Letting Go Of The Sin Of Certainty
One of the best books I've read over the past five years is Peter Enns' The Sin Of Certainty. This book was instrumental in developing my own theology and provided me the language I needed to articulate it better.
The book's thesis is simply this: Many Christians "mistake 'certainty' and 'correct belief' for faith when God really desires trust and intimacy."
Enns provides space for the reader to wrestle with the notion that doubt and skepticism are not the enemies of the faith but rather provide us with the opportunity to deepen our faith if we are courageous enough.
But for many Christians, the fear of what might be on the other side of doubt and skepticism is too much to bear, so they double down on the perceived safety of certainty.
According to Enns, the refusal to move past the safety of certainty when it comes to our beliefs falls short of what God desires.
We also fashion a faith that clearly delineates lines between who is allowed in and who is kept out.
In one sense, we lose the notion of what it means to be a true disciple who wrestles with their faith, and in the other, we can quickly put ourselves in the place of God, deciding who is orthodox enough to hang with our particular community of faith.
As you might imagine, there's sin (or falling short) in both senses.
I love this quote from The Sin of Certainty:
“When we reach the point where things simply make no sense, when our thinking about God and life no longer line up, when any sense of certainty is gone, and when we can find no reason to trust God but we still do, well that is what trust looks like at its brightest – when all else is dark.”
We might struggle to understand how the Bible gets used so often as a weapon or a way to exclude, or we have a hard time believing some of the things we read in it.
Or we may reach a point in our lives where the trials and tribulations of life leave us exhausted and feeling isolated, wondering where God is in all of it.
It requires no small amount of humility to admit to ourselves that we doubt and often struggle to understand what God is up to in the world. It takes humility to say that we don't always get what we read in the Bible.
It also takes humility to be open enough to want to learn more, dig deeper, and do the good work of true discipleship, which is to wrestle with and engage in matters of faith.
At the beginning of all spiritual endeavor stands humility and he who loses it can achieve no other heights than the heights of disillusionment.
When we choose the certainty of our beliefs or the safety of our traditions over the fact that we don't know everything, we can easily become disillusioned when something happens to send our carefully constructed belief system crashing to the ground.
I've had so many conversations with people who left the Christian faith because what they'd been taught to believe was certain came into question within the crucible of experience.
Some of these people experienced losing a loved one or ending a relationship. Others came to grips with their sexuality and were expelled from their faith communities when they came out as gay.
And some started asking questions, wondering why, or openly doubting.
The bottom line is that these people were faithful disciples because they wrestled with their doubts and struggled with their faith, but because they were told they weren't, they left.
God gave the Hebrew people the name Israel, the very name given to Jacob the Patriarch. That name means "The one who wrestles with God." The name says it all. This is what God desires: people who are engaged enough in their faith to doubt, wonder and ask.
So may you ask your questions of faith. Voice your doubts. Wrestle with them. True discipleship is marked by the openness to learn and to grow. May we all find that kind of openness and no longer sin with certainty.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, now and forever. Amen.