According to the old quote, there are only two certainties in life – death and taxes.
I’d like to add another – the certainty of uncertainty. Never has this been more evident. These days you hesitate before checking the news in case you find Jacob Rees-Mogg has become Prime Minister and Donald Trump has joined forces with Kim Jong Un to invade the Moon.
This all reminds me of a picture that came to my mind in church a while back. The picture contrasted two scenes – one was a building site where a house was being built. The foundations were neatly prepared so the concrete could be poured in. That’s how I like things to be – tidy and orderly. The second picture was of someone surfing – not my idea of fun with my lack of co-ordination and dodgy shoulder. I felt God say that that’s how life is – scary, chaotic and unpredictable. Inevitably we will fall in sometimes!
I’m not a big fan of unpredictable situations – ask the guys who saw me when the England vs Columbia game went to penalties!
As an example I like to know what’s happening with the weather – I walk to and from work and I want to know how many layers I need and whether to pack the emergency raincoat. Woe betide the weather forecaster who gets it wrong! It’s on the long list of things that make me grumpy but the fact is that a weather forecast for all its technology is an educated guess – they don’t control the weather they just try and track it!
The fact that we have come to expect control and to have experts who can help us to gain it says something about the culture we live in and something about our human nature and inherent control freakery.
I became aware when my son, Ben was ill of how this pull to control had affected my faith. It wasn’t just the inevitable instinct to pray for God to do what we want, particularly in a time of desperation but beyond that it was the idea that I could turn prayer into a system for things to work out a certain way. I was taking things out of God’s hands by seeking to ‘appropriate what he had already done’. At a certain point you realise however good that sounds that you’ve left God behind and it’s all about what you can do is his name.
Ben’s death was the most brutal way to learn that life is uncertain and unpredictable and that faith is not there to stop that but to learn how to live well within it.
Life, as we are frequently reminded at my church STC Sheffield, is made up of blessings and battles and always will be. I have no desire to learn to surf but in life I have no choice but to try and navigate the waves. The good news is that I have God’s spirit to help me do that.
The simplest explanation of God’s spirit I can offer to those who don’t know God is that it’s the bit that makes it real. It means that in the day to day I am not trying to be good or to remember what God says I’m supposed to do in a given situation, instead God’s Spirit is within me to guide and to work on my character (see control freak, grumpy list above!)
People my age will remember the old Castrol GTX car oil adverts. They were really boring. They showed a trickle of oil running around some grooves to get to where it was needed (accompanied by some really boring music!) It’s a good illustration of what the spirit does, it gets to the nooks and crannies to make things work well.
God doesn’t want a bunch of dry, religious people – those were the guys Jesus opposed the most. God wants to transform us by working in our lives, making us people who can make a difference in this bonkers time.