what we're about

Attempts to illuminate our brief mortal existence

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Uncertainty: it makes armadillos out of the best of us

... or at least out of me.

I'm uncertain about a lot of things these days. Some future events, certainly. I'm going back to school this fall, and my head is full of questions like "how will we manage not to starve to death in an ice-cold apartment this winter?" But uncertainty about practical matters I can handle; it's the cosmic questions, the ones that tell me what my universe looks like, that are difficult. I won't go into the details right now, but I'm uncertain about a lot of these questions right now. Even the ones that I have down ("[I] believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty... [a]nd in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, etc.") are by no means settled as to shape. What does it mean to believe these things?

When you combine these fundamental uncertainties with self-knowledge of my malleable nature, you get an armadillo. I don't want to read books of theology that might take advantage of my fears. I don't want to take classes that will unduly challenge my always-fragile faith. I don't even want to talk to my friends who are taking some of the same journeys that I am. In short, I'm curled up inside myself. This doesn't make for good relationship building, or even happy chatting amongst friends. It's definitely not the open-hearted person that I want to be. And I don't know how to fix it myself. The only thing that I know how to do at this point is be honest about what's going on, even though I can't be open about what's going on inside the armadillo. And as I ponder this, I begin to wonder if the whole point of this experience is to teach me helplessness. And I begin to hope that Jesus fits inside an armadillo curl.


  1. "I don't want to read books of theology that might take advantage of my fears. I don't want to take classes that will unduly challenge my always-fragile faith....etc"

    I have thought those exact words. I have dreaded the internal, mental "damage control" after certain classes.

    We learn helplessness or we go mad, I think?

  2. Marina! It's your blog! I'll come pester you on it.

    Yeah, I know what you mean. It's rough, and I don't know a way to make this kind of unsettledness any less disturbing.

    A couple of things I've found helpful in coping with it, though: One is to spend more energy on the practical parts of Christianity that you still can commit to fully. This is a good reminder that it still does mean *something* in practice even though there are wide swaths of theoretical terra incognita.

    Another related thing is to consider how in the past God has still stayed with people and used them for good things even when they were off course in a lot of ways. Even after accusing God of personally ruining his life, Jeremiah still gets to be God's prophet. One or the other of Peter or Paul must've been seriously wrong about the Gentiles, but they both still get to be apostles and write the Bible for us.

    The point being that God's work here is not a thin ledge off of which you will fall into oblivion if you believe, feel, or do the wrong thing. (I think all those places where David says--in Ps. 139--that you can't hide from God apply if they're in places your head too, or if they're theological rather than geographical).

    Of course, you don't want to be wrong (and neither do I), but I think we'd all be lost causes if God weren't capable of using people who are wrong. That doesn't make the uncertainties less intrinsically distressing, but for me anyway it makes them less paralyzing.