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The Certainty of Uncertainty

 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Romans 11:33

What does it take to feel confident in or comfortable with our life in this world? If God loves us; indeed, if God is love, why is life so unpredictable? Why all the violence, sickness, injustice, insecurity, and misery? Why does the earth seem to be falling apart from earthquakes, fires, climate change, glacier melt, species extinction, and other incomprehensible disasters? Everyone I know suffers in some way, consistent with their cultural, ethnic, and socio-economic status. No one gets out of here alive. Can we ever be certain about anything in life? The answer is an emphatic YES! We can always be certain that life will remain uncertain.

A portion of our uncertainty centers around the concept of fairness. One absolute truth about life is that life is not fair. Another truth is that life is absolutely fair. How can both be true? Can life be fairer to some than others? There seems to be ample evidence of that possibility. Unfortunately, we are poorly equipped to determine what is and is not fair. Our human perspective is too limited. Being human is about experiencing life’s nuances in excruciating detail. We lose ourselves so deeply into the forest that all we see are trees. We cannot conceive of a larger picture or a unifying purpose.

When we lack the ability to judge what should or should not happen in the grand scheme of events, then our perception of fairness is always out of kilter, making life appear uncertain. In the scope of the eternal life of the soul, our life on earth is but a grain of sand on a vast beach; but we cannot view the beach. What can we possibly know about fairness, about justice, about love in the eternal scheme of God’s creation? What if a particular soul – a specific manifestation of God – chooses to embody in a third world country in order to experience starvation or apartheid or a brutal civil war? That possibility puts fairness in a completely different context. If God experiences in and through all of creation, why would God not want to experience the good, bad, and ugly of creation? Certainly, every stage of human creation has painful parts of the process required for completion – childbirth, for instance. Our problem is that we judge the pain of the contractions as separate from the life of the person.

Even if a soul does choose to manifest in a certain time and space in order to experience a particular stage of creation, that does not relieve the rest of us from the obligation to do what we can about the injustice, the oppression, or the unfortunate circumstance. Part of the grace, perhaps the only grace in being a victim of unspeakable tragedy is to have another child of God notice and do whatever he or she can to ease that suffering. We need to realize that the disadvantaged provide opportunities to allow God’s grace to flow through us. One soul suffers, another soul relieves suffering – all is part of the experience of God through us.

One additional certainty, aside from the certainty of uncertainty, is that we cannot fall out of God’s love and care. God did not spare Jesus from his ghastly earthly suffering, so why would we expect God to spare ours? God did not leave Jesus alone on the cross, nor will God leave us alone on ours. God did not allow the pain of the cross to last forever, nor will God allow our pain to last forever. God took the pain of the crucifixion and birthed something good for humankind, just as God will transform our suffering into good. Of course, none of this happens according to our desires or our timeline. We are not in a position to make those judgments.

Our world is full of uncertainty because we are incapable of perceiving or fully trusting the fairness of God’s unfolding plan. Yes, we should absolutely make every effort to do all the good we can in every situation we can, but we cannot tie our willingness to work to the results we believe should immediately follow. That is God’s business, not ours. The ultimate success of God’s ceaseless workings will seem uncertain to us. Contemplative practices help us accept the certainty of uncertainty, release our attachment to results, and free us to live, move, and have our being in and as the part of God’s greater life we were created to manifest.

This is the 10th in the series of Life Notes titled A Contemplative Life.

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Life Notes—November 1, 2012 

“Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” 

Matthew 20:14-16

When I was a child I always wanted the biggest present under the Christmas tree to be for me (okay, I still do…)  If one of my brothers or sister had a bigger present than me, although I never would have verbalized it, a part of me felt cheated.  As parents, Carrie and I always tried to spend about the same amount for Christmas on each child, as well as to have about the same number of gifts for each.  After all, that’s only fair, isn’t it?

The 20th chapter of Matthew begins with Jesus telling a parable of laborers in a vineyard.  The vineyard owner hires some workers at the beginning of the day, some in the middle and some with only an hour left to work, yet he pays them all the same.  Those who worked all day complained about not getting paid more than those who only worked an hour.  With today’s labor laws, this employer would be facing an unfair labor practices lawsuit.  How unfair is it to pay these workers the same for vastly different amounts of work?  By earthly standards it is very unfair—maybe even discriminatory and abusive.

But Jesus concludes the parable with one of the most confounding lines of his ministry by saying, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  I think this line clearly reveals something important about the Kingdom of God: human standards do not apply.  Can you imagine awarding a gold medal to the Olympic runner who finishes last?  Or awarding all runners the same prize?  It wouldn’t be fair, at least not by our definition of fairness.

But what of the Kingdom of God?  Perhaps the reward of most value is the salvation that gets us there—salvation we cannot earn no matter how hard we try.  What if that is all that matters?  It wouldn’t matter whether one receives their salvation as a baby or as they draw their last breath.  The ultimate reward is the same, for there is no greater or lesser salvation, and I believe that is the lesson of this parable.  When we try to measure God’s generosity by human standards we are likely to feel cheated.  If we want to unlock the secrets of the Kingdom, we must look beyond our human definitions of fair and unfair, right and wrong, to the broader, more comprehensive perspective of our Creator.

Tom is preaching downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch will preach at the west campus where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  Both will give the third in their “Beautiful and Abundant” series, titled, “Is it fair?”

Come home to church this Sunday, where the first get to sit in the last pews…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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