Grasping for Certainty
March 17, 2022
by Autumn Dawn Galbreath, MD, MBA
I had lunch with some dear friends today—Christian women physicians who have been my friends for almost 20 years. We talked about medicine—the woes of the current healthcare system. And we said we couldn’t imagine how things would continue, given the problems our healthcare system faces. We talked about parenting—the challenges of raising daughters. And we said we couldn’t imagine how kids could process social media and technology in a healthy way. We talked about our churches—the deep divisions between the maskers and non-maskers over the last couple of years. And we said we couldn’t imagine how the wounds could be healed. We talked about politics—the uncompromising partisan viewpoints on both sides of the aisle. And we said we couldn’t imagine how people could learn to work together given the depth of the divide.
No, we’re not clinically depressed. We talked about a lot of positive things, too. However, not being able to imagine a way forward was a recurring theme in our conversation as topic after topic posed a knotty problem that seemed beyond solution.
As I reflected on our conversation, I was reminded of something I heard at orientation last August at my daughter’s Christian school, Biola University. The school’s president Dr. Barry Corey said, “In times of uncertainty, our natural instinct is to grasp for certainty—‘I know what happens next’—but God wants us to grasp for confidence—‘I am sure of what happens next.’”
If times were ever uncertain, these times certainly are! Between pandemics, wars and racial and political unrest, it seems that almost nothing is certain right now. I think Dr. Corey is onto something when he says the natural human reaction in such situations is to grasp for that which we know—so much so that if we don’t know what happens next, we invent it. Living in the tension of uncertainty creates such a painful level of dissonance that we would rather believe misinformation, or “alternative facts,” than not know. It’s the reason conspiracy theories catch on so quickly. The reason everyone around you is so firmly convinced of his opinion that he’s not even willing to discuss others. The reason each politician stands so passionately on her interpretation of a given issue. Because we need to know. We need to resolve the tension of uncertainty in order to feel safe and comfortable in our daily lives.
And yet, as Dr. Corey wisely points out, God calls us not to be certain, but to be confident. One definition of confidence is “firm trust,” which I think gets at Dr. Corey’s point here. God calls us not to know facts in our heads in order to eliminate the discomfort of uncertainty. He calls us to place our trust in the One who has both certainty and confidence in infinite measure, the One who is unchanging and reliable in the midst of uncertainty. For even if we accurately know what happens next, we have neither the power to impact the future nor the grace to rise above it without accurately being sure of the One who walks with us through it.
On the other hand, it’s one thing to posit these ideas in an inspirational orientation speech. It’s another thing entirely to live them out in the harsh light of reality, especially the reality of medical practice during COVID. Do they hold up? We have only to look to our ancestors of faith to see that they do.
Abraham didn’t know what would happen next when he packed up his family and started a trip to an unknown destination (Genesis 12).
Moses didn’t know what would happen next when he commanded a powerful king to free all his slaves (Exodus 5-13).
Joshua and Caleb didn’t know what would happen next when they made a foray into the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1).
Rahab didn’t know what would happen next when she sheltered the Israelite spies in Jericho (Joshua 2).
Ruth didn’t know what would happen next when she followed Naomi to an unknown land and a life of presumed poverty (Ruth 1).
Samuel didn’t know what would happen next when he said, “Speak, Lord. For your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3).
David didn’t know what would happen next when he came in sweaty from the fields and was anointed as the next king (1 Samuel 16).
You get the picture…
These men and women of faith didn’t know what would happen next, but they were sure of what would happen next. That is, they were not certain of the events that were about to transpire, but they were confident of the One who would orchestrate them.
It’s easy to relegate these ancient stories to the halls of childish Sunday School classrooms gone by, but the pages of Scripture are replete with stories of people who chose confidence in the face of uncertainty, and I believe those stories are given to us intentionally. We may feel our modern problems of technology and politics are new, unparalleled and unsolvable. Nevertheless, those who walked before us on the journey of faith faced unsolvable problems, too. Problems against which they were powerless. Problems for which they couldn’t imagine a solution. Red-Sea-sized problems in front of them with Egyptian-army-sized problems approaching from behind. The trials we face are not unprecedented. As the teacher of Ecclesiastes tells us, there is nothing new under the sun. Remember that God has seen knotty problems before, and He has untied them. He has carried His people forward throughout history, regardless of kings, nations and wars that would have stood in His way. He does not depend on the healthcare system, or a president, or any army, or a particular church building or congregation. He is not threatened by any foreign power or its weapons. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. And while He does not promise to give us all the information we wish to know, He does promise to give us the Presence that we need to experience. He promises to be worthy of our confidence, our firm trust, because He has the certainty that we lack.
“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV).