I have spent the better part of my life trying to figure out how this whole thing called life works. What am I supposed to do, believe, think? What is the system and how do I make the most of it?
As a teenager, I took a legalistic view and tried very hard not to drink and have sex. I was confused and frequently encountered pain. Perhaps the key was to be more “free” – hold up my hands in church and chase after miraculous signs and wonders. I was still confused and frequently encountered pain. There have been seasons where I have tried to put extra effort into being more organized, more laid back, more productive, more restful, and just about anything else I can think of.
I’ve never been able to completely figure it out or be sure of myself and the world around me. There always seems to be a tide of confusion and pain, rushing on me unexpectedly but inevitably.
When I was a young adult, I discovered the complex truth of the Book of Ecclesiastes. The gut wrenching truth of Ecclesiastes is that I will always be confused and frequently encountering pain. There is nothing I can do to control it, avoid it, or manifest it on my one terms. Life is as hard as it is beautiful.
Humans love finality. We love surety. We want completion. But we just are not capable of it. It is a mirage, a false promise. We keep chasing it as if it is just around the corner. One more thing. One more accomplishment. One better feeling. We are chasing a phantom.
There is no magic wand. There is no line in the sand when all the confusion and hurt is eternally kept at bay, no happily-ever-after.
We will always be navigating challenges. There will always be plenty we cannot grasp and do not understand. Life is an experience full of mystery. It is uncertain. It is, as far as our comprehension goes, always going to be lacking finality.
This may sound like a bummer, but it is actually a pretty freeing idea. Ecclesiastes is not saying life is meaningless as much as it is saying life is mysterious. And the whole point is to usher us toward trusting the God of mystery. We cannot comprehend, but we can believe. We cannot control, but we can trust. We cannot perfect, but we can participate – we can try. And keep trying.
The key to life is to trust God when things make sense and when they don’t, when we succeed and when we fail. The vision of the gospel is not to make life easier or comfortable, it is not to control or manipulate outcomes, it is not even to feel better. The gospel is an invitation to love. No matter how confused I am. No matter the circumstances I face.
Time marches on and changes our circumstances like a kaleidoscope. Chance makes grasping full reality as difficult as chasing the wind. And through it all, God is God, love is an option, and my confusion is not just a problem to be fixed but the foundation necessary for a life of faith.