8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God (He 11).
I’ve heard a lot of people comment these days on the uncertainty of our lives. It seems unusual, they say, the degree to which things are in general upheaval. They tend to focus on Covid, of course, especially with the Delta variant and the looming return of restrictions of various kinds. But they note that there’s more to this feeling, especially in the significant societal and cultural changes that seem to be accelerating.
There’s a part of me that says there’s nothing new under the sun; I’ve always been skeptical of the constant claim that “young people these days have it harder than ever.” But it does seem that the pace of change is speeding up.
I know a lot of people who are pretty much in Full Bore Linear Panic over all this. At the risk of being accused of insufficient empathy, let me offer a few words of psychical stabilization. (And yes, I know that no one in the history of the world has ever been calmed down by being told to calm down.)
I’ve written before on the societal uncertainty that the pandemic has brought, but I’d like to share some further thoughts along that line.
There is a very real sense in the Scripture that we’re mostly blind and consequently just sort of muddling along through life. We’re constantly reminded that we’re not God—though by nature we’d very much like to be—and that our knowledge and wisdom are infinitesimal in comparison with his. Paul tells us that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2Co 5.7), and the writer to the Hebrews develops that concept at considerable length in chapter 11, a portion of which appears above. Abraham, we’re told, went out, not knowing where he was going.
We all feel like that sometimes.
Maybe you know people who started life with a plan and executed it perfectly. My life, in contrast, began with making a plan and seeing it crash when I was 16, and then just sort of stumbling along as doors opened. At the time, it wouldn’t have impressed any career coaches. But in retrospect, it’s been a straight line and makes a lot of sense.
Life’s funny that way.
To one degree or another, we’re all Abraham. We come from somewhere else and are just resident aliens here, living in tents (most of us metaphorically).
Some immigrants cling tightly to their ethnic identity. When my people came over from the Rhine Valley in 1741, they settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, briefly but soon hiked down to a German colony in Newmarket, Virginia, where they helped start a Lutheran Church—that’s what Germans do, right?—and married other Germans. From my youth in Boston I recall fondly the Italian North End and Irish South Boston, and the clear cultural identity of those places.
But eventually, typically, immigrants blend in, intermarry, and assume the culture to which they’ve come. It happened to Judah in Babylon; it happened to the Olingers in America; and it happens pretty much everywhere.
In a spiritual sense, though, we don’t have that option.
We’re from someplace else, and we’ll always be from someplace else, and we can’t—mustn’t—make this place the determiner of our fortunes, our emotions, our spiritual health. The uncertainties that are part of living in a foreign place must not drive us to fear, because we have a Father who knows all and directs all, even though he often doesn’t clue us in to everything that’s going on. What looks like chaos to us looks like a beautiful fractal to him, and he’s doing something spectacular.
We don’t know what that something is, exactly, but we know whose work it is, and that fact gives us the ability to be calm in the midst of the storm, confident in the midst of uncertainty, joyous with anticipation in the midst of societal panic—not because we don’t care, or because we’re not empathetic, or because we’re just stupid, but because we know where it’s all heading.
In short, because we believe Dad—which, given his record, is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.