St. Isaac the Syrian said that only the tomb is the “land of certainty”. Writing to hermits living in the desert, St. Isaac wanted to free them from the delusion that they could be certain about anything in this world. I wonder if St. Isaac was reflecting on the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 8: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone thinks he knows anything, he knows nothing as he aught to know it. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.”
I have known a few scientists throughout my life, real scientists, people who make their living studying the minutiae of the physical world. One thing I have noticed about these people is that although they may be very arrogant regarding fields of general scientific knowledge, areas that are not their area of expertise, when it comes to the details of their particular field of study, they have much less certainty, much more humility. That is, the more they know about something, the more they know that there is so much more that they do not know.
Today we live in a time of uncertainty; but really, today is no more uncertain than yesterday nor the day or year or century before. Certainty is a kind of delusion. It is a delusion that conveniently forgets that there is much, much more going on in the world than we know and can see. How, then, can we live in peace when our life is enveloped in uncertainty? How do we escape the fear of uncertainty?
St. Isaac tells us that fear is actually the right place to start. If we do not experience a bit of fear at a frightening prospect, then we are already deluded and not in touch with reality. Fear is the right place to start. However, fear, St. Isaac tells us, can be “swallowed up” by faith. That is, beginning with a clear-eyed assessment of the fearful possibilities (as far as you can surmise them), then we turn our attention to God, who holds our lives in His hands. When we believe in God, then our fear can be swallowed up by faith, like a big fish swallowing a small one.
Faith in God delivers us from fear. However, faith is still only the middle step. Faith itself can be swallowed up by love. St. Isaac tells us that faith opens a knowledge of God in which we begin to experience and know, know personally, the love of God. And as we know the love of God, even faith takes a second seat. Love becomes the most important thing. Which is why, I think, St. Paul points out that love is much more important than knowledge about things, or even knowledge about faith. (The specific knowledge St. Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 8 is a knowledge related to faith: whether or not it is appropriate to eat meat sacrificed to idols.)
Fear, faith and love: all three are aspects of our life in Christ. Fear of God, which sometimes just means fear of the unknown, is swallowed up by faith in God—swallowed up, but never fully removed, at least not until the age to come. And even faith itself, although always important and at hand, even faith can be swallowed up by love.
I do not know what will happen tomorrow, nor how the winds of government and society will shift and change. But both St. Paul in the New Testament and St. Isaac the Syrian in his Homilies tell us that if we love, love God and love our neighbour, then we will not go wrong no matter what the future will bring.