April 15, 2020 – Embracing Uncertainty in a Certainty-obsessed World
What would you do if life, as we have had it for the last few weeks, became the actual new norm? What if the normal life routines you have enjoyed in the Mahoning Valley were taken away forever, even beyond this state-wide Stay At Home Order? What would you really do? Seriously, think about it: what if life as we know it will never be the same? All the things we were certain about concerning our future were disrupted forever, and we continued to live under this current grey cloud of uncertainty beyond this pandemic?
I grew up in a very beautiful, yet troubled southern African country whose political and economic history will likely sound like a story out of a Stephen King classic. To spare you details, just to paint a picture, in 2008, Zimbabwe’s peak month of inflation is estimated at 79.6 billion percent month-on-month, 89.7 sextillion percent year-on-year in mid-November 2008. Now, this may sound like very complicated economic information but things were so bad that prices of goods in stores would change while you were waiting to check-out!
Since around the time I was in 3rd Grade, I began to realize how life was slowly changing at home. My parents began implementing serious austerity measures. We just couldn’t splurge like we used to. Pocket money became a luxury. The types of packed food I had to take for break-time began to change. I was a kid, so I did not really get it. But objectively speaking, the economy which used to be a marvel on the whole African continent was tumbling. The effects of this tumble were consequential.
I have never had certainty in my life since those days.
At the height of the economic crisis, my mom skipped the border into neighboring Botswana and worked there illegally as a maid for a while — and that is simply the only reason why I was financially able to go through high school at one of the best private schools in our region. The uncertainty and fears of those days still haunt me. What does it take for a mother to take such actions? It is fear. Fear that her son would end up as another statistic. And hope. Hope that perhaps a good education would give him a better future.
Yet the uncertainty never ceased.
I do not share this for any pity to be directed my way at all. I wouldn’t trade any of my upbringing for anything.
The Lord graciously saved me when I was 16 years old. My heart was radically changed and I loved him with all that was within me – I still do. Yet what surrounded me did not correspond at all with the renewal and joy within me. I was lost in the world. A young kid who watched his parents work hard for a country that never seemed to work for them. Yet I was found in the Lord. A young Christian who understood that Christ had done all the work already, and all I had to do was to trust Him.
The uncertainty helped me to cling to him even more.
When you are roaming around a college campus without any idea where tuition fees for this semester would come from, but the Lord provides in unexpected ways, your steadfastness in the Lord is building a little bit more, according to James 1:3. That is my story. When you live your life treading on the thin line between uncertainty and God’s assurance of His ever-presence, with time, your faith is built up in tangible ways.
I know most of you reading this might not have been through anything similar, but I know you relate to how a bad situation always (well, maybe most of the time) makes you a tad-bit wiser than you were before — you gain more perspective. In a sense, living with uncertainty for literally most of my life has helped bring to light the reality of God’s presence with us in times of suffering. If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)
The uncertainty helped me to cling to him even more. And just like it helped me, it can help you.
The Western world in the 21st century is perhaps addicted to certainty — and with that comes a certain level of shock, denial, and surprise when crises hit. But for believers in the western world, perhaps it is a good reminder of something that the Lord Jesus told us to expect — I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33). This is something that your brothers and sisters across the world experience on a regular basis. By no means is this supposed to make anyone feel bad for being born in a country with systems that work — be thankful to God for that — yet be cognitively aware that life does not consist in the abundance of things (Luke 12:15) and that the very uncertainty the culture trains us to run away from builds steadfastness in us, and the apostle James contends that when this steadfastness fully builds up, we become perfect, and lack nothing (James 1:3-4).
Think about that for a second: this means that uncertainty can be a good thing! It sounds counter-intuitive that this could ever be a good thing – yet that’s exactly what James is saying. Our suffering does things for us that times of plenty and prosperity do not. Again, do not feel bad for having plenty, but be aware that perhaps you can be addicted to “plenty” that you rely on your job, your investments, your savings or 401k in a way that should only be directed at God. Therefore, times like this are a good reminder that apart from our inheritance in God, we have nothing else in this world that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading (1 Peter 1:4). You can take it from a guy who comes from a country with 90% unemployment.
Friends, this world is not our home (Hebrews 13:14), but we have a home whose property value is insurmountable. I pray we look forward to this home more than anything, especially in these times. What if this becomes our new reality? Well, we would all make a lot of adjustments — but you know who will not make any adjustments? God. His Word stands true forever (1 Peter 1:25). His love for us is everlasting (Psalm 136). And He promised He will be with us till the very end (Matthew 28:20).
As I write this I am sincerely praying that the weight and glory of the world to come would hit us harder than the temporary blow of the COVID19 crisis. O what blessedness is set before us. We long and hope for that day when our faith is turned to sight, and we exist eternally with the Lover of our souls. John writes in Revelation 21:4 that: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” What a day that will be!
Friends, all this uncertainty is for our good. It draws us to cling to our Savior. It makes us trust the One who never changes. And it creates a longing to be with the Lover of our souls! Blessed be His Precious Name!