What about Uncertainty?
Two years ago I attended a summit of 150 individuals from around the globe, gathered to discuss the future of education in the face of uncertainty. While the context of the meeting was education, its focus was uncertainty. In fact, the subtext for the meeting was Education, Uncertainty, and the Changing Nature of Society. With the uncertainty being addressed at the summit, there was a general air of fear—perhaps not panic, but hyper-alertness. Something had to be done.
The thing is, not everyone in the room felt unsettled or hyper-alert. During one session, I was seated next to an African gentleman. He leaned over and with a chuckle commented that only the West was surprised by uncertainty: it is only when one lives with the illusion of certainty that one is surprised by uncertainty.
I appreciated my friend’s words, and they have remained with me through the years. I think of them often during these days of COVID-19. As my friends in Sierra Leone reach out with compassion to inquire about my safety and the situation in the U.S., I am reminded of their recent fight with Ebola—over 11,000 deaths in three small West African countries. Whole villages, whole families, lost in a matter of days. While coronavirus is not Ebola, the impacts on society bear a resemblance. They, too, experienced quarantine; schools were closed for nine months; businesses closed and the economy plummeted; their culture of touch and family was forced to change or to die.
As someone so removed from that context, it is easy to think of Ebola as just another problem in Africa. Even while traveling to and from Sierra Leone during Ebola, I confess the risk and danger seemed so far from my air-conditioned hotel room. Today, from my own living room, I am told the risk is very close. I am told to change my habits and to practice “social distancing.” It’s all very strange, and somehow still feels far from me.
What is not far from me is my busyness coming to a screeching halt. Seemingly, this is not something I could or would do for myself. Sporting events, concerts, schools, fundraisers, and even church services have been forced to cancel or go virtual. The stillness is unfamiliar. Perhaps those with children would not describe this time as prolonged “stillness,” but rather un-scheduledness. When is the last time you have experienced prolonged stillness or un-scheduledness?
Walter’s sermon two Sundays ago was a reminder that we are not in unprecedented times. We are in a wilderness; and, “the wilderness burns off the illusion.” God uses the wilderness to test what is in our hearts. Perhaps too much certainty has crept into my heart, too much of a sense of control of my surroundings.
What a gracious God to test us so we may know what is in our own hearts. After all, how could we grow without knowing what is in our own hearts? As Walter gently reminded us, our Loving Father is not one who tests whether we keep his commands. He is not testing our righteousness or wisdom, but rather is testing our trust in him, the Holy One.
We do not need to fear uncertainty when we trust in the Living God. Whatever amount of time we are quarantined, no matter the impact on our businesses, our homes, or even our health, I pray this wilderness will burn off the illusions we carry which hold us back from knowing and trusting more in Christ Jesus our Lord.