There Will Be Surprises

“There are more things in heaven and earth,” Hamlet tells his friend Horatio, “than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” About the details of the final judgment, C.S. Lewis simply stated: “There will be surprises.”

The underlying promise of the Resurrection is this promise of surprises, the reassurance that we do not – that we cannot – know it all.

When we tell ourselves and one another that “death and taxes” are the only certain things, we pretend that we’re acknowledged the flux and promise of our lives. But the Resurrection – and that trick with St. Peter’s fish – pushes even at these limits. Even death and even taxes are subject to the shimmer of unknowing.

We live in an age that values responsibility – and defines responsibility as managing what happens next: you borrow only what you know you can repay, you make career decisions that you’re told will shore up your security, you buy insurance for the things you can’t control. Even in the case of accident, you “know” your bills, your partners, your medical care will be “taken care of.”

This is perhaps a necessary way to run a market, or a state. It’s not a way to raise up saints.

We limit our own lives when we compress them to the scope of our imagination. To often, we can use our own predictions to excuse a lack of action, a system of oppression, our own violence. “After I’ve made partner/my first million/or retirement,” we promise, sure we can predict our courage, health, and opportunities in years to come. We predict each other’s actions, and take actions in response: “if immigrants keep coming…,” “if we let the gays get married…” “if I speak up for transgender rights…” We tell ourselves we know just what will happen, and we forgive ourselves our sins.

In doing so, we run the risk of building lives that are too small to welcome God’s surprise.

The other day, I wondered with a friend if gay rights would have come so far, so fast, in the absence of AIDS. I’m not in any way not horrified about the epidemic, and I do not suggest God sent it – instead I want to recognize the unpredictability, the sheer surprise, the mystery of everything that’s happened since it hit.

AIDS drove countless people from the closet – willingly and not, for good and ill. Numberless people who thought they didn’t know a homosexual discovered they were wrong. Illness become, for countless more, the greatest equalizer. The humanity of dying men outshone the fear that many felt about their sexuality. Many who had not considered gays one way or another found themselves regarding us with empathy, with admiration, even gratitude. For even if we could have come this far without the challenge of the epidemic, it’s much less clear that, without us, the medicine that now prolongs the lives of millions all across the globe would yet have been developed.

God’s first act was creation. The Resurrection tells us that God isn’t finished yet – that still, from void and formlessness and chaos, God is creating. God creates. Our world rolls towards us, new with every dawn. And we can greet it, new ourselves. Action taken out of faith – rather than false knowledge of the future – is still possible.

A body, safely buried, rolls the stone away. A movement, crushed, still catches fire. The Resurrection tells us God’s not absent from the execution, from the illness, from everything we do not choose and can’t predict about our world.

The Resurrection tells us: there will be surprises. There is no greater solace in this world.