Who Can Accurately Predict Man’s Future?
TO KNOW the future is to have greater control over it. That is, a person seeing what the future holds can make necessary adjustments now for later benefits.
As a common example, consider the weather. Former United States president Lyndon Johnson stated that if weather forecasting were accurate for only five days in advance, it would save his country six billion dollars a year. Of course, early weather warnings would also preserve countless lives.
In many other spheres of activity, however, the need to know the future is at least equally urgent. Serious problems face all mankind as regards environmental, social, racial, military and economic questions, making the future uncertain. How successful have so-called ‘men of vision’ been in foreseeing the future?
Man Attempts to Predict the Future Accurately
There has been no shortage of effort on the part of men to predict the future. One man who is popularly credited with foretelling many things is Nostradamus, the sixteenth-century French astrologer and physician. But just how accurate were his prophecies? Consider this example to get some idea of what they were like:
“When the fork is supported by two pillars, With six half-horns and six open scissors: The very potent Lord, heir to the toads, Will then subjugate to himself the entire world.”
Do you consider that a clear prognostication from which one can draw an accurate picture of the future? Is it even understandable? Since Nostradamus did not explain it himself, consider how one of his modern-day followers, Henry James Foman, interprets this ‘prophecy’:
“The first two lines indicate a date. When the fork, V, is sustained by two pillars, they make an M, the Roman numeral for one thousand. Six half-horns are CCCCCC, the numeral for six hundred; six open scissors, XXXXXX, make sixty. In other words, in 1660 the great Lord of France, heir to the Merovingians—whose [emblem] was the toad . . .—will be the greatest monarch in the world. . . . in 1660 Louis XIV married Maria Theresa of Spain . . . Early in 1661 . . . Louis, at twenty-two, became virtual autocrat of France, the Grand Monarque of the civilized world.”
One candid writer reading this explanation observed: “That isn’t exactly what Nostradamus said, but then again, who knows what he meant?” (Saturday Review, January 15, 1972) Echoing the views of most scholars on the subject is A. C. Keller of the University of Washington: “Nostradamus’ prophecies are vague and open to many interpretations.” He did not accurately predict the future.
In more recent times, serious pronouncements of prominent men have had the force of prophecy. But how accurate have they been? Was American president Woodrow Wilson a true prophet when he predicted that World War I was to “bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free”?
Did not Adolph Hitler definitely prove the falsity of that claim a little more than twenty years later when he plunged the nations into World War II? In turn, Hitler’s Proclamation to the Nazi Party Congress at Nuremberg, September 5, 1934, glowingly prophesied:
“The German form of life is definitely determined for the next thousand years. . . . There will be no other revolution in Germany for the next one thousand years!”
How correct was that millennial prophecy regarding his people? One writer, himself in attendance that day at Nuremberg, later wrote:
“After twelve years, four months and eight days . . . the Thousand-Year Reich had come to an end . . . it had dissolved with a suddenness and a completeness that had few, if any, parallels in history.”—W. L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960), page 1139.
Woodrow Wilson and Adolph Hitler were not accurate prophets. In reality, no man, of himself, no matter how wise, can be. Why not? There are a number of reasons to consider.
Why Man Has Failed to Predict the Future
For one thing, men are often unable to gather together all the facts involved in a given situation. Related to this, and equally crippling to their efforts, is the inability accurately to interpret the information that is available. This is true even in the physical world.
For example, many factors govern the weather, such as heat, wind, terrain, and so forth. Even if all or most of the factors are known, it is extremely difficult to interpret them to know how the different laws will interact to create a certain future weather pattern. So, weather forecasters, no matter how expert, are often wrong.
Such is yet more true when trying to determine even broad or major developments in the future of mankind or a large part of it. Politicians who try to interpret the world situation and predict man’s future by it have been likened to chess players. There are only sixty-four squares on a chess board and thirty-two pieces. Superficially, therefore, the game seems relatively simple. But do you know how many games are possible with this ‘simple’ arrangement? According to the June 1958 Scientific American, at least 10120, or, a one followed by 120 zeros! That magazine further observed:
“To get some idea of what that number means, let us suppose that we had a super-fast computing machine which could play a million games a second (a ridiculous supposition). It would take the machine about 10108 years to play all the possible games! So no conceivable machine could play a perfect game of chess, examining all possible moves.”—Page 96.
If no man could anticipate all chess moves, how could he be able to foresee human affairs? The problems facing the human race are not limited to a small board of sixty-four squares and thirty-two pieces, but are vast, virtually innumerable. Additionally, each of man’s problems are influenced in many ways by human will, which, of all factors, is the most unpredictable. It is no wonder, therefore, that historian Arnold Toynbee states:
“I myself believe that prediction is not possible in the field of human affairs. I believe that the outcomes of human choices, purposes, and plans are unpredictable intrinsically, however fully we may be informed about the relevant past facts up to date.”—Reconsiderations, 1961, page 4.
Nevertheless, like chess players, men continue to predict solely on the basis of what they see immediately before them. Should one of the expected ‘moves’ on the global chess board deviate from what is anticipated, a whole new situation is created, upsetting the prediction.
For instance, Karl Marx, the founder of modern Communism, interpreted the industrial situation in nineteenth-century England to mean that revolution would strike the country. But his prediction did not come true. Why? Because humans brought about certain unforeseeable changes in England, including collective bargaining rights and social legislation to improve the workers’ lot. Professor of Economics H. W. Spiegel says: “Marx failed to anticipate these changes.” And, today, the human element is a larger consideration than ever before when one contemplates the erratic behavior of many rulers and the rebellious elements within their nations.
Only God Reveals Man’s Future
But what about God? Cannot he predict the future? Not only can he do so, but he chooses to reveal what he knows about the future to man. In fact, he feels urged to do so. Why do we say that?
It seems unlikely that the Creator would let man come into circumstances with a need to know at least the major developments due to occur in his future, and then entirely frustrate efforts to fill that need. As a God of love, Jehovah would be motivated to reveal the future to him. Yet there is another impelling reason for God to do so.
Jehovah unveils the future to prove to all that he is God. The True God should be able to tell in advance what his purpose is, should he not? Thus we read of God as boldly declaring:
“I am God, and there is no one like me; I reveal the end from the beginning, from ancient times I reveal what is to be; I say, ‘My purpose shall take effect, I will accomplish all that I please.’ . . . Mark this; I have spoken, and I will bring it about.”—Isa. 46:9-11, New English Bible.
Therefore, when Jehovah’s predictions connected with his purpose come true he stands vindicated as God. Additionally, by notifying men of his will Jehovah shows himself historically active, concerned about human affairs, not apathetic and coldly uninterested.
Not surprisingly, therefore, God has demonstrated his prophesying ability on many occasions. For instance, scores of years before the fall of Judah and that land’s seventy-year desolation while the nation was in exile in Babylon, Jehovah predicted these events. Babylon’s subsequent overthrow was declared in advance. In that case, even the name of the conqueror, Cyrus (a Persian), was foretold—by name—more than a century before he was born.—Isa. 44:28; 45:1; Ezra 1:1-4; Jer. 25:11, 12.
God’s purpose is in no way contingent on the uncertainties of human will. Nor is it to be stymied by powerful forces that mortal prophets cannot see and may not know about—the invisible demons. Jehovah knows that the demons are mustering the nations for “the war of the great day of God the Almighty . . . Har–Magedon.” (Rev. 16:14, 16) As a Forecaster of the future, therefore, he stands in contrast to any modern man of affairs who predicts lasting peace through human efforts. Such predictions are certain to result in error, as forces outside human control are taking mankind to an ultimate war.
When Men Do Accurately Foretell the Future
However, did not men prophesy in the Bible? Why, then, can we say their predictions are accurate? Jesus’ apostle Peter points to the reason, saying: “No prophecy of Scripture springs from any private interpretation. For prophecy was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.” (2 Pet. 1:20, 21) These prophecies were initiated by Jehovah God, though men were used to utter or write them. These prophecies were not based on man’s interpretation of the trends of world affairs.
However, did not the Bible prophets, for instance, Daniel, use veiled language? Do not his writings contain symbolisms, like references to the defeat of ‘a ram with two horns’ by ‘a male goat with a conspicuous horn’? How does this differ from the obscurely worded ‘prophecies’ of Nostradamus?
Well, Daniel and other Bible prophets did use symbols, but their meaning was not left to conjecture. Thus Daniel himself goes on to explain the ‘ram with two horns’ as representing the dual world power of “Media and Persia.” Further, Daniel says “the hairy he-goat stands for the king of Greece; and as for the great horn that was between its eyes, it stands for the first king,” that is, Alexander the Great, who conquered Medo-Persia some two centuries after Daniel’s prophecy was recorded.—Dan. 8:5-7, 20-22.
Additionally, some parts of Daniel’s prophecy are explained in other books of the Bible. (Compare, for instance, Daniel 11:31 with Matthew 24:15.) True, effort is obviously required to understand these prophecies, but the key for doing so is found right within the pages of the Bible itself.
Jesus’ Accurate Predictions for Our Day
Of all men used by God to prophesy, Jesus is outstanding. Based on what he said, along with the words of Daniel and John, Jehovah’s witnesses pointed to the year 1914, decades in advance,a as marking the start of “the conclusion of the system of things.” (Daniel 4; Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; Rev. 6:1-8) Within the period of one generation, outstanding war, food shortage, pestilence, and other terrible conditions were predicted to strike before God destroyed this system and replaced it with a new order.
But could not such a prediction of war and its accompanying afflictions be made for all periods of human history? No, not for all. For instance, were world conditions ripe for global war and the subsequent afflictions these prophecies indicated—precisely in 1914? Consider:
“World War I terminated the longest period of general peace in European history (43 years). . . . There was, before 1914, a free flow of ideas and a universal belief in continual progress. . . . The golden age of European history ended abruptly.”—Encyclopædia Britannica (1959), Vol. 8, page 869.
“Nowhere, even in the summer of 1914, was a calculated, advance decision made for global war.”—Joachim Remak, The Origins of World War I.
Major war was not expected in 1914 by men interpreting world affairs, much less a world war. But such war came anyway. In spite of modern technological and medical advances, there have also been massive food shortages, pestilences and related ills. This was accurately predicted centuries ago in the Bible.
However, Jesus also prophesied that at the “conclusion of the system of things” there would be a restoration of true Christianity. This would follow a long period of apostasy foretold to occur after the apostles died.—Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43; Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Pet. 2:1-3.
Have you not also seen this undergoing fulfillment today? True, the churches in general seem to drift farther and farther from the Bible, accepting unscriptural theories like evolution and condoning many forms of immorality. But have you ever investigated the modern congregation of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses? See for yourself how they stand out in their holding to genuine Christian teachings. Too, are you not an observer of the fact that the good news of God’s kingdom is being preached in all the earth, exactly as Jesus predicted for our time? Have Jehovah’s witnesses not called on you with this message? (Matt. 24:14) Quite likely their fine conduct, reminiscent of that of early Christians, has also been commented on in the public press of your area. The manifestation and flourishing of pure, unadulterated Christianity at this time also fulfills prophecy.
Yes, the evidence shows that Jehovah, who alone sees the future clearly, has revealed his purpose in the Bible. He has now raised up a people to declare that purpose straightforwardly. Wisely use the help they offer you to guide your future for lasting benefits.
a See, for example, the Bible Examiner, Vol. XXI, No. 1 (Whole No. 313), October 1876, pages 27, 28.
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Like chess players, men predict solely on the basis of what they see before them