Tolerate Ambiguity

Ambiguity is not something a software developer or any I.T. professional really wants to deal with. In our world something ambiguous is considered bad. And I.T. professionals do not like bad (ok no one does). However, in our ICC training that we had at JAARS in Waxhaw, N.C., we learned a phrase, “Tolerate Ambiguity”.

Tolerate Ambiguity

In fact, it was on a large sign positioned over the whomever was speaking. It is a term that comes from a book that we used for our prerequisite reading for the course. Written by Duane Elmer, the book is Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility. Duane defining the phrase “tolerate ambiguity”:

Tolerating ambiguity, or living in uncertainty for periods of time, taxes our emotional strength, which in turn drains our physical capacity. Most Westerners manage their lives using PDAs, daily planners or computer pop-up reminders. Little room remains for the unexpected or ambiguous.

This is a quote I was not excited about in the book; actually if I were to be honest I out and out did not like this whole section of the book. Ambiguity? That’s bad. We software developers know this to be fact.

However, what God showed me was quite simple. I had taken this issue of ambiguity in my professional life and had applied to every other part of my life. Spiritual, financial, and even relational. I do not tolerate ambiguity.

Since ICC however, it is as if God has been drilling this down even further into my heart and mind. Making me realize that this attitude is wrong. You see right after ICC and our study of Ephesians I felt like God was directing me to study one of my favorite Old Testament books. Habakkuk. Now I have always had a special love of Habakkuk. This comes from the fact that I am not a very emotional person, and Habakkuk is one of the few books that stirs my emotions and causes me to be unable to turn them off. It is one of the hardest books for me to read.

From my study in Habakkuk here is what I have learned. In the very first opening of the book in chapter 1, Habakkuk is asking God why he sees violence and perverted justice in Israel. Eventually he asks God to remove these things from Israel. God then says to Habakkuk:

“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” Habakkuk 1:5 ESV

Now stop there for a moment. What is your first reaction when you see Habakkuk’s first question, and God’s answer? I expected (and sometimes still do) that God would wipe away the perverted justice and the violence in order to restore his statutes. That is not how God continues, however.

For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. Habakkuk 1:6 ESV

Um… not what I expected. Ambiguous? Most certainly. This is not at all what Habakkuk was praying that God would do! Not at all his intent. Don’t believe me. Read the rest of chapter 1 in Habakkuk where the dialog between God and Habakkuk continues. God is using this people whom are not his in order to discipline his own people.

Reading it this time so close to this new lesson in my life put all of this into perspective for me. This was ambiguous not only to Habakkuk, but to the whole of Israel. Then in chapter 3 I realized for the first time that Habakkuk tolerates ambiguity:

O LORD, I have hard the report of you, and your work [the raising up of the Chaldeans to seize dwellings not their own], O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it [this work of raising up the Chaldeans]; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. Habakkuk 3:2 ESV

For the first time I realized that this is Habakkuk in essence saying, “LORD you are sovereign, and I feel this to be ambiguous, but make it known to the world! But in your wrath remember mercy.” Before I re-read the section from Elmer’s book I realized two major things. 1) Tolerate ambiguity could be reworded, “Trust in God’s sovereignty”. 2) God is sovereign, and he does not have to or need to answer to me. Thus it is ambiguous to me, for if he answered to me it would no longer be ambiguous. I would know his purpose.

Therefore I must trust in God’s sovereignty, and learn to tolerate ambiguity. 

After re-reading this section I noticed something I had highlighted going through the first time, but had obviously forgotten:

(1) God wants us to know that he is in control of our lives and will act in love toward us at all times even though it may not seem so at the moment; and (2) God wants us to learn through this experience, to grow in some important way. ~Duane Elmer Cross-cultural Servanthood [emphasis mine]

Tolerate Ambiguity. Not an easy lesson, but one which I am only beginning to see is so amazing to trust God in all things. Even those things which I wish to control.

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About David

I was born in Mississippi, the child of a pastor / Christian radio host (Dad) and a homemaker (Mom). Some of my fondest childhood memories were spending time with family while taking apart electronic devices.