When Doris Day crooned these words in the 1956 Hitchcock classic, The Man Who Knew Too Much, she had little way of knowing that they would become something of her signature phrase. She had little way of knowing that they would earn the writers, Ray Evans and Jay Livingstone, an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Ironically, she had little way of knowing what would be.
With such a happy ending, it would be easy to embrace the song’s message, moving through the world with the same lilting optimism, confident that life will work out exactly as it should. Whatever will be will be… and whatever is, is… so don’t worry about any of it. But what if life doesn’t work out so well? And what if whatever is, shouldn’t be?
In Episode 159, Erin and I continue exploring the hidden assumptions and paradigms that shape our thinking. This week, we’re considering how naively accepting the status quo can short curcuit our reasoning and blind us to true goodness. The Scripture tells us that God made the world good, but it also tells us that we live under the curse and so the world around us–the world that we live in–is not as it should be. What happens to our thinking when we don’t remember this? What happens when the status quo conflicts with how God intended the world to work from creation? What happens when the way things are is not necessarily the way things should be?
I’ve been wrestling with this question for a while now and even wrote a bit about it in All That’s Good.
Within the natural world, we observe a kind of “survival of the fittest”—the strongest animals and plants stay alive and eventually are able to reproduce, passing along their genetic information to the next generation. Within the food web, larger, stronger animals prey on smaller, weaker ones. We see the house cat pounce on the mouse and watch as the lion stalks and devours the gazelle; then we call him the king of the beasts. We understand that there is a certain brutality to nature, accept it as “the way the world works,” and celebrate those who can survive.
The problem comes when we have to decide whether or not “the way the world works” is the way the world should work. Should the rules that govern animal and plant behavior govern human behavior? If we accept that “might makes right,” we will quickly translate it to our interaction with human beings. We will excuse aggression and predatory behavior as normal: the salesman that tacks on hidden fees is simply “smart,” and the pastor who berates and pressures his congregation, simply a “good leader.” We can also begin to believe that being on top of the heap somehow means that you inherently deserve to be there. After all, in the natural world, the buck with the largest set of antlers is prized because he’s been able to elude hunters and predators for years, long enough to grow his 14-point rack. Translating this to human community, wouldn’t that mean that folks at the top of the economic, social, and political ladder somehow deserve to be there? And correspondingly, that folks at the bottom somehow deserve to be there as well?
But here is where Scripture adjusts our understanding… Jesus cautions those with positions of earthly authority to use their influence, not for themselves, but for the good of those under their care. “You know that the rules of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them,” He says in Matthew 20. “It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (20:25–28)
Perhaps Doris is right. We can’t see or control the future. There’s a certain humility in accepting this. But there’s a difference between being carefree and careless. Because we can see the present, and we can look back on the past. And when we do, we must judge what we see: Is this how God intends the world to operate? Or should we hope for, and work for, something more? Should we shift our categories so we can see past what’s immediately in front us to what lies ahead?
And as we wrestle with these questions, we must turn our eyes to the future, looking forward–not with resignation or careless acceptance that “whatever will be will be”–but with a redeemed imagination. We must look toward the future with the same creativity and energy and hope that first brought the world into existence and is redeeming it even now. We must learn to see the world that God is making and answer his call to roll up our sleeves and join him in the making of it.