As a single guy led by faith to live far from home, I often find myself trusting in the Big Picture more than others. On the best of days I hope to live a life that more closely resembles the promise made by Jesus at the end of his encounter with the rich young ruler (though I am neither rich nor young nor a ruler). The reality of Our Current Moment definitely call into question some of how we understand life in the Big Picture, and rightly so. Ephraim Radner, who wrote another piece that I quoted a few days ago, has this to say about uncertainty and Our Current Moment:
Uncertainty is at the center of the Christian vocation. Uncertainty may not comprehensively describe that vocation, but it defines it in an essential way. Many Christians will and do reject this claim, I realize. “We know with certainty all that is important to know!” they will say. God is in control; God is good; God rewards the faithful; Jesus is Lord, and in him death and sin are defeated; the gates of Hell will not prevail against the church, and heaven awaits us. These are indeed Big Picture certainties. But the Big Picture isn’t all there is to God’s reality or to the Christian’s life. Small pictures are the bits that make up the Big Picture’s mosaic. In these little corners of reality, dark holes of uncertainty await the unwary, and teeming abysses of confusion stand ready to swallow the complacent. In the Time of the Virus, church leaders seem to be focusing mostly on the Big Picture. They shouldn’t; it’s evangelically irresponsible.
That last phrase is sobering: the idea of being “evangelically irresponsible.” If nothing else, it points to an interesting dynamic in how we articulate concerns based on the given moment. When things are going smoothly in life, we focus (perhaps) on the small stuff. When things are chaotic, we focus on the big stuff. Radner continues:
Who knows what will happen tomorrow? None of us do. The entire book of Ecclesiastes flows out of this truth (cf. 8:7), which hovers about the whole of the Old Testament. It finds a classic assertion in James, as he goes after the confident traders of his day (4:14): “You do not know about tomorrow. What, after all, is your life?” The failure to grasp this reality is embodied in the confident rich man, saving his piled riches in a barn, whom Jesus berates in the voice of God: “Fool! Your life will be taken this very night! And then who will possess what you have gathered?” (Lk. 12:20). Everything resonates here: our lives, our families, our labor, our pastimes, our homes, our savings, our predictive obsessions.
“Who knows what God will do?” Radner adds. And then “Who knows where I will end up?” Both are good and legitimate questions that should come to mind when we think about life and how it intersects the biblical story. Then Radner weaves it all together:
It is, of course, the present that is underlined in all these realms of ignorance. Because we do not know tomorrow, we do not know God’s plans or even the depth of God’s character in planning. We do not know how it all adds up, we are stuck firmly in this one place where God has thrust us, stripped of organizing frameworks of meaning based on the plotting of the stars. “Today,” God seems to say, “take stock of today.”
And today is not an empty moment, nor one solely inhabited by the fears or anxieties of an opaque future. “Do not be anxious about tomorrow,” Jesus both warns and encourages his disciples. Instead, “seek the kingdom and its righteousness” (Matt. 6:31–34). To all the questions of “who knows?,” the Scriptures respond with concrete gifts. Who knows about tomorrow? James says, “Be humble.” Who knows if God will be merciful? The prophets all respond, “Therefore repent” (Joel 2). Who knows what will become of us? The Psalmist writes, “Remember who God is!” (Ps. 74:12ff.). Today, simply because God has given it to us, is filled with grace; and the service of this grace today is one whose forms are manifold and beautiful, shaped by the humbled, repentant heart that speaks of God’s great works. That service is our vocation in the midst of uncertainty.
Radner has more to say in the article about the questions of the Bible and our rejection of the Sabbath and how our own foolishness can be at play when we miss the particular gifts of today. All of these are reasons for you to read the rest of the article. Definitely something to ponder as we continue on in this sobering time.