Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Unexpectated and Uncertain

"... he shall startle many nations... for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate."   -- Isaiah 52:15

This verse from Isaiah speaks to me of Jesus's resurrection.  How startling and unexpected was that?!  Even though Jesus told some of his disciples that "on the third day he would be raised", what did that even mean to them?!  It had to have been a mystery.  And his resurrection the greatest surprise of their lives.  After all, much of what Jesus said to them was a mystery, a surprise.  Even we, who have the advantage of studying his words in print, are still contemplating their meaning thousands of years later.

Martin Buber's words about mystery come to mind.  He writes in "I and Thou":  "...if the recommended path were utterly devoid of mystery, it would cease to fascinate men.  ...There would be nothing left to discuss and interpret, to lecture and write about, to admire and merely think about.  ... The Book of Proverbs is boring compared to the Sermon on the Mount.  The good way must be clearly good but not wholly clear.  If it is quite clear, it is too easy to reject."  (pg. 10)  Does clarity breed contempt?

I don't know.  There are many times when I wish I understood things better, and knew why God was asking me to get involved in a particular ministry, especially ones I feel so ill-equipped for.

But, what would it be like, I wonder, if I knew how my whole life was going to pan out?   If I knew exactly what choices I was supposed to make?  If I knew where my choices would lead?   And I knew ahead of time God's purpose behind it all? 

Personally, the thought of this makes me cringe, as if I'd chewed a bitter pill.  As much as I like knowing what's what, and being certain of my choices, I can't imagine my life without questions, without surprises.  One of the things I value most in my life is how surprising it is.  I am continually amazed by the way things come together.  These surprises feed my soul, and my mind, and I think, keep me alive.  If I knew everything that was going to happen, and why (even if it was all good),  I think I would walk away from my life, if that were possible, and say, "No thank you.  I prefer not knowing."  Even though I find uncertainty very uncomfortable at times, I think the alternative would be worse.

Susan Cain writes in "Quiet:The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" about the differences between extroverts and introverts.  One difference between extroverts and introverts is how they respond to uncertainty.   For extroverts, fear, uncertainty, and doubt (or FUD, as its known), is "an unholy trinity" that must be vanquished, if not ignored. (pg. 164)  If something takes too long to figure out, an extrovert is more likely to give up on it, than an introvert.   Introverts are challenged by uncertainty, and will spend much longer trying to solve a problem, or contemplating a question, than an extrovert.  Albert Einstein, a consummate introvert said, "It's not that I'm so smart.  It's that I stay with problems longer."  (pg. 169)  I am an introvert.  I also think slowly.  It takes me much longer to work through a problem than many other people I know.  I'm also less willing to give up on a problem that is, to my mind, still unresolved.  

I love mathematics because I can solve problems with it.  The thing I love best about math is that there is always a right answer.  There may be many ways to get to that answer, but if you follow logical rules correctly, step by step, the answer always comes out the same.  You know you are right.  You can prove it.  This is not the case with God.  We cannot prove our answers about God.  God is not logical.  The unexpected happens all the time.  Miracles happen and yet cannot be verified beyond a shadow of a doubt.  With God, we must be willing to accept uncertainty.  We must be able to trust feelings more than reason, sensations more than common sense, and experiences more than experiments.   Dreaming is more important than debate.  With God, trusting replaces knowing.  And the surprise that comes from that trusting is life-giving, life-changing.  Perhaps that is why I find God imminently more fascinating than mathematics, and also why I find it much more challenging to teach about God than  mathematics.

I know very little about God, for sure.  But one thing I do know ... God knows much better than I do how things are supposed to turn out.  I don't have to understand it all.  It doesn't have to make sense.  I just have to trust in that and keep listening. 

Perhaps Jesus knew something about his future ahead of time, but I like to think that he walked along his journey of faith like we all do, one step at a time.  His questioning faith, extravagant love for God and humanity, and his unending hope make me think so.

Thank you, dear Lord, for sticking to me like glue as I wrestle through every uncertainty.  Love always, Pam

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