Could There Be Would Have Been?

I hear this argument all the time and I heard it the other day. “If you had been born in a different country, you wouldn’t believe what you do.”

The same logic gets applied in many different scenarios. The idea of “would have been” is quite popular to many people. It’s the “if only” philosophy.

If only I had gone to college I would have a better job now. If only I had been born with better parents I wouldn’t be as angry as I am. If only I had stayed a virgin I wouldn’t be stuck with a kid now. If only the other kids hadn’t picked on me in school. If only I hadn’t lost my sight. If only I could walk again. If only there were such a thing as would have been.

It wrenches the heart to consider some of these realities. In some cases the “if only” wished for is something the speaker had complete control over, it was their own choice. In other cases it was something done to them. They couldn’t have helped it if they tried.

The problem is there is literally no way of knowing if the second half of any “if only” statement is even remotely true. No one can know if you would actually have a better job if you had gone to college. No one can know if you would be less angry being born with different parents. No one can know if you would or would not be responsible for a child right now had you remained a virgin.

Maybe you’re right, but prove it.

I mean this in the most loving way possible, but there is no way to know what would have been and it does absolutely no good to dwell on it. There’s no such thing as would have been.

There is a danger of taking my words the wrong way. I am not saying, “Sin away and don’t take responsibility for your past actions.” I’m saying quite the opposite. I am trying to deal with the present: present actions and present choices about how to interact with the idea of “would have been” and I’m saying leave it alone. There’s no such thing as would have been.

The God we serve gave Moses his name and that name was passed down to us. That name was “I am.” There are all sorts of theological points from this simple self-given name. The fact that God chose to call Himself by the present tense “to be” verb speaks volumes about our reality. First of all, it reinforces that he actually exists where the others “gods” actually don’t. He is where they aren’t. But even more than that, He is and so is what he created. He, the original “is,” the original “to be,” the original “am,” is who made the idea of “being” in the first place. Nothing can “be” without him doing it first.

I think this translates into the question of “would have been.” Just like all of the other fake gods out there, it just doesn’t exist. As I think C.S. Lewis put it in a quote I cannot now find, “In Him we have what is.” There’s no such thing as would have been.

What would have been doesn’t, hasn’t, and never will exist. So what do you even mean by the phrase?

It is curious to me why anyone would focus so much effort and thought on both the past and future while often wasting the present. The present is the only thing we have any real control over. What you are doing right now is the only thing that you can change. You can try to change what will be and you can lament what was not changed, but you can actually get up off your cushion and actually change what is actually happening at this very moment… if you actually want to.

What is, is all there really is. Past and future don’t really exist… they have existed and they will exist, and no amount of thought about would have been will make it “be.”

I follow the God who is. In that endeavor I am becoming convinced that focusing on what is and changing what we can about it is the only and best way to live. Of course, God’s word says it better. Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

3 thoughts on “Could There Be Would Have Been?”

  1. Thank you, Stephen. Brings to mind the many counseling theories that focus on the “here and now” (Gestalt, existential, solution-focused, cognitive behavioral). People who work with people have gradually discovered that a present focus is often more effective in therapy. But you are right in that we can also look to God as the pinnacle of mental and emotional health since he is indeed perfect in all ways. Which brings me to another question of why it is so rare that churches seem to notice and appreciate the psyche of God vs. say, His love or strength (which are good things too). So thank you for bringing attention to that.

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