all bad—there are people committed to bringing the good of His message either implicitly or explicitly. Change for the better is possible.

As I mentioned, a report into parliament brought forward further information on the misconduct occurring there, highlighting areas where change is possible. Younger generations, emboldened by activists like Greta Thunberg continue to speak out on issues of importance to them like climate change and global warming, placing increasing pressure on those in power to do something about rising temperatures and sea levels. Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter recently stepped down as its CEO, paving the way for the possibility, no matter how slim it may be, that the new CEO can fix some of the issues embedded in the platform.

It is likely that solving the problems that I have spent the past year writing about will not happen immediately. Any progress that occurs will be slow and hard fought. And even then, I am not naïve enough to assume the world will be perfect.

A perfect world is an unattainable goal for humanity. But that doesn’t mean there is no hope. By putting first the principles that Jesus did—love, kindness and respect for others—we can make certain that the world of the future is better than the world of the past.

I hope you’ll join me in making it a reality.

Ryan Stanton is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney studying media and communications. Part of why he gets so anxious about these issues is the “always online” attitude his degree helps him to adopt. He probably should log off more…