What You Need to Know When the Future is Murky

Standing at a crossroads in life is stressful enough at any time, but never more than now. This pandemic has increased our sense of uncertainty. It’s hard to make decisions when you don’t even know what life will look like next month. Not that we ever really do, but COVID-19 has made us more aware of this limitation.

I’m finishing up my ministry apprenticeship at the end of this year, and I don’t know what to do next. The future looks more like a labyrinth than a carefully laid path. I get anxious whenever I think about it. Not only do I worry about the decision itself—balancing factors like health and finances and calling and desire; but I’m also agonizing about the process of making the decision. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve seen the sin and deception in my heart. Am I being sensible or fearful? Am I thinking wisely about money, or being greedy? Is this humility, or a desire to back away from hard things? I can’t get to the bottom of it.

Scripture backs up my confusion: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

I crave other people’s advice, but I also can’t seem to lay out all the factors clearly enough for anyone to have the full picture. We’re grappling to put together a puzzle without ever seeing the image on the box, and half the pieces are missing.

Recently I finished reading None Like Him by Jen Wilkin, which explores ten of God’s incommunicable attributes—the ways he’s not like us. Wilkin helped me realise that what I need most at this crossroads is not a decision-making grid or the advice of wise friends. I need to know God better.

One of the attributes Wilkin covers is God’s incomprehensibility. Just as I cannot understand my own heart, I cannot fully know God. If I could, he wouldn’t be God! He is bigger and better than my narrow human mind can comprehend. And that’s good news in my anxiety. I don’t need to peer into God’s mind and figure out what the “right path” is. God can’t be fully known, but we do know him sufficiently through his word. God has revealed enough of himself that I know I can trust him with my life—here and in eternity.

Seeing God’s incomprehensibility also highlights my own limitations. Wilkin acknowledges what John Calvin famously expressed, that “man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutizine himself.”1

I can’t fathom the depths of my heart, but God can. I can’t know the future or untangle the mess in my heart, but God fully knows every moment of my life. There are no surprises or unknowns with him. I’m paralysed by a thousand “what if’s”, but he’s the one who plans each of my steps. God’s word helps me to understand some of my motives, both good and bad, to help with decision-making. But I don’t need to be paralysed by not having everything perfectly figured out.

Introspection will only get me so far. More than knowledge of myself, I need to trust in what I know about the God who holds me in his hand. He provides wisdom when I ask. He can redeem any bad choice I make. He will use whatever circumstances I’m in to sanctify me. And however my life turns out from a worldly perspective, I will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6). That’s all I really need to know.

 

  1. J.T. McNeill (ed.) Institutes of the Christian Religion, The Library of Christian Classics, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 1960, I.I.II, p. 37.

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