Forethought and Afterthought


In Greek Mythology, the titan Epimetheus, short on understanding and long on afterthought, jumps right in and dispenses all positive traits to the animals he had created and had nothing left for his brother Prometheus to give to humans. Long on understanding and long on forethought, Prometheus so loved the creatures he had created that he stole fire from the gods and gave it to them for their own human comfort and protection and for the technological advancement of civilization. Angered by the theft, Zeus, king of heaven, punishes Prometheus by binding him to the side of a mountain and directing a vulture to tear out his liver daily.


I wasn’t a bad person growing up, but my mother says I was hardheaded. I was given plenty of advice–the Do’s and Don’ts. I heard the words of my elders, but too often I rejected them because I lacked the experience to fully understand and receive them. And too often I embraced words that prevented me from growing into a fuller human being.

Go figure. Isn’t it ironic that in order to gain the experience to evaluate things, we need to get experience–jump right in. We learn as we go.

So I entered into the fray not as a Prometheus of Greek myth, long on understanding and long on forethought, but as an Epimetheus, short on understanding and short on forethought. Like Epimetheus, I jumped right in and relied heavily on afterthought.

As an afterthought, I have learned the truth of what Jesus teaches as forethought: “He who does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’”

In 1990, I chose to carry the cross and follow Jesus. I jumped right in and attended seminary, and after graduation became an ordained minister. I was assigned to one church, then another. The journey was not orderly, but it happened, was exciting, if unpredictable, and in instances the cost was indeed high both for myself and my parishioners.

But thanks be to God that I have been allowed to come into my years with my faith intact. Now, I said to myself, I know from experience, and I may even have the understanding to exercise some forethought.

I retired from pastoral ministry officially on July 1, 2003. I jumped right in and spent the next two years landscaping our yard and finishing our basement. In the meantime, we learned from our doctors what ailed Joan and made her early retirement from ministry necessary. It meant a major operation for her, but we were glad to find out what was going on with her. No amount of forethought could have prepared us for what followed. 

We jumped into her recovery stage from open heart surgery, then from hip replacement. After six months, the district superintendent asked if I would pastor a church in a nearby community. After talking to Joan about the stage of her recovery, she encouraged me to take the appointment, and I said yes, on an interim basis. So, with no clear forethought, I jumped right in and one year turned into two years and two years into three. And then I was ready to jump back into retirement. And I know Joan was ready too.

Yes. I’ve jumped right in again and again, leapt into chaos, and learned to relax, to keep afloat, to trust in God. But I have also learned to be ready, to be prepared, as Jesus tells us again and again. There is a blessing and a new order. God’s reign is near. Somewhere along the way, in my journey, suddenly, I will discover this new order, God’s reign, and everything in my life will be redeemed. That is what Jesus promises.

I thank God for the myths that inform our various cultures and I thank God for the scriptures. I know with both and with the help of afterthought, which others call hindsight, I’ll discover God everywhere in the details of my life. I strive to remember everything, the pleasant and the unpleasant, the happy and the sad, the pleasurable and the painful, the good and the bad, for in all of the events of my life, in all of the particulars, I may discover the wholeness of being God has always been calling me to.