Occasionally one comes across evidence of geologic upheaval. Along the Maine coast, one sees these layers of rock that are tilted up sideways, made up of stripes of different kinds of rock - igneous and metamorphic, basalt and gneiss with thin stripes of quartz here and there - that were formed deep within the earth and then pushed up during geologic upheaval and are now being eroded by the weather and waves. It's hard to walk on these rocks, even when they are dry. Gaining one's footing can be difficult and finding a place to sit usually means finding a large glacial boulder that has been sanded down smooth. But it is beautiful and interesting scenery.
Upheaval happens, often suddenly, and often seemingly out of nowhere, although certainly in the case of geologic upheaval and I believe the upheaval that shows up in our lives as well there have been forces underground working towards the sudden breaking through for some time. Upheaval is distressing - the landscape changes, and things look sort of like they used to except they're sideways or there are big gaps, and it is hard to get one's footing. And only after time does it begin to look interesting rather than dangerous.
I think this is why we look for unchangeableness. Many of us want our spouses or partners to be unchangeable - to stay the person we fell in love with. We particularly want God to be unchangeable and many of us want church to be unchangeable, too. Because we want a haven in the midst of all the upheaval. We want to be able to count on something enduring. No matter what else is happening out there, we want something to be the same. The Egyptians built massive monuments that have certainly endured, although they have surely changed. Everything changes. But we can take the slow erosion more easily than the sudden upheaval, if for no other reason than the hope that we won't be around to see it.
But the slow erosion is destructive, too. It may take a lot longer, but it's just as destructive. If one visits Clonmacnoise in Ireland (County Offaly, on the River Shannon), some of the old Celtic high crosses and gravestones have been removed indoors and replicas put in their places outside to protect the originals from further erosion.
I am of two minds about this. I lament the erosion of beautiful monuments as much as anyone. I understand the urge to take something away from its original location in order to preserve it in a museum or visitor's center. Putting up facsimiles in the original location is a kind of restoration. I get that, too. And I want to see the ancient originals somewhere. But at the same time, everything has its season and natural forces mean that things change. Rocks change, communities change, people change. My great-great-great grandfather's tombstone is now almost unreadable. Recognition of the change is so hard to become comfortable with. Perhaps we are fooling ourselves. We just want things to stay the same even in the face of the inevitable.
But even if one can ignore erosion, at least for a while, upheaval is "in your face." The landscape changes dramatically and there is no way to fool oneself about that. Footing is hard, there is no resting place, things seem sideways or upside down.
But there are sure things. It's just that they are the bedrock, not the top layer. Our focus is usually on that top layer. It may be that the mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord; that God's footprints will split the Mount of Olives and cause a rift valley; that the earth shall shake and the mountains will smoke at the presence of the Lord. But it is also written that there is a place to hide, that we should seek protection under the shadow of God's wings, in the shelter of the Most High, under the shadow of the Almighty. Where we are kept as God's own forever because we are loved.
God's love for us and God's desire for the salvation of the world are the things that do not change. All the rest is subject to upheaval.