He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” —Genesis 15:5
I remember first reading the verse above, then going outside to look at the starry night sky. I imagined the Lord’s conversation with Abram under that very same sky, and God’s promise that Abram’s descendants would be too numerous to count.
In the thousands of years since, those descendants have indeed numbered in the billions, including me. But then I look ahead, to Abram’s descendants still to come. I realize that I too am their ancestor, and that realization fills me with sadness. What am I leaving for my children’s children? A planet awash in pollution and battered by climate change, nations raging against nations and within themselves? Even as a person of faith, I sometimes wonder if there’s reason to be hopeful about the future.
But after learning about the 10,000 Year Clock and speaking with a prominent Lutheran theologian, I anticipate the future with optimism.
Inventor Danny Hillis wanted to build something that would last as far into the future as human life extends into the past (approximately 10,000 years). Now under construction, his clock is made of long-lasting titanium steel and ceramic and will run by itself, primarily on thermal energy. It will chime periodically, and its hands will move once a century, though humans will need to wind the clock periodically and update the time registered on it.
Our Adventum future with our loving God can be as bright as the night sky and as beautiful as the chimes of an incredible clock.
“I cannot imagine the future, but I care about it,” Hillis explains on the website for the Long Now Foundation, which he co-founded. “I know I am a part of a story that starts long before I can remember and continues long beyond when anyone will remember me. I sense that I am alive at a time of important change, and I feel a responsibility to make sure that the change comes out well. I plant my acorns knowing that I will never live to harvest the oaks.”
People often forget the past and don’t think much about the future, especially the distant future. Ten thousand years ago, we were hunter-gatherers. Ten thousand years from now, what will life look like? Which of our descendants will make the pilgrimage to wind the clock in centuries to come?
Ted Peters is a professor emeritus at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, co-editor of the journal Theology and Science, and author of God—The World’s Future: Systematic Theology for a New Era (Fortress Press, 2015). He believes that, to survive the next 10,000 years, we must reverse climate change and recognize the futility of war (not to mention the threat of cataclysmic thermonuclear war).
Peters concedes that there is much to worry about, but he looks at the future positively. He applauds the technological breakthroughs, including the use of artificial intelligence in medicine, that increase our understanding and save lives. He views such breakthroughs, and the minds of the scientists who conceive of them, as gifts from God.
According to Peters, there are two kinds of futures: Futurum (step-by-step progress in technology, education, wisdom, etc.) and Adventum (God’s future breaking into our lives). New technology, he noted, “can give us just an ice-cream-cone-lick taste of God’s great future yet to come.” However, the Bible promises that God will carry us through death to resurrection, from creation to new creation.
So, at night, whether we stand atop a mountain in the desert or in our own backyards, we can look up at the multitude of stars and give thanks for the exciting possibilities ahead, for us and for our descendants—possibilities we can help make realities. Our Adventum future with our loving God can be as bright as the night sky and as beautiful as the chimes of an incredible clock. Let us plant our acorns now, so that someday there will be majestic oaks. We have the vision, the resources and, with God’s help, the will to make the next 10,000 years glorious.