Confidence on the Crooked Road
In God’s metanarrative of grace, there is a world of difference between certainty and confidence. Certainty means I know what will happen next, and I don’t. I might have an idea and make my plans accordingly, but the truth is I really do not know what is coming next. Some seasons of my life I’m even more aware of these uncertainties than others.
But confidence means I trust what will happen next. The word confidence, con plus fides, means “with faith.” We journey by faith and not by sight. Abraham set out not knowing where he was going, the book of Hebrews inconspicuously notes. But his encounter with uncertainty on the journey becomes understandable when we get to 11:10. Abraham didn’t know the road he was taking, but he knew his destination: the city God built. The American storyteller Eudora Welty writes in her book One Writer’s Beginnings, “Writers and travelers are mesmerized alike by knowing of their destinations.” Knowing your destination does not always mean knowing how you’ll get there.
Living a life of radical kindness, a life that others are watching, means owning up to the fact that our lives are messy and uncertain, our roads are crooked. We don’t have it all together. The kind life acknowledges that we have little true certainty, a claim that seems so countercultural. The wonder in which we live as people of the Spirit is that the wind of the Spirit—as the Gospel of John says—“blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (3:8). It blows without our logic and where it pleases. As my home church pastor says, “God is totally reliable but hardly predictable.”
When I was a lot younger, I heard an old preacher give a sermon that has been lost to time. But one of his lines stuck in my mind: “The eight most dangerous words in the English language are ‘I’ve got to get control of my life.’” The life that seems to be in control is not the kind, honest life. We gain control by relinquishing control. We allow ourselves to decrease so Christ in us can increase. That’s when the aroma of Christ wafts around us instead of our own stink.
The life of kindness is the authentic life—not the perfect life, and not the predictable life, and hardly the buttoned-up life. It is the life that accepts uncertainties and responds with confidence. The way of kindness is far more about truthfulness than it is the myth of having it all together. I have often hidden behind the simple answers to the messy, complex uncertainties I encounter. H. L. Mencken said, “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem— neat, plausible, and wrong.”
To lean into kindness means embracing an honest acknowledgment of our limitations and fears, that we do not have this road trip all figured out. The world is watching our response to bumps on the road that shake our chassis and to potholes that bust our axle. Those on the outside of our faith want to see how we respond to the hardships and sufferings. To them, our propped-up perfection doesn’t mean diddly.
My own instincts are to live in a way that implies to others that I have my future plotted and my life just right. The way of kindness removes, or at least lowers, the mask. It’s not necessarily a life of transparency, which means everything can be seen. But it is at least a life of translucency, where we let light shine through ourselves that reveals the messiness in which we all journey.
It’s okay if we don’t know where we’re going (uncertainty) so long as we know what we’re looking for (confidence). Abraham didn’t know where he was going, but a few verses later the Scriptures acknowledge what he was looking for, keeping his eyes fixed on a city that has foundations, “whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). Or what the writer says in the beginning of the next chapter: “We . . . [keep] our eyes on Jesus” (12:2, nlt). Though sometimes through the windshield the road looks twisted, in the rearview mirror it somehow all becomes straight. The journey makes more sense in retrospect.