LETTER FROM OUR MINISTER Robert Barthram
We all have our different ways of doing things, even with such mundane matters as breakfast. Some like to enjoy a little quiet before a hectic day, others like lots of music and cheerful chat from the radio, whilst yet others like the first news of the day via breakfast television. I am very much part of the third group. As I munch my muesli I like an update of news and, of course, sport. Over the years I have learnt all sorts of things from breakfast television but was very struck by a few words from one of the presenters recently. She said, ‘We know that we don’t know.’
She was referring to the coming weeks and months in relation to Covid-19. It is though, as her fellow presenter pointed out, a reminder of some other words. These came from the then United States Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld in 2002, who spoke about ‘known knowns’ and ‘known unknowns.’ I suppose when it comes to the coming weeks and months it is a known unknown (the full quote is included later).
For someone like me, this is very difficult, for I like to have everything in my diary with times and venues, so that life can be planned hopefully not only for my benefit but for others as well. I just can’t do that now but maybe all this planning isn’t quite everything I make it out to be?
As I thought about this, some words of the Apostle Paul came to mind, which are from one of his letters to Corinth. He wrote, ‘for we walk by faith, not by sight’ (2 Cor. 5:7). Our lives can be compared to a journey, to a walk, and it is a journey where we can’t see everything. We don’t have unimpeded vision. At times it is like a hike in the hills when the mist descends, meaning we can barely see ahead but yet we keep going, believing the path we are on will get us where we want to go: it really is by faith.
Our sinful natures can rebel against this and seek to know what lies ahead and so some turn to fortune tellers and horoscopes, which is the opposite of what Paul wrote. I know we all would like more certainty about the coming months but the truth is that always life is uncertain. This is not helped by our modern world, with its many slogans and symbols but often little that is clear and solid. This is put well in a famous quote from 1981, ‘We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning.’
Paul reminds us how in the walk of life, faith is the essential thing, good to remember when what lies ahead is so uncertain. He also reminds us that we journey with a future hope. He said how there will be a time when we will see, ‘face to face’ and how, ‘our eyes are fixed, not on the things that are seen, but on the things that are unseen; for what is seen passes away but what is unseen is eternal’ (1 Cor 13:12; 2 Cor. 4:18).
Yours in Christ,
P.S. The famous full quote from Donald Rumsfeld, that was in connection to Iraq, is ‘There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.’ The other quote is from the French sociologist Jean Baudrillard.