Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Silence of God and the Uncertainty Principle

Yes... it's there in the Bible. There are countless places where people are looking to God for answers and answers don't arrive. This is seen regularly in the Psalms. It's seen in the some of the mysteries pondered in Ecclesiastes.

I think one of the most disturbing fruits of both modernity and the evangelical movement has been this propensity to reduce that vast, transcendent, mysterious, eternal God to some sort of 'system'. Pray this certain way and you're assured of a certain answer. Do these three things, and your children will grow up to be obedient, well mannered, devoted citizens of God's kingdom. One would think that national security, physical health, sexual and financial satisfaction, and emotional well being are all contingent on simply doing the right things.

The reality is, I fear, more mysterious than that. Hebrews 11 reminds us that the life of faith carries few guarantees when it comes to matters of our temporal well being. Some live triumphantly, some suffer horribly. Some are wealthy, some will be stuck in poverty all their lives. Are you looking for a formula? I think you'd better look somewhere else.

But concluding that it's 'pure mystery' isn't accurate either. You do reap what you sow. Good parenting increases the odds that your children will grow up to be honest, grace filled, productive people. Eating well and exercising reduces your risk of chronic disease. In the same way that I find modernity's love of reductionist formulas and sound bytes to be distasteful, I also cringe at postmodernity's fatalism, and their sense that nothing is knowable, so the best we can do it eat, drink, and be merry, for this is our existential reality.

So perhaps what's needed is a spiritual equivalent of the uncertainty principle of Quantum Physics. While I can't claim to know this kind of science well enough to speak intelligently about it, in layman's terms it seems to be saying that there's a 'wild card' in our structured universe; that although there are laws, there are also unpredictable events. While the parallels aren't exact, it seems to be the same thing that we find to be true in the Christian life. There are laws and precepts. We're not left alone to muddle our way through. Parenting, sexual and financial choices, and so much more, are addressed in the scriptures as Jesus invites people to 'abundant life'. We'd do well to both embrace these precepts, and teach them without apology, fully believing that God's ways lead to life.

At the same time, we need to be aware that it's a mysterious universe, and that God is not a talisman, whose bidding we can command by obeying a few rules. To reduce the complexity of both God and the universe to such simplistic moralizing is childish and dishonest. Things don't always play out according to our expectation. But somehow, mature faith stops looking for formulaic cause and effect, finding instead, that the glory to be found in knowing the living God is the grander prize, as seen here (especially vs. 17-19)


At 12/6/07 17:21, Anonymous donte said...

Thanks Richard—

I am one who finds uncertainty rather comforting. Strange as it may be, I find liberty in ‘not knowing’ because it is then that I have no choice but to trust God. The outcome to my problems and the answer to prayers are not always favorable in my eyes. However, in hindsight I usually thank God that ‘my formula’ did not add up. Most of us have probably prayed earnestly for something and later THANKED GOD that we did not get that which we previously prayed so earnestly to receive.

I do not worry about much in life, nor do I try to work for God’s approval. My sin then is that I have a tendency to become complacent, thinking “why pray when God is in control anyway.” The Calvinist in me has hindered my spiritual growth at times when I cease to act upon my faith through works (James 2:14-24).

At 14/6/07 06:52, Blogger Steve Kozak said...

Amen. I was actually talking with my wife last night and I asked her why is it that novels and really good stories are the ones that pull us in using uncertainty, breaking all the rules and formulas. And we love it! Yet in our lives we demand boring comfort and moment to moment knowledge of each and every detail.

Thanks for your thoughts, it is refreshing to hear.

At 30/6/07 20:54, Blogger Elizabeth said...

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