Sudbury faith: The unpredictable world in which we live

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Something we have discovered over the past year is that the world can be a very unpredictable place to live in. Who could have imagined the number of lives lost due to a pandemic? Who could have imagined a state of on-again, off-again lockdowns that would go on for months and months? Who would have believed that hospitals would be on the verge of overcrowding, or that so many jobs would be put on hold? How do we deal with all that?

There are a variety of ways that we react and respond to such unpredictable times. The most common reactions are panic and fear, followed by frustration and anger. We may long for days when our lives used to be like a straight path; when we had a plan for where we were heading in life, which included a way to get there. If those plans become a chaotic shambles, we may not know what to do, which brings on the panic – especially if we never had a “Plan B” as a backup.

The whole situation can result in a state of fear. We may fear what the future holds. We may fear that our world is being torn apart. We may fear for the health and well-being of loved ones. And then, if we compare what we used to have to our current situation, frustration can set in, which often results in anger. Anger over perceived failures. Anger over someone else’s shortcomings. Anger over a lack of hope and promise in our lives.

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One thing that can be helpful to halt the process is to address our fear. God knows we humans have fears as they are addressed many times in the scriptures. When the Israelites left Egypt and were trapped on the shores of a great sea with the Egyptian army after them, their fear turned to anger against Moses, accusing him of leading them to their deaths. In the wilderness, their fear of a lack of water caused them to make those accusations against Moses again. In the New Testament, the disciples feared for their lives a couple of times while boating in storms. They were in fear again after Jesus was crucified, going into hiding. These are just a few of the numerous examples where God’s people succumbed to fear. How did they deal with it?

What all these and the many other examples should tell us is that God’s people are not immune to fear, as some seem to suppose. But all is not lost, as so many of these examples also point to God working to erase the cause of fears. The sea was parted so the Israelites could escape. God led Moses to a rock which, when struck, supplied water. Storms on the sea of Galilee were calmed. Jesus rose from the dead. These are, of course, extreme examples where people were very much aware of God doing such marvelous things in their lives, which is why someone took the time and bother to write them down.

Perhaps, unfortunately, God doesn’t always appear to work in such awesome ways in our times of fear, but we should remember that God didn’t always work like that in every Biblical case, either. Those exiled to Babylonia waited decades to return. In our time, how often do we expect to simply have a straight line answer to whatever is causing our fears so that they will disappear? Life, however, is rarely like that. When disruption happens (and it happens often in this world), we wind up having to work our way through it, and in the process hopefully will have learned something about how to deal with an unpredictable world.

The reason scripture often tells us not to be afraid is not because there is an easy answer around the corner, but rather because we may well be in the midst of an opportunity to learn some valuable lessons if we so choose. One of them is to trust in God – not to make an easy path for us – but rather to keep us from falling into the trap of frustration and anger that can lead us to hurtful actions against ourselves and others. Give your fear to God and free yourself of that burden – so that you are prepared to love others as God has loved us.

Rev. Charles Nolting is based at New Hope Lutheran Church.

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