10. A Kaleidoscope of Uncertainties

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 10. A Kaleidoscope of Uncertainties – the Psalms

Psa 2:1   Why do the nations conspire?

Psa 6:3   My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?

Psa 10:1  Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Psa 13:1  How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

Psa 15:1  Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?

Psa 22:1  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

Psa 42:5 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

Biblical Realism: Have a realistic view of this world with its uncertainties but make sure you hold on to The Certainty we have been talking about in these recent studies. That is the message that I have felt coming out in all these studies, this is what I have felt the Lord saying to me. Sometimes we have such a romantic view of the Psalms that we lose a vital truth that comes through in them. Yes, sometimes they are songs of praise, songs of triumph, songs of worship, but quite often they are also cries of anguish. Have you ever noticed how many question the psalmists present to God? Those questions flow out of uncertainty and the anguish that goes with that uncertainty. But let’s extend our consideration of uncertainty to pinpoint three different causes.

  1. Varying Circumstances: Is David a schizophrenic? I ask that because there are times when he comes out with such dynamic faith in both his psalms and his history, that it almost feels difficult to believe it is the same man who is now bewailing his plight. I think one of my favourite quotes of his is, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26) and then later, “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Sam 17:36,37) Brilliant, what faith! No, I don’t think he’s schizophrenic, it’s just at different times of life the pressures are different, so yes there are times when David was strong and full of faith, and other times, perhaps feeling tired and jaded, he is struggling.
  2. Burnt Out: We could ask the same thing about Elijah. He does some great stuff, the peak of which is challenging Ahab and his prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. What a miracle, what a triumph, so much so that he goes running ahead of Ahab all the way back to Jezreel (1 Kings 18), but then Ahab’s wife threatens him and he does a runner to a cave in Sinai on Mount Horeb, as far away as possible from Jezreel, where the Lord finds him in a miserable state. He’s on the verge of a breakdown it seems, utterly wiped out. Perhaps we should realize that sometimes when we fight a great battle against the enemy and triumph, there is a price to be paid. Perhaps it shouldn’t be like that, I’m not sure, but it often is.
  3. Enormity of the Future: I think it is indisputable that one of the two greatest cries of anguish in the Bible comes from Jesus as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. He faces the greatest of anguishes, not merely physical but certainly spiritual in what is about to come: Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” …. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Lk 22:42-44) A prayer of immense human anguish, and yet I believe it was more than human fear; there was also, I believe, the awareness that having been through one separation from the Father – leaving heaven his eternal dwelling – he was about to face an even greater separation when he took the sin of the world on himself in such a measure that it would blot out the awareness of the Father that had kept him going for three years of ministry, and that second great cry would be dragged out of him, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34)

In the face of the enormity of the awfulness of what was about to come, Jesus shows us himself in immense anguish. He shares in the same experiences that we encounter. How did he cope with it? It is too easy to say, well he was God and had all of that strength, but that ignores the humanity that he carried.  Listen to the writer to the Hebrews: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1,2) How did he do it? He looked beyond it to what would follow.

And Us? Look beyond today or tomorrow to the vision that God will give you of what will yet come. Let that be part of the strength (as well as His presence and purpose and power) that keeps you today. There is a new day yet to come! Don’t be put off by ‘bad days’; we all have them. Look past them to the next new day, who knows what it will hold. If you read David’s psalms rejoice when he rejoices,  empathize with him when he anguishes and learn from him when he starts out ‘down’, pours out his heart in anguish but comes through to a new place of certainty and is able to praise the Lord and declare his trust.

If, like Elijah, on one day you give out a lot and are feeling wiped out the next day, find a quiet place and regroup, get refreshed, you are still a much-loved servant of God and there is more to do – when you have been freshly resourced. The wonderful thing is that the Lord understands these low times we go through brought on by tough circumstances and enemy opposition, and He’s there with us, watching, understanding, feeling with us, and ready to restore us.

And when the future looks daunting, stretching out ahead of us with trying and difficult circumstances yet to come – whether health issues, work issues, or people issues – grab for His resources for today, receive His peace to be able to face the future, and look beyond the ‘tough stuff’ to see the glory the other side of it. Can we do that? I’m sure we can – with Him.

8. Responding to the Uncertainties of God

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 8. Responding to the Uncertainties of God

Lk 5:8   When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

Ezek 37:3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”  I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Ongoing: If we were playing one of those games where someone says a word and the next person has to say something different and yet with a clear link to the first word, and we were using the Bible, then having just seen the response of Job to God, my next link would be that of Peter to Jesus. Job concluded, “my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 4:5,6) Peter, after having given his boat over to let Jesus use it as a pulpit, concluded, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Lk 5:8 AV)

The Uncertainties of God: One of our greatest dangers is making God ‘manageable’. The Anglican translator of the mid-twentieth century, J.B.Phillips, ended up writing a book entitled, “Your God is Too Small”. Both Job and Peter, I suggest, caught something of the uncertainty of God.

After Job had listened to God going on for chapter after chapter about what He could do and what Job couldn’t do, Job began to be overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the enormity of God. You need to prayerfully read those chapters over and over again and let the reality of them get through to you, for perhaps the modern church needs more than anything to be delivered from the ‘God is my buddy’ mentality by seeing Him as the most awesome being we can ever encounter.  But God who is Spirit – power and energy with personality – permeates every minute piece of space that fills billions and billions of light years of deep space in every direction, a description that utterly defeats our finite minds. And this energy, this power with personality, has the capability of expressing a communication we would hear in, for example, four words, “Let there be light,” and instantly with no apparent cause, or original resource, light appears. If only we could grasp that it would almost scare the life out of us which is why, I believe, when we find heavenly revelations in the Bible (e.g. Ezek 1, Rev 4) the word that is so often used is ‘like’ because we would be unable to comprehend an iota of the reality. Instead we have imagery.

But then there is Peter as we see him in Lk 5. It appears he’s met Jesus before (see Jn 1 etc.) and perhaps he’s caught something about Jesus, although he’s not sure what.  Lk 5 seems to be an expanded version of the abbreviated calling we find in Mt 4:18-20 and Mk 1:16-20 or it is possible each of the accounts we’ve referred to here, had time gaps between them and the Lk 5 account is the last of them. Whichever is the truth, Jesus asks Peter to allow him to use his boat to preach from. This happens and when he has finished preaching there is a sequence of events that conclude in our verse above:
– Jesus says to push out further and cast their nets.

– Peter the fisherman knows these waters, had been out all night and caught nothing.

– Peter the fisherman knows there are no fish there (If you’ve ever lived by the sea perhaps you have seen the movement of the water, even the shimmering silver, that denotes the presence of fish).

– Yet something about Jesus makes Peter want to please him so he throws the nets out – probably with no hope of anything.

But then the nets are full to breaking point! Where did these fish come from? Why didn’t I see them? One minute they weren’t there, the next they were. This is scary. (The cogs of his mind are now rapidly churning over). Oh, my goodness, Jesus knew! Or is there something scarier here, he called them to come? Who is he? Or is there something yet even more scary, did he somehow make them? Who is he?  This is someone out of my league, this guy isn’t religious for religion can’t do this stuff, thus guy is something or someone greater than anything we’ve ever encountered, someone greater than anyone we’ve ever dreamed of. This guy makes me feel like I’m just a kid playing in an uncertain world who really hasn’t a clue about fishing. Who is he? I’m starting to feel seriously uncomfortable being in his presence even. If he knows more about fishing than I do, he must know all there is to know about me. Wow, that is seriously uncomfortable!  “Lord, please go away, I can’t cope with this. You know all things, you know me, and that’s not good.”  “Yes, I do know you and that’s why I’m calling you to come with me, to follow me and I’ll teach you a new kind of fishing – for people.”

Three years later, after three years of the most incredible events the world has ever seen, he’s going to be on this shore again, and if the above is anything like what went on in the first episode, we aren’t left wondering. A question. “you know I love you.” A second question. “you know I love you.” A third question. “Master, you know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love you.” (Jn 21:15-19 Msg) Yes, Jesus, in the midst of all our uncertainties is the Great Certainty, the one who knows all things about us and is there for us with access to a power that can bring light when there was no light, fishes when they were no fishes, and life when there is no life.

And that’s when the ‘word game’ takes us back to Ezekiel and his valley of dry bones. When the Lord gives him a vision of this valley full of bones and asks him, “Son  of man, can these bones live?” (37:3a) He is questioning Ezekiel’s uncertainty about Him. Now dry bones are all that are left after death and decomposition and the birds have picked them clean. There is, humanly speaking NO hope, but why should God ask such a thing if He hasn’t got something in mind.  What is He thinking? Uncertainty! “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” (v.3b)

And us?  So there it is. A God greater than anything we can comprehend. A God who draws close and interacts with us. A God who knows all things and can do all things. A God who, we’ve suggested before, doesn’t make mistakes. A God who calls us, forgives us and cleanses us, equips us and sends us. Certainties in the midst of the uncertainties? Let Him impact you with this truth – and be at peace.