Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Certainty is Overrated

We who follow Jesus believe we have come to know some things about God. We have ancient creeds, like the Apostles’ Creed (my personal favorite), that we recite over and over, reminding us what we have come to believe and affirm about God. The declarations in that creed are derived from scripture, and we trust the witness of those texts to be true and right.

Some of our perceived certainties, however, can be detrimental to us. It’s too easy for us to grasp our beliefs in things (religious, political, economic, and so on) and lock ourselves into ideologies that we crash ourselves and others against. Sure, we come to believe particular things and then orient our lives around those beliefs (I believe in the authority and veracity of scripture, so I take it seriously; I believe in the pursuit of physical health, so I avoid junk food, except for potato chips; I believe in the power of gravity, so I avoid high places with no guard rail).

But when it comes to God, we have to think through our certainties.

I believe that God created the heavens and the earth, but I didn’t see him do it.

I believe in the real, historic person of Jesus, but I’ve never seen him with my own eyes.

I believe that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that he suffered, died, and rose from death, and that he ascended to the Father. But I didn’t witness any of that taking place.

I can’t claim certainty about any of these declarations in the way that I can be certain about things I saw happen yesterday. In some ways, when it comes to historic Christian faith, certainty—in terms of quantifiable, measurable, verifiable evidence—eludes us.

But we have confidence.

The claim to certainty can be a dangerous thing when it comes to God. Once I have my certainties nailed down and the walls of defense securely erected, I can come to the conclusion that I now have all that I need as a person of faith. Once I’ve got my certainties about the way that scripture is authoritative, how the Atonement is explained, how the Reformation is as infallible as the Pope, and so on, then I might believe that I have become religiously self-sufficient. Once my certainties are locked down, I might not even need God.

Certainties can be abstract and propositional. Certainties make dangerous idols.

Confidence, on the other hand, is related to trust. Once we trust God, we find ourselves mysteriously connected to him. We find that something changes within us, as though our eyes are opened for the first time to what is real. We come to see Jesus as the very image of God, and we trust the witness of scripture, the faithfulness of the church (with all its wrinkles), and the experience within ourselves that God is present to us.

Certainty runs the risk of creating a concretized religion.

Confidence is grounded in trust, and trust in God is relational.

Confidence trumps certainty.

Of this I am certain.

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