You’ve heard it many times over the past year… “in these uncertain times…” or “in these unprecedented circumstances…”. These phrases may even have become some of your most loathed phrases because of their frequency of use (or overuse).
To be sure, it’s no strain at all for us coming up on 1 year of pandemic and precautions to it to think of any number of things that have been “uncertain” or “unprecedented:”
Will the wedding happen as planned? – What will it look like?
Will we be able to have a funeral for grandma? – How will that go?
What about Christmas gatherings and children’s Christmas services? Can they happen? If so, how?
There is little question that the past few months have been filled with “uncertainty” and “unprecedented” circumstances (at least in our lifetimes). But the repeating of the expression assumes something else. It is assumes that, prior to the pandemic and the many and shifting precautions associated with it, daily life was full of “certainty”, full of “precedented times” that were as guaranteed as granite is sturdy.
I think anyone could agree that much, if not most, of this past year has been “uncertain.” But is it honest to presume that what preceded this past year was “fully certain?” Were we guaranteed wedding celebrations and funeral services without disruption? Or did we just grow to presume that to be the case? Have our annual family gatherings and children’s services been as sure as birthrights OR have we been so immeasurably blest and spared of suffering and hardship that we can’t distinguish between “certainties” and gifts?
C.S. Lewis, the great 20th century author and apologist, had this to say about “learning from war-time” and it seems to instruct us well during our past year of uncertainties also:
“The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself.”
(C. S. Lewis, from a sermon preached in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, Autumn, 1939)
Could it be that the past year of pandemic, economic turmoil and civil unrest have actually yielded us nothing new at all? Rather, that these months have merely “aggravated the permanent human situation so that we no longer can ignore it”?
“In this world you will have trouble….”
It ought not be so easy for us to forget who we are: depraved and dying sinners with bodies at all times susceptible to disease, dying and death; minds at all times prone to ambivalence, fear, and despair; hearts defaulted to hostility and always chasing the mirage of ‘control’… But we make ignoring this permanent human condition an art form… and the devil and the world happily aid us. We are easily sold the notion that mankind (us and our neighbor) is ‘basically good’ and that it’s reasonable to expect that we’re progressing beyond “good” – that we can even aspire to a day when there is no longer any inconvenience to daily life, no more ‘risk’ of illness or death, no more injustice or hatred or violence. We envision the treasure is that “good life” going back to “normal” so that “better-than-normal” might again be pursued.
The Psalmist brings us to ourselves:
Truly God is good to Israel (the people of God) –
To those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
My steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked…
When my soul was embittered,
When I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward You (Lord).
(Ps. 73 selected vss.)
To the extent that these “uncertain times” have in fact “aggravated our permanent human condition”, we ought to thank God. For it is only in knowing our real condition that we can recognize the real Treasure: A God who is with us in our always-desperate condition.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you (Lord);
You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
And afterward you will receive me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
May God grant us the right amount of “uncertain times,” that our failing flesh and hearts might always be returned to real Certainty:
“… But take heart, I (the Lord) have overcome the world.”
Pastor Kyle Madson
Kyle Madson pastors two churches in Southern Minnesota. He and his wife Alicia homeschool their six children.