By Michael Ruffin
When I was a child, little made sense to me.
I did not understand the purpose of life. I did not understand the meaning of my life. I did not understand the power and fragility of intimacy. I did not understand the value of vocation. I did not understand the cruelty of disease. I did not understand the experience of death. I did not understand the varieties of cultures. I did not understand the uniqueness of individuals. I did not understand hate and cruelty. I did not understand love and compassion. I did not understand God.
Sometimes I would ask a grown-up person to explain something to me and those I asked generally obliged. Their explanations made no sense to me but they seemed to make sense to them.
I looked forward to becoming an adult so I could understand and so I could explain things to children who did not understand.
As I grew, things seemed to start making more sense to me. I began to figure out how life went and how things worked. I set about diligently constructing systems that helped me to organize my reality. I determined what belonged where and put everything in its place. Before I knew it I had it all figured out.
I was grown. I understood. And it was good.
I’m not sure how many days that situation lasted but it wasn’t many. What happened? Life happened. I had to live a real life in the real world confronted with real people and with real problems. I had to live in a world in which chaos existed alongside order, suffering existed alongside ecstasy, provision existed alongside neglect, plenty existed alongside poverty and hope existed alongside despair.
As I have grown older (I’ll soon turn 56) and as I have hopefully grown more mature, I have come more and more to understand that life doesn’t make sense and that it is childish to think that it ever will. I have arrived at the provisional conclusion that it isn’t supposed to make sense. To insist that it should and to try to make it do so is to be childish in my approach to life and to rob myself of much of the wonder and joy that life in fact (as opposed to fantasy) offers.
Our systems bracket out too much of the reality of life. Our conclusions close us off from the wide range of possibilities. Our security shields us from the thrill of risk-taking. Our tunnel vision blinds us to the wonders lurking in the periphery. Our compartments inhibit the free flow of experience and understanding. Our categories fuel our prejudices and inhibit our acceptance of other people.
When I was a child, I looked forward to things making sense.
Now that I am an adult, I accept that things don’t make sense.
What does God have to do with this? Only everything. While I have stopped expecting things to make sense to me, I assume that they make sense to God. God can be certain and maintain God’s integrity; I can only maintain my integrity by affirming my uncertainty. But that’s all right because I am meant to live life with faith, not with certainty.
So I have abandoned my childish dream of having life make sense and have adopted a new, more adult goal of living gratefully, faithfully, hopefully, boldly, and even a little recklessly, this life that does not make sense precisely because it is not meant to do so.
Thanks be to God!
Now bring it on ….