Facing Chaos is a series of nine articles about what I have learned over the years about dealing with the chaos, pain, and darkness that at times seems to overtake our lives.
There is much in this world that I simply do not understand. Sometimes I make strides in understanding better, or more, however there are many times where I simply cannot understand some things fully. This truth used to bother me. It used to make me feel ashamed. I thought I should know better. I thought that maybe if I tried just a little harder, understanding and wisdom would follow. The truth is, however, that none of us will be able to understand everything.
Our world is complex, as are so many of the problems that plague it. There was one writer, however, who helped me see this complexity differently. Where I once looked upon the endless intricacies with dismay, and at times despair, now—at least on my better days—I look at it with a sense of awe.
Abraham Joshua Heschel was a Jewish philosopher in the mid twentieth century. His life and work were often quite academic in nature, and as such he spent his life pursuing knowledge and truth. Yet despite his life’s work being in the realm of achieving better understanding, there is a thread that moves throughout his work that sees the things beyond our understanding not as something loathsome, but rather as a delicious kind of mystery.
Heschel is quoted as saying, “Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”
He is also quoted as saying, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement… get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
So what about when we face big problems? Are we simply to be amazed at the grandiose way in which our world messes up? Are we to be impressed because not only did we fail, but we failed with flair? Well, maybe…but I would suggest a better perspective. Even in our problems, when they are too big or too complicated for us to fully grasp, it gives us a reason to turn to God, and be thankful that the Lord understands these matters that are too lofty for us.
In Isaiah 55:8-9, the Lord says, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts…And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
While this may be humbling for some of us to realize, it should be something that brings us comfort. We are not actually expected to always know everything. And so, I believe, we should take the posture of Abraham Heschel—we should continue being curious and and keep on learning, but at the same time we should learn to embrace the beauty of wonder when it comes to all the intricacies and complexities that are too much for us to comprehend. Furthermore, we can allow these mysteries to lead us to worship the God who understands them.
Embracing mystery, and standing in wonder at the intricacy of God’s magnificent truth, is one way that we can in fact stand against the chaos that plagues our world. Don’t ignore the truth just because it is difficult to understand, and don’t allow complexity to paralyze you. Rather, allow the mysteries of our world to draw you nearer to God in worship and even in desperate dependance.