The Triple Threat - Uncertainty, Ambiguity and Imperfection

“Let’s go across to the outpost of those pagans,” Jonathan said to his armor bearer. “Perhaps the Lord will help us, for nothing can hinder the Lord. He can win a battle whether he has many warriors or only a few!”

“Do what you think is best,” the armor bearer replied. “I’m with you completely, whatever you decide.”

1 Samuel 14:6-7 NLT

In this passage the nation of Israel is waging conflict against the very well established and provisioned Philistine army.  The fledgling king and Israel’s inaugural monarch, Saul, has parted ways with Samuel the prophet and is uncertain about what path to take against the nation’s formidable foe.  As he is vacillating with indecision, his son, Jonathan, decides to take the initiative armed with one set of weapons and an unarmed assistant (his armor bearer).  They advance against the enemy’s position stealthily so that they can get a better vantage (Saul and his 600 men are camped further away).  It is as this point that Jonathan utters the words in the passage above.  One preacher characterizes Jonathan’s subsequent actions as based on “a perhaps”.  The story goes on  to record Israel’s victory in this skirmish.

If there is anything that we can say about life is that uncertainty pervades.  Any aspect of our lives, that warrants effort and which we identify as critical, possesses elements that are unknown and unseen to us.  For some of us the sense of not knowing the outcome can present as a debilitating distress, where we either vacillate (like Saul) or we are completely immobilized, unable to progress.  This is fertile soil for such products as despair and defeat.  For others the impossibility of control results in a significant struggle with procrastination on one hand or perfectionism on the other.

A close relative of uncertainty is ambiguity.  In this instance it’s not that the individual is stumped by uncertainty but rather the absence of clear decision polarity (Is this right and that wrong? Is this bad and that good?).  Many of the circumstances that present themselves are on a continuum that hamper our ability to definitively justify a path forward.  I once heard it said that close to 95% of the decisions a person will make in his life are going to be amoral (without the element of right or wrong).  For people who are uncomfortable with ambiguity, there necessitates some direction from a moral authority.  When this direction is not forthcoming, these people despair and feel discouraged.

Of course, uncertainty and ambiguity are wrapped up within the reality of imperfection.  Noted psychologist and “grandfather” of what is referred to as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Albert Ellis, once noted that for many of us we are overwhelmed by the “tyranny of the shoulds”.  He identified three basic (but irrational) beliefs that many struggle with:

“I must do well and be loved and approved by others.”

“Other people must treat me fairly, kindly and well.”

“The world and my living conditions must be comfortable, gratifying and just, providing me with all that I want in life.”

The reality is that although all of these would be wonderful to experience, the imperfect world in which we live does not guarantee such a “nirvana”.  In one line of his Serenity Prayer, the early 20th century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr writes:

“Taking as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is and not as I would have it.”

So, then what are we left with?  Our future circumstances are uncertain.  Many of our personal decisions are amoral and ambiguous.  (Please note that I differentiate between decisions that are “amoral”  - e.g., what career major should I choose? – from decisions that are “moral” – e.g., should I cheat on my spouse?  Behaviors expected with the latter are already scripturally prescribed.)  We find ourselves in imperfect circumstances with a requirement to strive for perfection (Matthew 5:48).  The answer lies in the armor bearer’s response to Jonathan’s valiant proposition.  The armor bearer assumes Jonathan’s benevolence, secure in his affiliation and loyalty (to Jonathan).  He knows whither the outcome, but he is assured of Jonathan’s fighting ability (which he has seen demonstrated before, see 1 Samuel 13:3-4).  This provides the confidence that permeates his response.

The same applies to the follower of Jesus.  The apostle Paul puts it this way:

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6 NLT)

What God is accomplishing through you, even though uncertain (to you) is His work, which He takes responsibility for accomplishing and completing.  The path he uses is inclusive of the (good and bad) decisions we make.  Not only does He accomplish the work, but along the way He demonstrates His capability through various impossibilities that are made possible.  It is these latter “gems” that become places of security, assurance and confidence as we encounter uncertainty, ambiguity and imperfection.

Are these hard places for you?  Do you want to process these hard places?  Find someone who loves you.  If you can’t find someone, reach out to us at

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