Our culture is obsessed with the quote “Carpe diem.” It appears on t-shirts, bumper stickers, pins, and in any number of artistic and graphic representations on Pinterest and Tumblr and every other social-media network. We use it as an inspiration, as a motivator, and as an excuse to revel in the ‘now’.
“Carpe diem” is, however, only part of the original statement made by Horace. The full statement reads, “Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero,” which translates as, “Sieze the day, putting as little trust as possible in the future.” The poem it came from is an ode encouraging the death of hope – it tells the reader to stop wishing for a great things to come and be content with just getting some good out of today. It is the ultimate statement for a world that looks into the coming days with fear and retreats to the present, hoping to stave off what is about to happen. It’s the perfect motto for those who believe that all good things come to an end.
If you actually sat down and made an effort, it would be hard to find a statement more opposite to a God-centered perspective on human existence.
A snapshot taken of the whole Biblical account would show the theme of hope for the future running through it like a glittering thread. We see the statement that is God’s answer to carpe diem for the first time in the story of Job, as God brings his faithful servant to even greater things than he had seen before his suffering: “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.” (Job 42:12) Carpe diem warns us, “The future can only be worse than the present, so enjoy what you have right now.” God says, “I am the Lord – wait and see what great things I will do in the future.”
This is demonstrated from the very beginning of the Bible. Adam and Eve sinned and were thrown out of the garden, but even as God speaks about the bleakness of the curse we see a glimmer of hope for the future – the woman’s offspring will eventually crush the head of the serpent. God promised to Abraham descendants who would number as many as the stars…and then Abraham became the poster-boy for living the carpe diem life, sleeping with Hagar because he couldn’t see how God would bring His promise about. But even though Abraham had taken matters into his own hands, God still followed through with what He had promised, bringing from Abraham’s line the whole nation of Israel. Even when the Israelites had been in captivity, suffering because of their broken covenant, God still spoke of hope for the future: the pages that contain the horror of the Israelite captivity also contain the prophecies about the Messiah to come. Again in Haggai we see God’s answer stated clearly as He promises the Israelites that restoration will come to them. “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” (Haggai 2:9) Carpe diem says, “The best is right now, so hold onto it with every ounce of your strength.” God says, “The best is yet to come.”
In the New Testament we see this promised hope revealed in the person of Jesus. He was the promise made flesh. And again the theme was repeated – the author of Romans lays it out clearly when he compares what Christ did with what Adam did – Adam’s sin brought the curse to humanity, but Christ’s sacrifice negated it. And this isn’t just an equal trade. What Jesus did overwhelms the terror caused by the past. “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (Romans 5:17) Carpe diem says, “Be afraid of what might come, because it’s probably worse than anything you’ve experienced yet.” God says, “Be expectant for the future – it will be better than you could ever imagine!”
Perhaps the most beautiful and poignant example of this contrast is found in the account of the wedding at Cana. Jesus attended the wedding with his disciples and his mother, and when the hosts ran out of wine, Mary came to Jesus to ask that he do something to assist. In response, Jesus turned the water standing in the ceremonial pots nearby into wine, supplying what was needed for the rest of the wedding feast. It seems a mundane miracle for the start of the Savior’s ministry – no one would have guessed that the first recorded miracle of the Messiah would be the provision of beverages for a party! Yet this miracle stands as the perfect symbol for the person of Jesus, the nature of his mission, and the way that God has orchestrated all of human history. When the master of the feast tasted the new wine Jesus had provided, he called to the bridegroom and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Carpe diem says, “Enjoy what you have now, because the future has only disappointment to offer.” God says, “You have already experienced disappointment, but what I will bring in the future is shocking in its greatness.”
These incessant repetitive reminders of hope for the future that appear throughout the Bible do not end with the coming of Jesus to earth. The beauty of Christian life is found in recognizing that not only have we received grace for today, but we can also look toward the days to come with expectation. In Titus 2, Paul states it this way, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” The truth of the Gospel and the truth of the Christian life is that we should not and cannot live by carpe diem; we can and must live by that “blessed hope”.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.