When confronting any crisis, whether a pandemic, a foreboding weather forecast, financial challenges, a difficult career decision, or just the fickle nature of the future, we hate having to deal with the unknown.
Years ago, Donald Rumsfeld, while serving as Secretary of Defense during the Gulf War, spoke about that in describing the uncertainties of warfare. He said there are “known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.”
Just a few months ago we were eagerly looking ahead to 2020, expecting many wonderful surprises. Well, it brought surprises, but a lot of them weren’t what we anticipated. At the dawn of the new year, our “known knowns” were easy: Such as where we went to work, income we could count on, the place where we worshipped, and plans we were making for the months ahead.
The unknowns in our lives were more problematic, of course. Our “known unknowns” included things like whether the economy would continue to thrive, if we would receive that promotion or pay raise we were hoping for, what new people would come into our lives, or how our favorite teams would fare during the upcoming season.
Then a thing called the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic came out of nowhere toward the end of January, becoming the greatest “unknown unknown” we had ever encountered. Who knew it was coming, or even imagined it? In its wake, many of the things we thought we knew went by the wayside.
Lots of people had their work dramatically change; others had their jobs disappear in an instant, even if only temporarily. Money many folks counted on suddenly wasn’t there. We no longer worried about whether our favorite teams would be successful; it became a matter of if they would play at all. And our homes became our “places of worship.” It seems “unknown unknowns” can have that effect on us.
Commenting on this, Philip DeCourcy, pastor of Kindred Church in Anaheim Hills, Calif., acknowledged life’s unknowns have always been at best unsettling, at worst tragic. They can overwhelm us, dump us into states of fear and despair, or immobilize us like a deer staring into headlights. For that reason, he said, we’re wise to focus instead on the “known knowns,” those things that can serve as a refuge in the midst of a storm.
These, for those who know Jesus Christ and believe what we read in the Scriptures, can provide comfort beyond measure. Because if we were to count them, we would find hundreds upon hundreds of “known knowns” in the Bible. Truths both timeless and unchanging.
Where to start? Here’s an obvious one: “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). We don’t have to worry about whether our relationship with Him will change, or if His love for us will fade. Similarly, in Revelation 4:8 we read about the angels declaring, “’Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was and is and is to come.” He is eternal, has always been and always will be.
In times of distress, we might want to cry out, “Lord, where are you?” But the Bible says that should not trouble us. Just before His ascension to heaven, Jesus told His followers, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). God made a similar promise in the Old Testament, assuring His chosen people of Israel, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
Does COVID-19 or its economic impact still keep you awake at night? Or maybe a problem totally unrelated to the pandemic? The Scriptures give us many promises of God’s presence, provision and protection, but one of the most familiar is Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” When we present our concerns to Him through prayer, the Lord promises to give us peace and assurance that He is working through our circumstances.
You get the idea: We can wallow in the wilderness of unknowns, both the ones we’re aware of and those we don’t know about yet. Or we can concentrate on the things we know for sure, especially the unwavering truths God gives us in His Word.
I like how the late author Corrie ten Boom expressed it. In her book, The Hiding Place, she tells about the horrors of World War II, and how she and her family provided refuge for many Jews in the Netherlands, sheltering them from the Nazis and the Holocaust. Corrie’s faith in Christ sustained her during that time, causing her to later write, “Never be afraid to commit an unknown future to a known God.”