What we know and what we don’t know
What we know and what we don’t know
In times of uncertainty, it’s good to take stock of what we know and what we don’t know. The book of Matthew records Jesus, teaching his disciples about the fulfillment of creation, saying
Now, before we go rushing off to places of anxiety and consternation over the fact that Jesus himself is here describing his own ignorance, please note that the fact that creation is going somewhere is an assumption with which Jesus begins.
As in ages before, it’s become fashionable in some circles to imagine that reality is an endless loop of cycles returning again and again; others imagine that we move through the world experiencing a sequence of unrelated events that at best can only be experienced but have no inherent meaning. But Jesus, who is the one by whom all things are held together, knows differently. Creation is moving to the day of fulfillment that was initiated by his own resurrection. This moving toward fulfillment is something that God is doing in creation. This insight guards us against a kind of primitivism that imagines that things were better in some long ago day as well as a kind of progressivism that imagines that the salvation of the world (as we prefer to experience it) depends on human beings getting it right.
Jesus teaches that the fulfillment of creation will be marked by his return which will bring the restoration of all things and our own physical resurrection. He’s pretty clear about this and followers of Jesus have routinely asserted their hope in this, Sunday after Sunday in words like those of the Apostles’ Creed.
This is what we know.
What we don’t know is when this will be. It might be alarming (as we’ve already observed) that Jesus claims not to know either. Then, to add to our anxiety, Jesus goes on to say that there won’t even be any warning! He says that the fulfillment of all things will come like a thief who breaks into a house or, we might add, like an act of senseless violence such as has occurred on the campus of the Ohio State University. Without warning, everything changes and things seem suddenly uncertain. Which is as they always were.
Perhaps we don’t like to think about it but life is always fragile and uncertain, this side of eternity. Things we thought we could count on, the unity of a nation, the stability of the American Empire, our confidence in national or cultural righteousness, all of these are illusions.
So what do we do in such times of uncertainty, with this knowing and unknowing? I suggest two things:
- We align ourselves with the resurrection of Jesus. This is to say that we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, place our hope and confidence for the future in the resurrection of Jesus. This resurrection has the final word in the universe and is the foundation of our hope. I believe that when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quoted Theodore Parker saying “…the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” he wasn’t basing his hope in a confidence in American progressivism, he was expressing his confidence in the resurrection of the body. This hope in the resurrection is what we mean by “faith.” It is this faith to which Jesus is referring when he teaches us to “keep watch.”
- Such faith will necessarily show itself in the practice of love of our neighbor through acts of service and the desire for understanding. We do this, not in order to save the world but because we have become aligned to the world’s savior. Our service doesn’t bring resurrection, it’s an echo of it and an anticipation of our own resurrection. This self-understanding can equip us with the necessary humility to meet our neighbor where she or he is because humility isn’t thinking less of ourselves, it’s thinking more of the other.
At the Chapel of the Resurrection, we think and talk like this about this time every year. It’s the season of Advent, a time set aside to meditate on the return of Christ and our vocation to love as our way of waiting for that day. May God bless your waiting with what we know and what we don’t know.
Nov. 30, 2016
Rev. James A. Wetzstein serves as one of our university pastors at Valparaiso University’s Chapel of the Resurrection.
- Archives of Devotional Writings from our Pastoral Staff
- “Some Lent!”
- (Your vocation here) of people
- A Point of Privilege
- Advent = Hope
- All will be well
- Are we willing to cross the road for one another?
- Can we learn to be happy?
- Come and See
- Did Jesus really suffer?
- Doing without in a life of plenty
- Exiles with Vision
- Fear not!
- Feeling at Home
- Finding Purpose in the Journey
- Finding Words for Times Like These
- Forgiving others – and ourselves
- Getting down on Jesus’ level
- Have yourself a merry little Christmas — somehow
- Holy Week and Taking Out the Trash
- Holy Week: The aid station late in the semester
- Hopes & Dreams vs Life in the Wilderness
- How glad we’ll be if it’s so
- In a time of uncertainty, these things are certain
- In praise of plans B … C … D …
- In Praise of Skeptical Disciples
- In the midst of grief, God will bring life
- Is there such a thing as being too forgiving?
- It’s a Three Day Weekend!
- It’s In the Bag
- It’s What’s Happening
- Killing off our future selves
- Lessons in fire building
- Let us work for real wellness in our communities
- Life Is a Highway
- Living in the Present
- O Lord, you know I hate buttermilk
- Of Fear and Failure
- On Christian Unity: When we’re not one big happy church
- On the Bucket List
- Pray and Let God Worry
- Preparing for the world to be turned rightside up
- Recovering from an Epic Fail
- Reformation calls for examination
- Remembering among the forgetful
- Seeing beauty in brokenness
- Signs of Love
- Starting Small
- Still in the storm
- Taking a Break from the Relentless
- Talking ourselves into it
- Thankfulness leads to joyfulness
- The Funny Business of Forgiveness
- The Greatest of These is Love
- The Magi: Exemplars of Faith and Learning
- The Power of Small Conversations
- The Power of Taking a Sabbath
- The Spiritual Gift of Hindsight
- To be known
- We had hoped
- What is your base reality?
- What to do after you find your voice
- What to do on the day after
- What we know and what we don’t know
- When bad things happen
- When joy and sadness live together
- When you offer up your broken cup
- Wilderness Journeys
- Year-end time management: Keeping the main thing the main thing
- Your Valpo roots will help you grow into your future