THE GRACE OF AMBIGUITY

Ambiguity is defined as uncertainty. It is the nature of humans to dislike uncertainty. It’s risky and even fear producing not to know the answer to life’s deeper questions such as ‘is there a God?’, ‘why is there so much suffering?’, ‘why am I here and where am I going and who cares? Is the Bible true, and why don’t the Jehovah witnesses have the same Bible as I do? ‘Am I going to be judged? And what about all those different religions?’ And then, ‘what’s for dinner?’ And did I make the right decision? And on and on and on?

An ethicist once asked Mother Teresa if she would pray for him for clarity in his life. Her response was, ‘I have never had clarity. I have had trust. I pray that you will have trust.’

I once saw a cartoon where the pastor of a church was sitting behind his desk and behind him on the wall was a poster showing the steady decline of attendance in the church. His assistant pastor was standing in front of him and said, ‘Maybe it would be better if you didn’t end every sermon with ‘but the again what do I know?’

Why do we need certainty? Trust implies a degree of uncertainty. The apostle Paul once wrote in Romans 8 that in the midst of the suffering and groaning in the world, we ‘hope’. But he says that hope isn’t something we have. It is something we long for with perseverance. And in Hebrews 11:1 we find these words: ‘Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.’ This is true trusting. And many of those whom Paul writes about never received what they hoped for, at least to the point of their deaths. They share in those things with us now.

Ambiguity involves trust and hope more than absolute certainty. Recall what Jesus said to the disciple Thomas after Thomas saw the wounds on Jesus’ body. ‘You believe because you see. How much more blessed are those who believe without seeing.’ That is the nature of ambiguity and trust.

Now some Christians and religious groups feel they need to be certain that they know the way to God. But Jesus is the only one who knows that way for he IS the way the truth and the life; he invites us to trust him to bring us into the Kingdom of the Father right here and for all eternity.

We would be more relaxed in our Christianity if we just allowed the ambiguity to exist and instead trusted God, say, the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer did in the times of Nazi Germany. Here’ is the way he describes his faith and life not long before he was executed by the Gestapo.

Who Am I?

Who am I? They often tell me;
I come out of my cell
Calmly, cheerfully, resolutely,
Like a lord from his palace.

Who am I? They often tell me,
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me,
I carried the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one who is used to winning.

Am I really then what others say of me?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
Restless, melancholic, and ill, like a caged bird,
Struggling for breath, as if hands clasped my throat,
Hungry for colors, for flowers, for the songs of birds,
Thirsty for friendly words and human kindness,
Shaking with anger at fate and at the smallest sickness,
Trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Tired and empty at praying, at thinking, at doing,
Drained and ready to say goodbye to it all.

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and another tomorrow?
Am I both at once? In front of others, a hypocrite,
And to myself a contemptible, fretting weakling?
Or is something still in me like a battered army,
running in disorder from a victory already achieved?
Who am I? These lonely questions mock me.
Whoever I am, You know me; I am yours, O God.

 

The last line sets the tone for our life. Though we don’t often understand much. What we do trust more than anything is that God knows we are HIS.

And the Bible. The Bible is not a rulebook. It is a relationship book. It is more like a book on the languages of love than Robert’s Rules of Order. And being a book of relationship it is filled with grey areas that are left up to the individual or group to discern what God’s will is for any given moment. The Bible is a history of God’s love for his creation and creatures and his longing for us. Love is never black and white and to want it to be so is to live by the knowledge of good and evil rather than in communion with God. And we know how that played out back in the Garden.

John Polkinghorne, a Christian and a scientist, writes these words:

The tapestry of life is not colored in simple black and white, representing an unambiguous choice between the unequivocally bad and the unequivocally good. The ambiguity of human deeds and desires means that life includes many shades of grey. What is true of life in general is true also of the Bible in particular. An honest reading of Scripture will acknowledge the presence in its pages of various kinds of ambiguity.

Regard Abraham and his uncertainty about his role as the Father of many nations. Jacob wrestled with God. Moses never really knew what he had gotten himself into. David’s ambiguities pervade the Psalms not knowing at times whether God would save him or leave him to die.

Perhaps we can learn from Jesus’ own ambiguity in Gethsemane when he asked his Father to relieve him of this dreaded death but conclude, ‘Thy will be done.’

Let me conclude by saying that ambiguity is a gift from God, an opportunity for trust and yes, even impulse at time. It is an occasion for prayer, prayer to trust, a prayer to seek God, a prayer to never grow complacent in the boring black and white of law but rather in relationship to Jesus Christ.

By the way, I love the words of U:

 

I have climbed the highest mountains

I have run through the fields

Only to be with you
Only to be with you.

I have run, I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her finger tips
It burned like fire
A burning desire.

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one.
But yes, I’m still running.

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For lyrics©Universal Music Publishing Group

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “THE GRACE OF AMBIGUITY

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.