Several years ago two major universities simultaneously experienced computer server shutdowns. It happened in the early hours on the day student applicants were to be notified of their acceptance or rejection. So many students logged on simultaneously that the servers collapsed.
Can we blame the students for their anxiety? They wanted to know more about the next four years of their lives. None of us like uncertainty. We want to know what, when, what time, how long, and who with. We want to ensure our security, our health, our future. The multi-billion dollar insurance business exists because of these uncertainties.
Faith is not about answers
So does faith. Yet, we err if we think faith solves our uncertainty. Authentic faith is not about easy answers. Rather, it is about finding the courage and wisdom to live with uncertainty. Faith can help turn uncertainties into blessings. In fact, uncertainty can ultimately sustain and make our faith even stronger.
I first recognized this truth during a visit to Venice. The city has magnificent churches. Yet, these churches are built on lagoons. The soil is watery and muddy. How can such shaky ground hold up such extraordinary structures?
The tour guide explained the way it works. The churches are built on thousands of wooden poles that move with the tide. Those movements counter-balance one another, keeping the structure high and intact. The very shakiness of the structure keeps it standing.
God is with us
The same is true with faith. The uncertainties we face sustain us. They bring us closer to one another. They bring us closer to God. It is through the uncertainties, the challenges, the crises — what the Psalmist calls the “valley of the shadow” — that we see God is truly with us.
Uncertainties also sharpen our vision. They help us refine and grow in faith, separating the wheat from the chaff, the sacred from the mundane. The great psychologist Erich Fromm captured this truth. Even though he left his traditional Jewish background, its influence permeated his work. “Creativity” he wrote, “requires the courage to let go of certainties.” It is not certainty that leads to faith. It is the courage to live with uncertainty.
The whole world is a narrow bridge
We need this message today. Uncertainties abound around us. Perhaps we feel uncertain about a relationship. Perhaps we feel uncertain about our financial wherewithal or the safety of our job. Those of us who care about Israel are deeply uncertain about the wisdom of the proposed deal with Iran.
Amidst such uncertainty, faith sustains us. Amidst such fears, faith guides us. An eighteenth century rabbi named Nachman of Breslov said, “the whole world is a narrow bridge, and the most important part is not to be afraid.” In other words, life is uncertain. It resembles a rickety bridge. We walk across it in faith: Faith in our ability to do so, faith that the bridge will hold, and faith that God beckons to us from the other side.
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