I have just finished reading a collection of short stories by science-fiction author Philip K. Dick, one of which was the story “Paycheck” – written in 1952 and later (2003) adapted as rather forgettable movie starring Ben Affleck.
The story follows Jennings, an engineer who agrees to do secret work for the Rethrick Company for a period of two years. At the end of the contract he will be paid a substantial fee, but have his memory of the time erased (a rather permanent form of a non-disclosure agreement!) The story begins as Jennings has finished his work for the Rethrick Company and receives his payment, but instead of the money he expects, he discovers that at some point during the now forgotten two years he waived his paycheck in lieu of a seemingly random assortment of everyday items: a length of wire, a bus token, a ticket stub, a strip of green cloth, a code key, half a poker chip, and a parcel receipt.
It’s a science fiction story, so it should come as no surprise (and hopefully not a spoiler) that the story involves a device that allows its operators to see the future. Jennings’ other self (the lobotomized forgotten person he was during the two years of work) used the device, saw what was going to happen to his later self and arranged to have these seven items so that he could escape arrest and imprisonment by the SP- Security Police – and so that he could take control of the Rethrick Company for himself.
The plot device that allows Dick’s character to see the future makes for great science-fiction; it allows him to wonder about the nature of time – is the future variable? Are events locked into place? But the same device can be used in god-awful science-fiction like the sprawling Left Behind series.
As I was reading “Paycheck” it struck me that many Christians – particularly those of a Dispensationalist bent – treat biblical prophecy in much the same way as Jennings’ seven items – as if they were keys sent through time to unlock future puzzles. They like to point out that 27% of the bible is prophecy, with the implication that 27% of the bible is about our immediate future. But this is simply not true. It’s bad science fiction, and it’s bad hermeneutics. Biblical prophecy is not a paycheck.