We love – L O V E – certainty. It is comforting. The known, the mapped out, order; this is where we like to live, and when we are in a place of disorder, of uncertainty, we usually don’t like it. For many, this year has given us a great deal of the latter, with much of our certainty taken from us, leaving many of us weary, uncomfortable and unhappy.
Is this you this year? Maybe not. But I can say with some confidence that either you or someone close to you does. I want to help us understand this and to do a bit of a dive into why, and the possible remedies for these feelings.
Let’s first look at what we mean by certainty and it’s opposites. Certainty is the mapped out, known, often logical place where we are most aware of what the next step – or steps – are. We find it in our timetables, in a game with defined rules, and in the wall calendar that we bought in 2019 as we looked out on the year. Mine said at the top ‘Adventure Awaits…’ and I still haven’t stopped seeing the funny side of that.
Uncertainty is, on the other hand, the unknown, abstract, or the unseen circumstances that have ripped through our collective experiences of 2020. Certainty is the precedented. Uncertainty is the unprecedented. I prefer the words chaos and order.
Straight away you might be longing for one over the other. You may currently be in complete chaos, and be terrified, longing for some order. You may currently be in complete order, bored, yearning for some more chaos. Whichever state you’re currently in, you aren’t alone, and more importantly you aren’t the only one that feels alone in that.
You could make an argument that Jesus calls us out of our strict and straight order, or out of our chaos. There is something in what Jesus says and does that does both, and while we might be overwhelmed in either of these feelings, Jesus’ words offer us something:
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.Matthew 6:31-34 (read full chapter)
Notice that Jesus could be talking about chaos. For those that are scared, wrapped up in not knowing, there is such comfort in His words. You don’t need to know, because “your heavenly father already knows.” This reminder is so important to us. When we are anxious, when we are striving we can stop and rest in this knowing.
Notice too that Jesus could be talking about order. For those deeply in their rituals and patterns, Jesus says, don’t let those things dominate your thoughts or tomorrow will roll on to tomorrow and your troubles only pile up. It’s not your job to think about tomorrow. In fact, don’t.
This double edged statement call us away from our comfort, or out of our floundering. This verse is often given to those who are in chaos, but it only occured to me recently that it is also for those who are deeply attached to order.
So if we should not be in order or chaos, where should we be? Should we live our lives in knowing or unknowing? My answer may sound to some of you like a kind of false-certainty, or even to others, a way of pushing us into uncertainty.
My answer: neither.
When life is chaotic, when things change quickly and your day becomes uncertain, we can be still, knowing that God already knows how things are going to go. This truth does hit a problem though, when chaos spreads to our understanding of God. ‘How could God…?” or “Why did God…?” are often the questions. We don’t always know the answers. But chaos leaves space for new things to spring up. There is joy in this. There can be excitement in this.
Out of chaos, creation occurred. It’s almost always in the unknowing that new things begin. When our lives are shrouded in this chaos and uncertainty, that is often when we have opportunities for newness and inspiration.
When life is ordered, or when things tick from one to the next smoothly, we can re-direct our focus from the things, and back onto God. It’s not our job to maintain an order to things or to make sure to avoid discomfort. Matthew 6:33 reminds us to focus elsewhere, but not just focus elsewhere, but trust that God will sort out the rest. One thing that tires us out and wears us down is the need to know, to plan, the need for certainty, but this reminder is that it’s not on us to sort everything out.
Like Jesus’ reminder to Martha in Luke 10, we can re-focus on that one thing. In our desire for order, for the right way, Jesus calls us back to this one thing.
So I say neither. We should live in a middle way, always ready to know that God already knows, be ready to see new things spring forward, and for excitement to happen, but also be ready to rest in comfort, in the good thing.
So whether we are in order or chaos in our lives today, or if we aren’t sure, we can remember Jesus’ words. “Don’t worry.” “Don’t panic.” Don’t look to order or lose yourself in chaos. Only one thing is needed, remember. “Don’t worry.”
Currently studying Theology, Ministry & Mission at St Mellitus College, Jack enjoys learning, growing and challenging ideas. Alongside this he runs his own graphic design business, which is a great outlet for his creativity.