Last year, people around me frequently asked, “Is South Korea okay?” “What’s going on there?” I was grateful for their well-meant worries about the nuclear threat from North Korea. But I couldn’t give them a certain answer, because everything was uncertain, and still is. Last year, my family in South Korea frequently asked, “Is your town safe?” “What’s going on there?” Whenever terrors and mass shootings happened, my parents asked the same question. And I gave them the same answer, “Everything’s fine. Don’t worry.” But looking at the shooting in Parkland, Florida last Wednesday and the copycat threats to the schools in our neighboring town, Nutley, last Friday, I’m not so sure that I can still give my parents the same answer. Not elsewhere but in Nutley, a teen allegedly said on Snapchat, “Round 2 of Florida tomorrow.” What’s going on here? It’s irritating to accept that there is no certain guarantee of our safety here. But it’s seriously infuriating to see that there is no certain movement among politicians to revise the gun law or to bring a certain solution to this chronic social issue. It looks like we are just hopelessly living on an uncertain ground in uncertain times.
None of us likes uncertainty. That’s for sure. But nothing in the world seems certain enough to save us from the shadow of uncertainty. Even full-coverage insurance plans can’t protect my family in South Korea from a nuclear attack. A great security system or a carefully outlined lockdown drill can’t fully ensure our safety against mass shootings. A well-paying job and a quality pension plan can’t keep us from sudden illness. A car with excellent safety features can’t fully prevent accidents. True, we are inevitably living with uncertainty that looks like an irremovable component embedded in our lives. If this is our irrevocable human condition, then, what can we do to bear with uncertainty? How can we live our lives with this uninvited companion as people of faith? In this season of Lent, let us take time to meditate on these questions carefully and honestly, so that we may understand our way of faith better.
In today’s Hebrew Bible reading, we see a person who keeps his faith through an uncertain journey. His name is Noah. When the great flood began and overturned all the proud foundations of human certainty, Noah faced his uncertain future amidst the flood. Even though Noah was on board of the ark with his family and with other creatures, the ark was not exactly sailing but more like floating around without a course or a clear destination. The Bible says, “the ark floated on the face of the waters” (Genesis 7:17). The flood continued for forty days, and Noah couldn’t find any piece of land for one hundred and fifty days. For all those days, what he saw was just like a scene from a disaster movie. So during the time, would Noah always remain faithful? Was his heart filled with hope and dreams for the future all the time? I don’t think so. At least, from time to time, he would have been doubtful and hopeless. He would have asked God about the purpose of all such things through his precarious voyage, which actually lasted more than ten months.
But eventually, the flood ceased and the water was dried. God asked Noah to come out of the ark. God blessed him to flourish and multiply on the earth and made with him a covenant. At this long-awaited moment, I think Noah would have finally realized God’s purpose through the flood. Looking back on his journey, Noah surely learned how to trust God and how to remain faithful while enduring uncertainty. And he came to understand that through the days of the great flood, God surely renewed the surface of the world, but more importantly, God renewed his faith, so that he could truly begin a new life on the new earth.
Here, Noah’s story gives us a quite different view on faith. We usually assume that faith is all about certainty and an absolute opposition to uncertainty. However, from Noah, we see that faith is not about eliminating uncertainty from our lives, which is impossible, but faith about seeking wisdom and courage to embrace uncertainty and make a way through it. Noah was not unconcerned about his situations. He was the one who witnessed the horrible tragedy happened on earth and experienced lurking dangers on the water. So his faith couldn’t be like a magic portion to provide him with a blind assurance. Rather, his faith in God worked in a way that it enabled him to live with the uncertainty and to persist with his journey to the point where God finally turns uncertainties into blessings and ambiguities into hopes.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, in this unsteady time, how can we live our lives with uncertainty as people of faith? One thing is clear. We got to learn how to embrace uncertainty wisely and courageously as we navigate our lives with faith. For this, we shouldn’t be too much fearful and worried. Rather we need to be faithful and keep hopeful reminding ourselves that God intimately guides us all the time and leads us to find what we can do with faith. In today’s Gospel reading, as soon as Jesus was baptized, the Spirit led him to enter into the wilderness and go through the temptations. The same Spirit, who descended like a peaceful dove and rest lovely upon him with the divine assurance, now asks him to walk into an uncertain place. The Gospel describes, “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). Here, we need to remember that this same Spirit is with us now, and this same Spirit can also drive us out into the wilderness. However, we shouldn’t forget that the Spirit will always guide us, renew us, and encourage us to embrace uncertainty and walk our way of faith through the wilderness.
After the great flood, when God made a covenant with Noah, God gave him the sign of covenant. God showed him the rainbow of hope. In the Bible, God profoundly says to Noah, “I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant” (Genesis 9:13-15). Perhaps, God shows us the rainbow of hope in the clouds of uncertainty. Perhaps, we can find the promise of God only through the clouds, through our uncertainties, and through our wildernesses. I am confident that through it all, we will learn to trust in Jesus. We will learn to trust in God. Through it all, through it all, we will learn to depend upon God’s Word (from “Through It All”). As we walk by faith not by sight, may the Spirit of God be with us and empower us to embrace uncertainty and carry on our journey of faith with unending hope. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim