“If you don’t know where you are going, you might not get there.”
Those are both humorous and sage words emanating from the cornucopia of quotes and quips that the former New York Yankee catcher and manager, Yogi Berra, imbued us with during his colorful career.
The wise author of the Old Testament book of Proverbs (a collection of moral sayings and counsels) shared a similar warning when he stated in less humorous terms: “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” [Proverbs 29:18a KJV]
One might interpret that to mean, if you don’t have a clear picture in your mind of the way things ought to be, then they never will be. Or, if you don’t have a visible target to shoot for, then you’re never going to hit it. Or, if you don’t walk into the future with your eyes wide open to reality, then you are likely to lose your way, and ultimately your life.
But the Biblical understanding goes even deeper than all that. The proverbial warning about the consequences of a lack of vision is best appreciated when one understands that some biblical translations further define the term vision as “prophetic vision.” Still others interpret vision as “revelation of God and His Word.” I find the translation in the International Standard Version to be most helpful in getting to the crux of the whole verse: “Without prophetic vision, people abandon restraint, but those who obey the Law are happy.”
The role of the Prophet in the Old Testament was to be the “truth-telling visionary,” opening people’s ears and eyes to the God’s honest truth by revealing God’s Word. The Prophet envisions what abundant life looks like when the people seek to keep the Law of God which restrains them from straying off the path of righteousness. The Contemporary English Version puts it this way: “Without guidance from God, law and order disappear, but God blesses everyone who obeys his Law.”
When the Church prays “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,” she is asking for the faith and wisdom to envision what God’s Kingdom, God’s rule truly looks and feels like, and is expressing the desire that the vision of God’s rule may come to fruition here on earth. And in the mean time, that time of the now-and-not-yet, the Church as the living body of Christ on earth seeks through the Spirit to define, refine and give wings to that Kingdom vision in order that all Creation may have Life, and have it more abundantly.
Within Christendom there are those denominations that understand that because of a lack of proper prophetic vision and/or willingness to embrace that vision of God’s Kingdom on earth, humanity has now for the first time in the history of civilization brought life on earth as we know it to the brink of extinction. The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. is among those denominations that recognize the existential threat that human kind has wrought on planet Earth because of the systemic environmental, racial and economic injustices that dominate the modern world. We see that this is not the vision of the “abundant life” that the Word of God incarnate came to impart to Creation. We understand that without this vision we don’t know where we are going, and we aren’t going to get there. We know that where there is no such vision, the people (and all creatures great and small) shall literally perish.
Therefore, the denomination’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) is drafting a paper titled “Investing in a Green Future: A Vision for a Renewed Creation” to be presented at the June 2022 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. The body of the current 24 page paper consists of 10 Recommendations followed by an extensive Rationale. The beginning section of the visionary Rationale calls the PC(USA) to the task of “recommitting our energy, our treasure, and our vision to a future in which God’s creation is restored, the human family lives together in balance and justice with each other and the rest of the creation, and the social and ecological destruction that our society inflicts on the world is reversed and repaired.”
The paper presents a bold and prophetic vision built around the call for environmental, racial and economic justice and presents specific actions to be taken to give the vision wings. It is in my estimation the kind of statement that addresses the heart of a global crisis with the moral leadership that the Christian Church is called upon to exert on the forces of injustice that continue to exacerbate the grave existential threat facing God’s good creation.
We began this post with a quote from Yogi Berra. I’ll close with another quote, this time from Wendell Berry who envisions a much needed change in our assumptions if we are to find the godly goodness that can renew Creation. It is a quote that is mentioned at the beginning of the ACSWP paper:
“We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.”