Living with Uncertainty

In retrospect, the world in which I grew up was remarkably secure, yet the memory of war was very real for my parents’ generation and the threat of a nuclear holocaust was ever-present. When President Kennedy was assassinated, I remember going into the garage to announce the news to my father, who stopped what he was doing, looked very grave and said, ‘This may mean war.’ He was wrong, of course, but that was the great fear lurking behind the political polarisation of the day. We lived with uncertainty. We still do, but it is a different kind of uncertainty. The enemy we fear is often unseen or unrecognized, in our midst, even our own bodies. We fear the consequences of the way we have abused earth, sea and air; the terrorist who is implacably opposed to our way of life; the disease that perhaps even now is coursing through our body. No-one looking at the world today can afford to be complacent. There seems to be so much that is beyond our control, that menaces us.

That is one of the reasons why Advent is a helpful time of year. We are looking forward to the coming of Christ with expectant joy yet, at the same time, acknowledging both our own sinfulness and the brokenness of the world we inhabit. There is the uncertainty of the not-yetness of salvation; the uncertainty of our own response. For those of us living in Britain, there is also the uncertainty of Brexit and what will or will not happen in the next twenty-four hours. This uncertainty accompanies us as we make our pilgrimage through Advent and lends it a peculiar force and directness. We need a Saviour, a Redeemer: one who will make us secure, transform our deafness and blindness and free us from everything that holds us back from being  who and what we are meant to be. We are therefore living a paradox because, of course, Christ has already come, has already saved us. Our uncertainty is whether we will lay claim to the salvation he offers us — whether, in the words of Isaiah, we will allow everlasting joy to shine forth from us, or whether we will prefer darkness to light. The choice is ours.

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Living with Uncertainty

We crave certainty. We may like to think of ourselves as free spirits, ready to set off for outer Mongolia at the drop of a hat, but most of us, most of the time, prefer to know where we’ll sleep at night, where our next meal is coming from, that our legs and lungs will work predictably. Living with uncertainty is not, for most of us, a choice we would wish to make, yet most of our ‘certainties’ are nothing of the sort. We are, all of us, only a heartbeat away from eternity.

I think that is why Benedict urges us to ‘keep death daily before our eyes’. He is not being morbid or encouraging glumness. On the contrary, he wants us to recognize that every moment of life is a gift, even when hard or difficult. We are not in control, however much we like to think we are or want to be, so what is the point of worrying ourselves (literally) sick about things? It is not only riches but anxiety that chokes the growth of the Kingdom within us. With Lent just a few days away, perhaps we could start thinking about our Lenten resolutions as a way to recapture awareness of living daily by the mercy of God. That will involve more than giving up marmalade or some other delicacy. It will mean living with uncertainty.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail