The Nonsense of Life


Jackson Pollack, "Number 8"Recently, I spoke with a peer who is a dedicated educator. He is going blind rapidly. This will end his career and render him disabled.

This doesn’t make sense to me.

I am 50 years old. At an age when I should be awash in wisdom, most of life makes little sense. I don’t understand why some people prosper and others don’t, even when both take the same course to success. I don’t understand why some people get handed insanely difficult burdens that leave them perpetually struggling to keep that burden from crushing them. I don’t understand how people can work for years toward a goal that seems blessed and then overnight it blows up and leaves lasting wreckage.

Perhaps I am admitting my own folly, but I just don’t understand.

Not understanding is not the same as not having an explanation. I can tell you from a theological perspective what the explanations might be. I know how living in a sin-filled world works. I get the sovereignty of God. I can call up chapter and verse. I can answer you with logic and “wisdom.”

But that doesn’t mean I understand.

The title of this post is “The Nonsense of Life.” And indeed, despite being a Christian of many years, I still find life to be nonsensical. Again, this does not mean there is no sense in it at all, only that I am unable to comprehend it.

God says that His thoughts are far higher than mine. For this reason, they appear as nonsense to me. Like the directions for building a complex microprocessor, one paragraph in Finnish, the next in Hungarian, finishing in base 3. It reads like gibberish because I don’t have what it takes to understand.

Tragedies reverberate through time, the ripples spreading out and colliding with other ripples, both good and ill. Some cancel out, while others amplify.

I know another teacher, many years ago, who had saved most of her career to go on a year-long cruise around the world when she retired. Her students were excited for her because she would take that cruise a month after retiring. Yet within a week of getting her gold watch, she died unexpectedly, never having set sail, all that preparation and hope wasted.

Why? I can’t tell you. I’m sure another teacher in another place at another time DID take a similar cruise. Sure I can offer theories, and perhaps they have some element of wisdom, but in the end, they won’t be any more enlightening as to why one took that cruise and the other never made it.

Sometimes, I think the worst thing we can do is try to explain. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is show up and be available for the ones left behind, the ones with questions we would be foolish to answer.

I am a Christian because no other way offers the same truth. No other way explains life more thoroughly. All the other options are meaningless in the long run.

I wish I could say that being a Christian has answered all my questions, but that would be a lie. If anything, I have more questions the older I get, and the answers I defended so vigorously as a younger man are less crystal clear today.

One day, I will understand. Until then, there is the nonsense of life.

25 thoughts on “The Nonsense of Life

  1. Ronda

    Please don’t take this to sound trite or just an easy way out, but when I read through the true historical stories in God’s Word, followers and non-followers of God went through trials. The difference in these trials, is God followers show God’s love, glory and peace through those trials. Life is so short, we need to embrace whatever difficulty we are going through and be a beacon of God’s love and find the positive, “silver lining” in the dark cloud. Those that do this, I believe, point to the Father and therefore lead others to Jesus which is the ultimate eternal prize. We need to do our best, through the power of the Holy Spirit, not to allow ourselves to be weighed down by the cares of the world, lest they choke out the Word of God and our joy.

    • Ronda,

      The Christian reflects hope amid the craziness in the world. You are exactly right.

      I think, though, that we sometimes go too far in trying to explain why some things happen, and it ends up working counter to what we ultimately wish to accomplish. In other words, we sometimes can make suffering seem trite, and this upsets people more than it helps.

      More than anything else, I think Christians need to be available. Resisting trying to explain everything is hard, though, but perhaps we can be more willing to listen than to always dispense “wisdom.” Because in the end, we sometimes just do not know why something happens the way it does, and we need to be at peace with that lack of knowing.

  2. I want to add a link to perhaps the best Christian book I have read on this issue. The funny thing is, the man who wrote it is was clearly not a Christian. Funny how that works sometimes.

    The basic story is that an ancient bridge in Peru collapses into a deep chasm in 1714 while five people are crossing it. This is witnessed by a monk. He then attempts to explain why those victims were fated to die. The story follows the lives of those who died and their survivors. In the end, the monk’s attempt to make sense of the disaster unsettles many and he pays for his need to understand.

    The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  3. Mr. Poet

    I went out once to look for a certain shelf I knew I had seen before, and I wanted it for a project. I went to the first store and did not find it. I was peeved that I had wasted time. Why, I asked the Lord, could I not just find what I wanted when I know it’s out there? Why do I have to waste time? I stopped at the next store and found what I wanted. After I took it home, it collected dust. I never finished my project. Lesson learned.

    • Mr. Poet

      Lesson: It doesn’t matter if God answers your prayer if you aren’t going to do anything with the answer. Or something like that.

  4. linda

    Hi Mr. Edelen,
    I think for many of us believers we have fallen prey to false teaching. We also have a sense of entitlement. Salvation is not good enough for believers. They want the pleasures and practices of this world as well. They want to be just like other people.

    Was it really such a tragedy that the woman you speak about did not get to go on the cruise before she died? I don’t think so. If she had been able to go that’s ok, I guess. Our ideas of what is important are skewed, I think. We’re complainers and whiners over things that have no eternal or even earthly importance.

    The important question is, ‘was this woman abiding in Christ’? Is so, she has all the reward in this life and the life to come. It is a blessing beyond compare to have salvation and the mind of Christ in this world that we live in. It’s worth many hundreds of cruises around the world, and more. It’s literally priceless.

    • Linda,

      If you want a more spiritual example, I shared previously about a teen girl who wanted to be a missionary, spent a couple years raising support, had her whole town send her off, contracted a mystery illness on the plane ride over, was ill by the time she debarked, went straight to a field hospital, and died, having not talked with anyone about the Gospel.

      What sense does that make? None that I can understand.

      Whether the young missionary or the older woman teacher. both had an “untimely” demise. The fact remains: We can’t always make sense of life.

      And I will also add that David, the man after God’s own heart, claimed that he would have despaired unless he saw the goodness of the Lord while alive on earth. Yes, heaven is the greater reward, and Christ alone the greatest, but some of the lesser rewards are still wonderful. Even the Apostle Paul said that his frequent visits from friends kept him going. Just because something is pinned to this physical world does not mean it is worthless. Remember, God created this physical world for us and for our pleasure.

  5. Eli

    yes it is nonsensical and mostly vanity when it comes down to it. Because nothing we try to apply ourselves to is guaranteed to have a good outcome. Though I would say many failures can be good for our soul depending how we approach them. “If>Then” theology is a let down because it over simplifies the nature of life. As you say things are so complex only god comprehends it.
    I think when people are used to living in a perpetual state of suffering and lack it is easier to latch onto hope in the after life and communion with god now as reward enough… when times are good its easier to become fixated on certain outcomes… a cruise, saved children, new job, loving spouse, souls saved, wealth acquired and shared etc.
    We fool ourselves into thinking we own that which we do not and can control more than we can.
    That said we are but clay and god is compassionate. I am yet to meet anyone that is completely indifferent to their own suffering.
    One of the questions I most want answered by god one day is why he allowed suffering to go on for so long. A thousand years is like one day doesn’t cut it for me.

    • Eli,

      You are right. Suffering’s lessons are learned quickly. People who think otherwise seem like masochists to me.

      The Bible says quite explicitly that if I do such and such according to the word, I will have good success. It doesn’t list exceptions. Ever. So when an action or endeavor fails, that’s a puzzler if I did things according to what the word said. Right?

      That’s where I have struggles understanding. It becomes even harder to reconcile when simply doing right all the time in order to be successful is so hard. The pastor who spends an entire life helping others and in a moment of weakness takes some money he shouldn’t because he is struggling to meet a financial obligation himself. Or the youth minister who has helped hundred of kids, but touches one in a way that is misconstrued and winds up a sex offender. Or the wife who makes a mistake with a neighbor who was always there through the wife’s husband’s medical crisis. Is the cost really that high? Is grace that lacking in supply? The punishment for good people who stumbled seems out of proportion with the crime. And don’t even get me going on tough decisions people are forced to make and what happens when those decisions backfire spectacularly.

      For many, there is no grace, no matter how much we talk about grace in the Church. Christianity is defined by grace, and yet I would venture to guess that apart from their moment of salvation, few Christians experience any kind of grace on a regular basis. This to me is one of the saddest statements about the American Church: Worldly people are far more likely to dispense grace to the Christian in trouble than fellow Christians will. That there’s almost no grace out there in the World to begin with makes the contrast even more stark.

      • Eli

        I often think we just read the bible to our demise in so many respects. We take a scripture that appears to give an if-then promise and try to then apply that to any and all life situations. It’s as nonsensical as if 10 people approached me with similar (on the surface) problems and i gave them all the exact same one line answer.
        I think one of the best ways to see how the truths in scripture should be lived out is to look at the lives of those characters in scripture that attempted to be true to what god was saying. Jesus ended up on a cross with most abandoning him… not much better for many other early christians. If we’re any better off than them thats fortunate but hardly because we’re more faithful to appropriating the promises of god.
        But yeah life is very very very hard going. I really don’t have much common ground with those who think otherwise and fluff up the grace of god.

        • Eli,

          I dunno. Seems to me that the if-then statements hold up in all those situations that are clearly factual (such as “if we say we have no sin, then we deceive ourselves…”), so why would they not hold up in the conjectural instances?

  6. akaGaGa

    I’ve found that when I’m growing in the Lord, each round of suffering becomes less important. When I’m resisting His will and whining and complaining, I usually miss the lesson – which sometimes leads to another round to get the same point into my selfish soul.

    I tend to think it all boils down to what John the baptist said: He must increase, but I must decrease.

    • akaGaGa,

      I guess I don’t understand. The rounds of suffering seem to amplify, which leave me exhausted and scrambling for answers, which then only leaves me more exhausted and scrambling harder. When there’s nothing left, I’m not sure what there is to decrease.

        • akaGaGa,

          Except when it’s clearly not God’s will. And that’s the problem. That’s when you wonder if there will be an answer this side of heaven. Maybe yes, maybe no. That’s when it all looks like nonsense.

  7. linda

    Hi Mr. Edelen,
    I don’t know what the solution can be, but, I think that it seems that I have experienced the work of God, the deliverance of God, the provision of God more than the experience of most others.
    The only thing that I can say is that we should be having some of these experiences with God. If we aren’t experiencing God in ways that we can say, ‘Wow, that was amazing,’ ‘I just experienced God saying something to me’. Like you say, we need these experiences as believers. If we aren’t having these at least periodically in our normal earthly lives, then, I think we should be questioning, ourselves, our churches, our leadership, our thinking, our ideas, our approach with God, etc. etc.

    The believers have hung onto the idea that what is currently seen as ‘being a good person’, is in some individual cases in my mind very lacking in the fruit of the Spirit. We should be making and experiencing changes by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.

    Like you say, believers know that something happened to them at the point of salvation. This type of experience should continue in some way throughout their lives, periodically, at least. This is what keeps us going. We have provision in our lives. It seems that many believers are not experiencing this. I’m at a loss as to why, other than we have accepted something that is false. Whether it’s false teaching, a false spirit. It’s clear that all these ‘educated spiritual leaders that we currently admire and follow completely’ have not introduced believers to experiencing God. We have experienced him in our intellect only throughout most of North America.

    This is a totally serious situation.

  8. linda

    Hi Mr. Edelen,
    I guess I have a question. If we were all present in the days of Jesus Christ walking upon the earth as sacrifice, saviour, a simple man, nothing about him physically that anyone would desire for themselves,( would Jesus be considered ‘physically ugly’ in our world today?) would we have followed him?

    Only eleven men stayed with him as devoted followers over a period of 3 and 1/2 years, that were chosen men by Jesus Christ. Why weren’t more men like these chosen? I think that it was difficult to counter tradition, the false teachings of the day provided by the teachers of the law and others. Some aspects of these teachings were true, but the application was not true. Men were putting aside the weightier aspects of the law and turning their teaching into ‘hundreds of knats’. Frivolous stuff, that was extremely important in the minds of the Pharisees and other religious leaders.

    This is a problem in our day. Leaders believe that God does not see. It’s clear to me that leadership is the problem in the church. It’s hard to blame the sheep who are essentially followers. It seems to me that the church today accepts falseness and rejects truth. The church I think in its generality has rejected Jesus Christ and the true Holy Spirit. If this is not so, why are we experiencing serious problems in believers lives today? Why are they not experiencing God? Why is the Holy Spirit not present with believers and leaders in tangible ways and otherwise, that they can testify to and know the truth of what they testify?

    I’ve been online putting out and reading comments on blogsites since early 2010. I’ve heard and ‘seen’ the distress of believers and their problems, and doubts, and guilt and shame. This should not be so. They should be experiencing provision from God in at least some of their problems and situations. The situation may not be removed, but the effects are in some way relieved for believers. Stress is there for a period of time but relief comes. A wide place is found or provided for the believer. Peace, joy, love, hope, strength, enablement often comes. That’s what should be happening. The fact that these things are not generally happening in the lives of believers in North America, it seems, is a testimony and a witness that something is seriously wrong with Christianity in North America.

    I think in some ways the church teachings have skewed grace to where it a cover for continued and purposeful sin the lives of believers. God is gracious and merciful. He helps us out of sin. He does not ‘provide a place for unconseqential sin in our lives and choices.

    We can’t live like the world. Believers cannot accept this.

  9. ccinnova

    I wish I could say that being a Christian has answered all my questions, but that would be a lie. If anything, I have more questions the older I get, and the answers I defended so vigorously as a younger man are less crystal clear today.

    How true. I’ve certainly had a lot of questions about how my life has turned out, especially over the last seven years. And other Christians I’ve known have suffered through even more bizarre experiences than I have.

    • ccinnova,

      And then comes the…

      Was it something I did?

      Was I harboring secret sin? Not-so-secret sin? Sin I was absolutely aware of?

      Was it something everybody else did and had nothing to do with me? Am I just the figurative “innocent drive-by shooting victim”?

      Did I do it all right and everyone else do it wrong? If so, what’s the point of doing it right?

      If you follow all the way down this path, then how the heck do you reverse it to find another path?

      Why wasn’t I warned? Or what if I was and took the “safe” path, and I still ended up here?

      What does the “right path” look like if I took what looked like the right path and it turned into a horror story? And can I say that I was properly “led”? And if I was, what the heck does it all mean?

      Was there something wrong with me then? Is it still wrong?

      Is it too late for me? If not, then what do I do that won’t end up in the same heap? Or what do I not do? And what if I’m too stupid to discern the difference?

  10. linda

    Hi Mr. Edelen,
    I’ve had some bizzare experiences in my life the last number of years also. Why don’t I feel that God has let me down? Because he has provided for me. Whatever I have needed he has been there.
    I went through divorce.
    I went through sexual abuse of my grandchildren
    I went through a nasty legal case against my former husband from 2007 to 2011. I represented myself for part of this time and so did my husband. It’s a tremendous task and I failed. (somewhat)
    I went through job loss several times since 2004/2005
    I may not have enough resourses at this time to finance my retirement
    I cannot rely on my son or other family members
    I am generally alone and unsupported
    I own a home and I have to do maintenance, yard, myself if at all possible
    I am getting close to 60, next year.
    I have faced rejection many times in my life
    I have been discredited and my betrayed by someone that I love (my former husband and daughter)
    I’ve had injury and illness (recovered, sometimes miraculously, I think)
    I have faced a dishonest and unethical legal system right up to the supreme court of my province in Canada. This hs been enough to shake my foundation and trust in anything that the world does. It’s God and God alone that I can trust
    Sad really.

    Why don’t I feel like some of your commenters and other blogsites that I have visited and posted on? It’s a mystery. I can give testimony of how God provides. Why does this not seem to be happening for many other believers? It’s perplexing. The only thing I can think of, right now anyway, is that these other believers do not have the same Jesus that I do.
    What is different? I’m not sure. Maybe what people believe about Jesus is different. Maybe it’s like Job. Job discovered God in his trials. Does it always take a trial? I don’t think so. I’ve learned about God through through means and experiences.

    Is it too late for believers to find Jesus? I don’t think it is too late. I think a time will come when it will be too late. The great falling away in Hebrews seems to indicate that a time comes when it is too late. I don’t feel that we are at that place yet.

    What to do? I’m not sure. Do we need to set aside all of our books and church thinking and stay with the Bible prayer and fasting for a while. What about tithing, offerings, speaking in tongues, seeking the spiritual gifts, getting out of sin, making good decisions in our personal lives, calling out to God, seeking forgiveness, etc etc etc

  11. Was just reading the obit of a 27-year-old man who leaves behind a young wife and two very small children. He was studying to be a foreign missionary. He was also a noted board gamer who had a blog that talked about games for two people and how games can bring people together. Everyone who knew him said it is a terrible loss of a fine person.

    His heart stopped. Just stopped, and it killed him instantly.

    I have a tough time making any sense of that loss. At a time when we need more solid young men, we instead lose one.

    I can understand that loss should it have been in a car accident or because he was trying to save someone from drowning. But this way just seems so hard to understand.

    Sometimes, we just can’t make sense of what we’re seeing. And maybe we shouldn’t even try.

  12. someone-who-still-lives

    This is such a relief and a fertile field to pour my emotions and share some warm moments with you if you don’t mind.
    I m not christian, from another religion, born as, still be and never thought to change it despite some unexplicable thoughts that come to visite my mind from here and there, that my long-lived ordeal is because i didnt make such decisions after god showed me another options, but let this go right now because this is not a matter of therology, this is matter of why crucial cruel mericieless people win anytime over their goals without paying much effort, by their innate tendencies to subdue others, especially weaker and paceful ones. why they achieve their aims by any means, why people give them right, if they dont they fear telling this to their faces, why people have this unexplicable urge to obstruct someone when he begins to tast the first sips of success without offending anyone, why they choose to blame him for killing that poor ant, or stepping on that persons foot, and neglicate the more obvious fact that another one killed loads of people but havent failed his life ? what is happening around, i can say nothing but what Dan Edelen just said :
    “Sometimes, we just can’t make sense of what we’re seeing. And maybe we shouldn’t even try”

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