Summary: When you face an uncertain future, don't rely on human predictions; rely on the Lord.
In his book Future Babble, journalist Dan Gardner explores our obsession with “experts” who claim to predict future events. Gardner relies on the work of Philip Tetlock, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who produced a massive 20-year analysis of 27,450 predictions from 284 experts. Tetlock concluded that as a group the experts did little better, and sometimes considerably worse, than “a dart-throwing chimpanzee.” For example:
In 1914 the British journalist H. N. Norman proclaimed that “there will be no more wars among the six great powers.”
In 1968 the president of Anaconda Copper Mining Company predicted that his company would be successful for 500 years. Less than ten years later, fiber optics trumped copper and Anaconda was out of business.
Also in 1968 Paul Ehrlich predicted that overpopulation would produce a total collapse in the world's food supply. Instead, the world's food supply has increased dramatically.
In 1974 Ehrlich confidently asserted, “If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”
In 2008 experts at Goldman Sachs predicted that oil prices would surge to over $200 per barrel within six months. Instead, the price for petroleum fell to $34 per barrel in those six months.
So why do people pay attention to these so-called “experts” even when they're wrong so much of the time? According to Gardner, human beings hate uncertainty. “Whether sunny or bleak,” Gardner wrote, “convictions about the future satisfy the hunger for certainty. We want to believe. And so we do.” (Trevor Butterworth, "Prophets of Error," The Wall Street Journal, 4-30-11; www.PreachingToday.com)
Daniel Gilbert (a psychology professor at Harvard) came to the same conclusion. Recently (2009), the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index showed “that Americans are smiling less and worrying more… happiness is down and sadness is up… we are getting less sleep… smoking more cigarettes, [and] depression is on the rise.”
Gilbert noted that the real problem is not financial – not having enough money, but something else: uncertainty. People don't know what's going to happen. Will I have a job next week? What's ahead in the future for me?
Professor Gilbert pointed to a Dutch experiment where some subjects were told they would be intensely shocked 20 times. The researchers told a second group that they would receive three strong shocks and 17 mild ones, but they wouldn't know when the intense shocks would come. The results? Subjects in the second group sweated more and experienced faster heart rates. Uncertainty caused their discomfort: they didn't know when the intense shocks would come next.
Daniel Gilbert summarized, “An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait… Our national gloom is real enough, but it isn't a matter of insufficient funds. It's a matter of insufficient certainty.” (Daniel Gilbert, “What You Don't Know Makes You Nervous,” 9-21-09; The Week magazine, 6-5-09, p. 14; www.PreachingToday.com)
If that’s the case, then how do we handle the matter of insufficient certainty? How do we face an uncertain future with confidence? How do we move forward into that future with any real hope?
Well, if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Daniel 2, Daniel 2, where Daniel, the prophet, writes to a group of people who had been uprooted and deported hundreds of miles away to a nation that had just destroyed their homes and killed many of their friends and neighbors. You talk about an uncertain future. These people faced it; and yet Daniel had a message of hope not only for them (600 years before Christ), but for you and me as well in the 21st Century.
Daniel 2:1-6 In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king, he said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.” Then the astrologers answered the king in Aramaic, “O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.” The king replied to the astrologers, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.” (NIV)
Nebuchadnezzar was testing his astrologers to see if they were legitimate. That’s why he asks them to tell him both the dream AND its interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar knew what the dream was. Verse 1 says he had “dreams” (plural), which indicates that his dream was a recurring dream, and people don’t forget recurring dreams. No. Nebuchadnezzar knew what his dream was. He just wants to find out if his astrologers are fakes. You see, if they could tell him the dream which he knew, then he could rely on them to be accurate about its interpretation which he didn’t know. Or as Charles Ryrie put it: they are asked to “recall the past in order to give credence to their predictions about the future.” How do they do?