The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Conditional lives

with 3 comments

“All of this is conditional.”

So said our Prime Minister when setting out the proposals for the ending of the UK’s national lockdown. It seems like a sensible thing to say. Whether or not you like the idea of being a slave to ‘the science’, our widespread ignorance makes it at least reasonable to suggest that we can only proceed step by step, simply because we do not know what will happen when we take each step. Even a bolder and more definite plan, and even taking account of the more detailed advice that has been promised, it always has to be what is insistently called “a conditional plan.”

It is striking to see how angry and afraid people become because of this. It reminds me of a road trip to preach at a church in the Midlands many years ago. Setting out in good time, I discovered that a major motorway had been closed overnight and the re-opening had been delayed. In company with thousands of others, I queued. In company with hundreds of others, I got fed up queuing and tried to find a way around. When those hundreds of us ended up in other and worse queues, I returned to my original queue, which was still shorter. When the road opened, off we all went, most of us now late. To begin with, I had the pedal to the metal, wondering if I could still get there in time, occasionally dropping out of the fast lane to let someone past at a ridiculous rate of knots. And I noticed their faces and their driving styles. They appeared, typically, angry or scared. Their plans were in disarray. They had thought that they were in control, and now they needed to get back in control, to catch up lost time, to get a grip again on their lives. It seemed to me that they thought that they had been in charge of things, and, when things were taken out of their hands, they became deeply agitated. At some level, it was idolatry of the self. At that point, I slowed down, called ahead to say that I would be late, and drove—relatively safely and sanely—to the place where I was preaching. I arrived about thirty minutes into the service, stepping inside the door as a man was fervently pleading for the safe arrival of the preacher. His earnestness suggested that he would be the man who would have to step in if I did not arrive. His relief when he opened his eyes was palpable. I don’t know if anyone has ever been that glad to see me! But I had been taught again that I am not in control.

It is a lesson that has been pressed home again in the last few weeks. On one level, everything has fallen apart. So much that I had planned, for which I had prepared, and upon which I had presumed over the course of the coming months, now lies in ashes. The plans for the Lord’s day ministry that I had in mind, the evangelistic efforts locally, the connections and investments close at hand, all proved conditional. Next week I should have been at a conference in the UK and then one in the US. They were, it seems, eminently conditional. This week, my involvement in a European conference in the summer was tentatively cancelled, but that’s conditional on the next few weeks. Possibly rescheduling of these conferences for the future is … er … conditional upon factors outside of our control. We are looking at plans for post-lockdown church meetings. Much of it is conditional. At its most visceral, we have come again face to face with our own mortality, and with the mortality of those who are most dear to us. My life is conditional. Perhaps the fear has faded a bit, but all plans might have been ended by death. I have had to face again my utter weakness. I have been reminded—I have needed to be reminded—that I am not in control, and that God is. In fact, in that there is something quite refreshing.

You see, I spend a lot of time planning. I think efficiency is a marvellous thing. My days tend to be quite full, even if not always well-constructed and minutely-detailed. I like a bit of flex. The bigger picture tends to be, in my calendar, a rainbow-hued glory of seamless transition from place to place and task to task. In the last few weeks, I have spent at least as much time deleting and re-ordering as I have entering and scheduling.

And in that there can be a real sense of relief. The first few weeks of lockdown, everything just dropped. The schedule to which I was a self-indentured slave meant very little. There were times when I could have danced, others when I felt the responsibility for diligence with a newly-cleansed calendar. But it was not simply the absence of the demand that offered peace; for many, the fact that they were no longer in control seemed to induce fear or anger. What gave me peace was the reminder that while I am not in control, God is.

Everything I plan is always conditional. I just tend to forget that it is so. Every plan, made by every individual and institution, every prime minister, president and potentate, every governor and every government and every grunt, is conditional. The world’s plans have been brought to a standstill, or even to nothing, by a virus we can barely trace or track. We all tend to forget that it is so. James reminds us of this reality at the personal, visceral level:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (Jas 4:13–16).

sun behind cloudsWe make our plans, and we forget that even tomorrow is not guaranteed. It is not wrong to make plans, but we ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” Anything else is to boast in arrogance, and all such boasting is evil. What I ought to remember is that the only words which never fall to the ground are God’s. Nothing fails of any of his plans and promises. In that true sense, nothing has fallen apart; nothing has ended prematurely; nothing has been rescheduled. Everything has worked out as the Lord God has intended. From my perspective, all has proved conditional. From the throne of heaven, all comes to pass as it was intended. God’s sovereign determinations and unconditional decrees have issued in unfailing outcomes.

If we become angry or afraid because of the conditional nature of our plans and purposes, it is because we have not reckoned with our humanity, our mortality, our feeble finitude. We are not in control. That is true in the great things of our existence, and it is true of all the minute details of our individual lives. That tends to make the self-determining heart afraid and angry, or drift into despair, or insist upon the emptiness and pointlessness of it all. But true faith faces this, and turns to God and puts all things in his hands, and hangs all our plans and purposes upon his merciful and loving designs, without fear or anger.

My times are in your hand;
My God, I wish them there;
My life, my friends, my soul I leave
Entirely to your care.

My times are in your hand;
Whatever may unfold;
Pleasing or painful, dark or bright,
All by your love controlled.

My times are in your hand;
Why should I doubt or fear?
My Father’s hand will never cause
His child a needless tear.

My times are in your hand,
Jesus, the crucified!
Those hands my cruel sins had pierced
Are now my guard and guide.

My times are in your hand,
I’ll trust abidingly;
And, after death, at your right hand
I shall forever be.

William Freeman Lloyd (with minor modernisations)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 12 May 2020 at 12:31

3 Responses

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  1. […] “All of this is conditional.” So said our Prime Minister when setting out the proposals for the ending of the UK’s national lockdown. It seems like a sensible thing to say. Whether or not you like the idea of being a slave to ‘the science’, our widespread ignorance makes it at least reasonable to suggest… — Read on eardstapa.wordpress.com/2020/05/12/conditional-lives/ […]

  2. Reblogged this on Averagechristiannet and commented:
    Good article! We are never really in control of our lives….even without the coronavirus!

    nicholasv56

    Wednesday 13 May 2020 at 15:10

  3. […] Read the entire article at The Wanderer. […]


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