In quantum mechanics, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle describes one small sense in which we as humans cannot know everything. We cannot, with equal precision, know both the position and the speed of an object in motion. There are, however, other principles of far more practical value that should help us keep a proper perspective on both ourselves and others.
In Ecclesiastes 9:11, we find what I call Solomon’s Uncertainty Principle: “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”
At first glance, it may seem that Heisenberg and Solomon have offered unrelated principles; but they do have at least one thing in common. Both principles warn us against taking simplistic views of the things we observe. Heisenberg’s rule is no doubt useful in scientific pursuits. Solomon’s rule should give us encouragement to strive beyond our expectation and to resist simplistic assumptions regarding our own and other peoples’ situations.
Consider the slow runner or the weak fighter. How do they know they will lose to the fast or strong man? They don’t! Because “time and chance” happen to all. Sometimes the fast runner trips. Sometimes the strong fighter gets distracted. Consequently, in whatever ways we assess our strengths and weaknesses, we should always commit to doing our very best – and leaving the results with God, who himself determines the roll of every die! (Proverbs 16:33).
But also consider the man who is hungry, poor, and unpopular. All too often we as Christians embrace a backwards kind of health and wealth gospel when it comes to folks like this. Although we would reject preaching that claims that following Jesus will make you healthy and wealthy, we all too often think that if a man is hungry, poor, and shunned, he probably lacks wisdom, intelligence, or education. This is just the photo negative of the prosperity gospel – and in some ways it is more destructive than its developed version.
Sometimes the wise, brilliant, and educated man suffers one setback after another – despite their virtues, and ends up in dire straits through no fault of their own. And sometimes the slow and weak win their matches, through no great stratagem they have devised. The fact is that on this side of heaven, “stuff happens.” Time and chance dictate outcomes neither expected nor deserved, and we as Christians must learn to trust that a sovereign God is active in and through such developments. And we must personally strive despite the odds against us and unconditionally refuse to assume that the state of other peoples’ affairs must be related to their foolishness or stupidity.
Humility and trust are marks of Christian maturity. They are not the only marks, but they are necessary. One cannot be more mature than they are either humble or trusting. Will you trust God enough to simply use whatever gifts he has given you to do your best in service to him? Will you be humble enough to recognize that it is often the case that your virtues are not the reason for either the success or failure of your efforts? The increasing ability to do these two things will open the door to two other marks of Christian maturity: gratitude towards God for his free blessing of your imperfect performances and gracious compassion for those who have been less fortunate.