Thursday, March 4, 2010

Certainty isn’t Unrealistic or even Optional

My response to a postmodern Christian who doubts that we can have certainty:

Well, if you are certain that we can’t have certainty, allow me to be certain about various aspects of our faith. For instance, it is historically certain that Jesus died on the cross. Lee Strobel wrote, “Both Gerd Ludemann, who is an atheistic NT critic, and Bart Ehrman, who is an agnostic, call the crucifixion an indisputable fact.” And for good reason! There are just too many incontestable historical accounts verifying this fact.

In fact, so much of the Bible narrative depends on certainty. Moses doubted that Israel would believe that God had sent him back to Egypt to get them out. Therefore, God equipped him with miraculous signs – a staff transformed into a snake, a healthy hand transformed into a leprous hand, water into blood – so that Israel could be certain that God was with them (Exodus 4:1-9). He didn’t tell Moses, “Just tell them to believe!”

In contrast to this, Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty, writes,

“They are also wrong, however, who claim that reason and evidence prove the existence of God. God is not reducible to proof and only our weakness makes us wish it were so.”

Clearly, this is not a Biblical position. It was the “evidence” of Jesus resurrection that turned the Apostles back to faith (Acts 1:3; 2:22), that restored Thomas’ faith (John 20:27-28), and reassured the wavering John the Baptist (Matthew 11). Nor is this assertion even logical. Taylor reasons that reason can’t be used to prove God. How can he prove that “God is not reducible to proof?” Is he saying that God can’t prove His own existence?

We desperately need certainty. We need assurance to come boldly before our God (Hebrews 10:22). For many of my 34 years of following Christ, I had been psychologically shriveling up without the certainty of Christ’s love for me! Without this certainty, I was overwhelmed by my sins and failures. I lacked the strength to take my eyes off myself and my failures and to place them on my only source of hope – God! Certainty didn’t come quickly or easily, but it did slowly come, granted by the God who had mercy on me.

Even logically, we can’t doubt that we can have certainty. When someone says, “You can’t be certain about these things!” I merely reply, “Are you certain that I can’t be certain?” If he claims that he is certain about uncertainty, then he contradicts himself. If instead he is not certain about his claim, then he has to be more tentative about his dismissal of certainty.

Some preach against the possibility of certainty or assurance because if we don’t believe that it is possible, then we won’t grieve too much if we lack it. Although their intentions might be good, they oppose God, who wants us to strive for certainty and assurance:

“Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.”
(2 Peter 1:10-11)

How do we “make certain” these things? First of all, we need to recognize that it’s a gift (1 John 4:13; Psalm 84:11; Eph. 2:10), but He grants this gift synergistically, in conjunction with our obedience. Peter mentions diligence, but diligence in regards to what? Prior to this, he mentioned “self-control,” “perseverance” and “godliness.” John makes it clear. We can be assured of our salvation in several ways – “by keeping His commandments” (1 John 2:3; 4:16-18), most specifically by loving the brethren. While our good deeds don’t save us, they can certainly reassure us. But ultimately, it’s our faith that provides the victory (1 John 5:4). If we truly trust in Him, we’ll endeavor to do what He tells us to do.

We also have to learn how to Biblically reassure our hearts, because our unredeemed feelings can preach a message of condemnation to us (1 John 3:18-20). Some of us have over-sensitive consciences. Although we struggle to walk in a way pleasing to our Lord, we always seem to fail. We need to reassure ourselves that He not only forgives and cleanses us when we confess our sins (1 John 1:9), but that He is able to make the weakest of us “stand” (Romans 14:4).

It is good that our Lord doesn’t make it easy for us. The comfort of certainty isn’t a good thing if we are living carelessly or slothfully. While in the hospital recuperating from a chain saw injury that severed my wrist, the surgeon warned me that I would have to quickly exercise my hand lest it become frozen in position. However, after the glorious encounter that I experienced with this sovereign God in the midst of this debacle, I was certain that I wouldn’t have to do anything. I was convinced – not according to Scripture – that He would take care of it all! Consequently, today I cannot close my hand into a fist. Perhaps, we may not be ready to handle the degree of certainty that we so much desire and require a prod in our back.

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