Do a search on the word “faith” and you will find a vast array of quotes and scripture passages describing it and how necessary it is on life’s journey. Most of what we will find we can give assent to and perhaps determine to follow, but when a crisis hits the measure of our determination and assent is bound to be tested in ways that were not on our radar screen at the outset of our decision.
A crisis often brings things into focus because it forces us to set aside all the other things happening inside and around us to deal with that crisis. That can be a help as we seek to appropriate faith and often have others around us to support our efforts. But make no mistake – it’s difficult.
“There is nothing more difficult than to live spontaneously, hopefully, virtuously – by faith.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses
But what does faith look like during a long period of uncertainty – ambiguity?
It’s been said that life is a marathon, not a sprint and that is certainly true with faith. Even those of us who are not runners are more likely to consider a short sprint over a marathon experience. Living in the midst of ambiguity is more like the marathon that can feel as if it will never end.
The marathon uses up every reserve we have of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy we have developed in our training. By the time we near what we know will be the end of all those miles most runners will feel totally depleted and wonder if they can really cross the finish line.
Most of us do not do as well when we are faced with a period of ambiguity where we don’t know a definite end point will come. Somehow for as hard as uncertainty may be, when we know there is an end point something tends to kick in that helps us make it through to that end and buoys our hope.
The longer we live the more we get in touch with the reality that we will face many of these longer periods of uncertainty that will stretch us to appropriate faith as never before. Sometimes it will start as a crisis such as a job loss that then stretches into a much longer period of time than we could have expected at the beginning. Sometimes the crisis will be an illness that cannot be cured, and we must live with its ravages with medical support for an indeterminate amount of time.
Some of us might equate the current pandemic as one of those long periods of ambiguity. When it started a year ago, we were upset by the inconveniences and the restrictions, but some of us took these as a challenge and started listing all the things we could get done since other things were not possible. Most of us never expected that a year later we would still be living with so many restrictions and uncertainty and discovered months ago that the list of things we would do fizzled to a large degree.
Paradoxically, some of us would rather live in difficult situations that were predictable than live in ambiguity. Sound unlikely to you? Consider the children of Israel who had been enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years until God sent Moses to be an instrument for their freedom. Freedom sounded like a great idea, but it meant a long trek into the wilderness where life was anything but certain. Soon the Israelites were grumbling and complaining because at least in Egypt there was no ambiguity.
“Not that there are no clarities in the life of faith. There are. Vast, soaring harmonies; deep, satisfying meanings; rich, textured experiences. But these clarities develop from within. They cannot be imposed from without. They cannot be hurried…
The clarities of faith are organic and personal, not mechanical and institutional. Faith invades the muddle; it does not eliminate it. Peace develops in the midst of the chaos. Harmony is achieved slowly, quietly, unobtrusively – like the effects of salt and light. Such clarities result from a courageous commitment to God, not from controlling or being controlled by others. Such clarities come from adventuring deep into the mysteries of God’s will and love, not by cautiously managing and moralizing in ways that minimize risk and guarantee self-importance.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses
This pandemic season of ambiguity has not changed our call to be salt and light. Despite vaccine development much ambiguity remains and does so for an indeterminate amount of time. Our feelings about it are understandable but our situation is one that gives God an opportunity to more deeply plow up faith and turn it over so that like soil it can bring forth fruit for the season ahead.
One of my “companions” during the pandemic has been the book by Eugene Peterson – Run with the Horses – that I have quoted often. The richness and depths of this work on the life of Jeremiah slowed my pace in reading so I would not miss any of the understanding it offered. Many sentences are underlined, and numerous pages have flags on them. I came to see that one thing I wanted was to be more like Jeremiah. Despite reading his book in the Old Testament, Peterson gave me a much more significant understanding of the man and his faith.
“He (Jeremiah) argued with God but he did not abandon him. He was clear at the center: it was with God he had to do. He was committed to the covenant of God. He was unwavering in his understanding of morality. He was steady in his hope in God’s mercy. But just because he was sure of God did not mean he was always sure of himself. Nor did the world around him ever become clear. The world remained a muddle – and it will.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses