Of all the characteristics that set humans apart from animals, one in particular fascinates me. This distinction is that we are not bound to the present. Unlike the animal kingdom, people live in a world of displacement. We have the uncanny ability to think, communicate, imagine and anticipate ourselves to be somewhere else. It may be places we have never been to, times we will never live in, or even conceptions that may not exist. We interact with the not-present world with confidence.
Last night I was at an Indian restaurant. The smells of incense were distinct. When I used the washroom, the glitter plastered onto the walls struck me as unique. But far from being strange, it offered a welcoming appeal. After we ordered we had just enough time to anticipate what was coming next. The naan bread appetizer came with four different sauces that each took on a life of their own. The main course came with a colorful array of currys, and although we couldn’t name or describe all the flavors, we enjoyed them to the fullest.
I remember once when I was overseas. I was traveling with an interpreter and I had left a bar of soap out to dry at the place we were staying. It was cheap soap from some place like Dollar General. When my interpreter smelled it, he asked me where I had gotten it and told me I needed to bring some for him. He obviously appreciated it, not because of its cost or some advertising he had heard, but because the experience of something new and different was appealing.
In the narrative of Adam and Eve, anticipation plays a huge role. They succumbed to a promise of a world beyond their present experience. They wanted something more to fulfill themselves, ate the fruit, and were subsequently disappointed. From this story it could seem like that desire for novelty is a bad thing. After all, if they had been completely content with the garden God had given them, wouldn’t things be so much better? Isn’t it just so much safer for us too, if we find out all the rules, and just do them without thinking about anything else?
I argue that although anticipation has driven men to many bad ends, it is designed by God and pertinent in his plan of Redemption. Adam and Eve’s anticipation of meeting with God again was what brought them to their senses and made it possible for them to humble themselves and essentially receive God‘s mercy. From that time on, anticipation has taken on two forms, a good and a bad. A bad anticipation that only sees the near future and the immediate surroundings (self). The good anticipation sees further. It sees long-term implications. It sees others. It sees God.
As Christians, this is exciting. All of the good things that we believe exist, anticipate and long to experience are part of experiencing the goodness of God himself. We anticipate fulfilling our longings with Something beyond ourselves. We call this long-distance anticipation hope. Our core belief is that God deeply loves us, and we anticipate this will be indefinite. The psalmist prays, “May your faithful love rest on us, Lord, for we put our hope in you.”
Psalms 33:22 CSB.
I am learning to cultivate this hope. In those moments of enjoying things like Indian cuisine, smelling something very pleasant or seeing beauty around me, I am learning more of what it means to take them as tokens, as gifts of promise for something far beyond what I know now. The negativity and brokenness of the world around me threatens to become the biggest thing I see, but thanks to God, He puts that seed of hope in me, in us as people, and points us in the right direction, beyond the present, anticipating His goodness.
Let’s acknowledge that every aspiration and anticipation in humans is a display of the deeper hope that is designed by God to bring us to Himself. Let’s celebrate the desire to reach beyond ourselves, and in every situation we find ourselves, explicitly point people’s anticipation toward the ultimate Goodness, Love, and Fulfillment.