The “uncertainty principle” in quantum mechanics is this: “increasing the accuracy of measurement of one observable quantity increases the uncertainty with which another conjugate quantity may be known.”
I suspect we see this principle play out not just at the particle level but all over the place. Case in point? The GOP presidential elections. The closer the media pundits zero in on any one candidate, measuring his mettle (or lack thereof), the more “foggy” and out of focus the other candidates and their records become.
The uncertainty principle refutes the notion that we live in a closed, pre-determined system of inevitable events and hard-wired conclusions. When we use cliches like, “it was meant to be,” I suppose we deny a fundamental truth about the universe- that our freedom to speak, move and act, and be spoken to, moved and acted upon by others, sets us and even the particles that make us up, in endless motion through a realm of almost endless possibilities.
There is no predetermined outcome.
This uncertainty is simultaneously scary and exhilarating. It disrupts my complacence even as it has the potential to free me from the bondage of past mistakes or residual expectations about who I should be or how I should act. Faith does not reject the uncertainty principle- it embraces it. It is not a looking back and saying “this was meant to be,” but rather a looking forward, all the while trusting God to speak to, move upon and act upon us no matter where we are. Insofar as we as Christians believe in God’s grace and appropriate it for ourselves, one another and our world, we choose to inhabit this world of endless possibility.
Still, in a world of unlimited options, I suppose the biggest challenge is not just to know what we as individuals are called to do- (from life’s day-to-day encounters to larger, existential questions about vocation)- but then to do it. This stepping out into action takes a leap of faith. It calls for something much more demanding than mere intellectual assent.
Soren Kierkegaard, in giving voice to his own grappling, once put it this way: “What I really lack is to be clear in my mind about what I am to do, not what I am to know…The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do; the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.”
Most of us would rather avoid this hard work, wouldn’t we? How easy it is to go through life as “scheming swindlers.” Kierkegaard employs this term to describe Christians who distance themselves from the claims of God in Jesus Christ through all sorts of intellectual acrobatics. Instead of leaping forward in action emboldened by faith, we stand on the sidelines arguing about the meanings of things in Scripture, often through the most lofty, academic language- when often (not always, but often) the meaning is as plain as day and we would prefer just not to see it, insofar as seeing it means acting on it.
This hesitancy, I think, ultimately stems at least in part from our fear of uncertainty. I wonder what would happen if we could come to see uncertainty as a gift rather than a burden. What then?