Maybe it sounds blasphemous to say, but I have learned quite a bit about my relationship with God through this last season of Game of Thrones. Regardless of whether you watched it, or perhaps feel the season was inadequate to your expectations, season 8 of Game of Thrones was undoubtedly epic. And — spoiler alert! Bran Stark becomes King of the Six Kingdoms. I don’t think any of us really saw that coming.
And it is Bran who I have learned from. Yes, the aloof, almost lifeless Bran, who is confined to a wheelchair, yet holds the power of seeing the past, present, and future. You see, I think there are some similarities between Bran’s relationship with his predecessor and our relationship with God.
Like Bran standing next to the previous Three-Eyed Raven, who shows Bran events of the past, I want God to do that with the future. I want Him to show me what will happen, so I can rest easy.
Let’s go back to Game of Thrones, Season 8 for a second. Bran tells the group that he is going to wait out the Battle of Winterfell at the Weirwood Tree, because he knows the Night King will be looking for Bran in order to kill him. As Theon bravely fights off the White Walkers, Bran looks completely calm. He doesn’t flinch, cry, or panic. He just sits there and observes. When Theon is about to die, Bran simply reassures him that he is a good man. Everyone else in this episode displays a range of emotions, but Bran is lifeless. Then, as the Night King approaches Bran, even leers over him, Bran just looks up at him. We as the audience believe everyone has failed and Bran is going to die. Bran does not seem to fear the Night King, but almost looks at him as if he is an old friend. Suddenly, Arya comes out of nowhere and stabs the Night King, ending not only him but also the entire White Walker army and thus the battle. Epic.
But I want to return to Bran. We assume that Bran knew Arya would pop out and save him, so he knew he didn’t have anything to worry about. This explains why he sat so motionless as the Night King approached him. Further, we also know that Bran is able to access events in the past, present, and future, and thus probably does not need to feel distraught by anything in the future because he is already aware of what will occur. This would explain why he just seems like an emotionless shell of the Bran we once knew. There is, perhaps, no need for emotions anymore. Life is just filled with knowns instead of unknowns.
Many of us seem to believe that if we knew exactly what would happen in the future, we would be at ease, too. We want to feel assured that we will be OK, and more importantly, that we will get what we want in the end. When God does not seem to guide us in an obvious way, we decide that hearing from God is either a thing of the Old Testament past or we are just not spiritual enough. We head into the unknown future, telling ourselves our choices will be fine as long as they don’t break any laws — whether biblical or legal.
A little vulnerability before I proceed (thanks for the encouragement, Brené Brown). Over the last year or so, I have met with a spiritual director monthly to discuss my relationship with God. She came to identify a deep-rooted belief in me that a relationship with God is transactional. I will ask God for what will happen in the future, and He will tell me. I ask God about what I need to do, and He gives me instructions. So when He doesn’t, I see it as a breach of contract. He promised to guide me, so when He is silent, He is not upholding His end of the bargain.
So, in our spiritual direction meetings, I would express much frustration. “I really want to move to Australia and I’ve wanted to move there for five years. But people say I’m crazy because I’ve never been there! But they don’t see what I see, and they don’t feel what I feel. And I keep asking God, ‘Am I supposed to move? When? Where? Am I not supposed to? Then take it from me. Stop letting me see things of it. Am I supposed to?!’ But He doesn’t seem to respond, so I’m frustrated. And I feel like He is ignoring me, but I really need to know. Or I think He is telling me, ‘Yes,’ but I don’t know if that’s just me. And people still think I’m crazy, and I hate feeling crazy, and I just want to know!”
You see, seven years ago, I was the crazy girl who thought God told her who she was going to marry. (Hey, gimme a break. I was 17!) When we finally started dating two years later, I pushed through everything negative about the relationship — all because I thought God said we were supposed to get married. Yet, when we would be together, I would ask myself, “Is this all there is to relationships? This is awful.” Then I would berate myself for being ungrateful, as I was living a fulfilled promise. When he finally broke up with me, I held that promise up to God like a rag doll, shaking it in His face that He had promised this person to me. That promise being true was more important than the guy himself.
I’ve been thinking the last few weeks on that time in my life. I went for a run the other day and ended up passing his old job. I thought about how I had encouraged him to take that job. It was also the place he would meet his now-wife. The route I took for that run was even a trail he had introduced me to. And then I thought about how damn happy I am that the relationship never panned out! I am so glad that I was wrong.
But it was really shameful to be wrong. It was awful to see the look of pity or horror on people’s faces when I told them that I knew who I was going to marry. I felt like a crazy person. And when I say crazy, I don’t mean the colloquiums of, “Wow, that’s crazy!” or “You be crazy!” I mean, I legitimately thought I must be mentally off somehow. Or, I have something wrong with me that I can’t hear God. And if I was wrong about this, how can I ever be sure that I have heard from God?
So we return to my present issue of needing to be transactional with God. I just need God to tell me what to do, so hopefully I am not sitting around telling people something like, “I’m moving to Australia!” And then be horribly, horribly, embarrassingly wrong about it.
Dallas Willard has this to say on the matter:
I fear that many people seek to hear God solely as a device for obtaining their own safety, comfort and sense of being righteous. For those who busy themselves to know the will of God, however, it is still true that “those who want to save their life will lose it” (Mt 16:25). My extreme preoccupation with knowing God’s will for me may only indicate, contrary to what is often thought, that I am overconcerned with myself, not a Christlike interest in the well-being of others or in the glory of God.1
So Willard seems to be saying here that if you must know what will happen in the future, you are seeking a sense of control. Being wrong about the future, then, would also be a form of pride. (Ouch! That stings, Willard!)
I am not doubting God can and will tell us what will occur in the future. However, I have learned to not bank on His ability to do so. God chooses whether He will tell us what will happen or not, and when He tells us about what will happen. Many major biblical figures went for decades without hearing from God about a particular matter, for example. Abraham had to wait twenty-five years between receiving the promise of Isaac to Isaac finally being born (see Genesis 12:4 and Genesis 21:5). Joseph also had to wait twenty-two years between his dream about his brothers until their eventual bowing (see Genesis 37:2 and Genesis 41:46). Even David had to wait roughly fifteen years between being anointed by Samuel to actually becoming king of Israel (see 1 Samuel 16 and 2 Samuel 5:4). So, while I do believe God can tell us what will transpire, we should keep in mind that He does not always do this. If He does, there may be a long waiting period.
In this way, a deep trust in God becomes paramount. I have been savoring Proverbs 3:5-6 in a new way (it often loses its meaning after seeing it on so many greeting cards). This verse speaks to a profound trust, where we follow God as He leads us on.
Thus, there are two important things we should keep in mind when we consider the future: (1) it is not always for us to know what the future holds, so we must trust that regardless of what will happen, God is always good (Acts 1:7); and (2) in the meantime, during this present time, we should follow God step-by-step, asking Him for wisdom and guidance (James 1:5).
So while I wish God would stand beside me and show me events of the future, just like the previous Three-Eyed Raven, God is gracious by not doing that. If He did, perhaps we would have little to enjoy or look forward to, because we would know exactly what will occur. Major life events would lose their flavor if we knew what was to come. It’s like reading the last page in a book to spoil the ending for yourself.
But more importantly, we would come to rely on the knowledge of the future rather than trusting the one who provided that knowledge.
When I consider how my life has unfolded, it is almost like God is standing beside me, explaining those memories to me so I can understand why certain things have taken place. For example, if I had ended up with that guy, I probably would have dropped out from my bachelor’s, never even considered getting a master’s, and would not have started my own business. No way would Australia ever have been a possibility. Life turned out the way it needed to.
And so, while I may not have the luxury of having God always show me my future, I do know that whatever happens — even if it is painful — will always be good. And I do not say this in a “Christianese” sort of way where I quote Romans 8:28 flippantly. No, I truly mean that when painful events occur, we will see some sort of good come out of it. It does not make the event itself good, but good can come out of it. Sometimes, that good may be the mere growth in us. Most times, those events produce results we could never have imagined.
Proverbs 31:25 used to seem out-of-touch to me. Who goes around laughing at what will occur in the future? However, with the above in mind, I now recognize that while we may not laugh at the future, we certainly do not need to fear it. The future does not have to be some black hole of ambiguity. While we do not know what is coming, we can live day-to-day in peace. Nancy Missler, one of my favorite spiritual theologians, wrote that this trust in God is a mark of spiritual maturity. She says:
It's imperative ... to see and to understand not so much what God is doing, but rather what He desires of us. We must continue to walk abandoned to His will and wait upon Him without any anxiety and without any hunger for any experience. Our dependence must rest completely in His Love and faithfulness so that, no matter what events are transpiring in our lives, our spirit and our inner man remain at rest. This is one of the main reasons God wants our inner man (our spirit) strengthened, so that what happens to us on the outside (our soul) does not determine our composure on the inside.2
In this way, we too can channel our inner Bran. We sit and look at the future calmly, without so much as a flinch, as it approaches us. Because we know that we will be OK. Because we know everything will turn out all right. God will never leave us, but will rather come to our aid, be our advocate (Deuteronomy 3:22, Joshua 1:9). And thus our metaphorical Arya will pop out eventually.
I want to end with some prayers that have been helping me on this topic, as well as some verses that I have been chewing on. I hope they benefit you, too.
- Lord, if this desire I have about [insert future hope or expectation here] is pleasing to You, how can I best move forward into that phase? What would You have me do? (Proverbs 16:9)
- Lord, if this desire I have about [X] is not Your perfect will for me, what would You have for me instead? Search me and know me — know what is best for me and lead me into that way (Psalm 139:23-24). Please change my heart so it aligns with Your will (Psalm 37:4).
- Lord, regardless of where You would have me go in the future, how can I be pleasing You and obeying You in this season today? (John 14:21)
For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7
“These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful."
1 Willard, Dallas. Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. Downers Grove, IL: Formatio, 2012. 33.
2 Missler, Nancy. Faith in the Night Seasons: Understanding God's Will. Coeur DAlene, ID: Koinonia House, 1999. 171.