The Un-Gift of Certainty

Have you noticed? For some folk, increasing religiosity seems to give rise to increasing certainty. They grow more opinionated, more out-spoken, and more rigid.

Jesus grappled with this regularly. The religious leaders of His day had it all dialed in. They knew exactly what God expected and what they needed to do to get Him to act. Their world was black-and-white; no gray. Specific performance would produce predictable results. Keep the rules. Do the duty. They had a religion they could manage. Formulas ruled the day.

CertaintyReligiosity does this to us. It kills wonder, awe, and mystery.

It’s easy to understand the attraction of organized and orchestrated religion: Everything is neat and orderly—no mess; community is based on conformity—less conflict; faith becomes more of a social contract than a spiritual Journey—more belonging.

The cost of such religion, however, remains high. Church after church (but not all churches by any means) gravitate to this form of Christian faith. Sectarianism thrives. Personal freedom experiences a slow, lingering death. And the demise of mystery leaves the soul hollow.

Have you seen this … or experienced it?

Culturally, we seek certainty. We want to know. We want to understand. We want to be able to explain. But such certainty sometimes anesthetizes us to the wonder of God. It numbs our spirit.

In some ways, perhaps, certainty is not a blessing but an “un-gift.” While we desire it, it actually does us a dis-service.

It takes faith to embrace what we cannot see, to walk where we have not been, to obey what we do not understand, and to release our need to know. Ironically, this posture of an open-hand becomes the real gift—not just our gift to Christ but our gift from Christ.

In a statistics-craving, metrics-driven culture, even religion can be reduced to numbers, patterns, and predictions.

How much certainty do we need today? Can we live with some level of ambiguity, uncertainty, and open-handedness?

I wonder if our willingness to embrace mystery and let it remain mystery may be the pathway to the greatest certainty of all: Jesus Himself.

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8 Responses to The Un-Gift of Certainty

  1. Ed Skidmore says:

    I like to call that brand of “certainty” what it actually is, “certitude.” It usually gives rise to such popular phrases as “I know that I know that I know…” or perhaps, “The Bible says it; I believe it, and that settles it.” Certitude appeals to “ducks in a row” Christians (the same people known to keep their baseboards spotless). I remember a conversation with a ministry cohort who said, “The problem with systematic theology is that it is way too systematic.” I, and my dusty baseboards and wandering ducks, prefer the less explainable God who is beyond human ability to easily explain in sappy platitudes. David, you are spot on. Certitude of the religious variety isn’t much of a gift.

  2. Greg Newman says:

    Thanks David for your compelling words. Your statement, “Religiosity does this to us. It kills wonder, awe, and mystery”. You then conclude with, “…the greatest certainty of all: Jesus Himself.” I’ve become quite a fan of Oswald Chambers it seems (My Utmost for His Highest). Without fail he urges one to rely first and always in the living Christ and warns often of the lure of a “neat and orderly” lifestyle. This quote from Nov.14 I find interesting:

    “Beware of being obsessed with consistency to your own convictions instead of being devoted to God. If you are a saint and say, “I will never do this or that,” in all probability this will be exactly what God will require of you. There was never a more inconsistent being on this earth than our Lord, but He was never inconsistent with His Father. The important consistency in a saint is not to a principle but to the divine life. It is the divine life that continually makes more and more discoveries about the divine mind. It is easier to be an excessive fanatic than it is to be consistently faithful, because God causes an amazing humbling of our religious conceit when we are faithful to Him.”

  3. Helena Stone says:

    Its all too hard…..

  4. Bryan says:

    I struggled with this very issue after grad school. I received a great education but was conflicted as I wasn’t too convinced with all the “answers.” It actually led me to some soul searching. In the end I came through stronger, but the certainty model can raise more issues and concerns than it solves. It is what some would call “brick theology.” I appreciate your post! –Bryan, an American who married an Aussie

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