Friday, December 24, 2010
The Disdain for Certainty
Admittedly, we place a lot of weight upon the safety-net of our faith. It illuminates the darkness, comforts, chases away confusion and aimlessness, and invites the blessings of God, that is, when we believe and stand upon it. However, there are many voices claiming that we can’t have any certainty. Adam Gopnik takes it a step further. He also claims that, in the absence of certainty, the church has resorted to suppression of the uncomfortable questions in order to enforce “unity”:
• “The impulse of orthodoxy has always been to suppress the wrangling [doubts and challenges] as a sign of weakness; the impulse of more modern theology is to embrace it as it as a sign of life. The deeper question is whether the uncertainty at the center mimics the plurality of possibilities essential to liberal debate, as the more open-minded theologians like to believe.”
Although it is true that orthodoxy has suppressed troubling questions, it is also true that, out of their confidence regarding Christianity, many have welcomed the questions, knowing that there are answers. Gopnik cites the example of the promises of Jesus, which are anything but certain:
• “The Jesus faith begins with a failure of faith. His father let him down, and the promise wasn’t kept: ‘Some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God [Matthew 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27],’ Jesus announced, but none of them did.” (“What Did Jesus Do?” The New Yorker, 6/29/2010)
Had Gopnik read these three parallel verses in context, he wouldn’t be able to cite them as evidence for uncertainty. In each one of these instances, this verse directly preceded the account of the “Mount of Transfiguration,” where the Apostles did glimpse “the kingdom of God” in its glory.
Gopnik also suggests that certainty represents an impediment to being “open-minded.” Rather, according to him, it is in the context of uncertainty that we can have true inquiry. However, this notion, although broadly accepted, is deeply flawed.
Inquiry demands certain presuppositions – that there are answers and that these answer will not impede further investigation, but will serve as a foundation for further knowledge. In light of this observation, certainty about things worthy of certainty is an aid, not a hindrance. For example, we need to first be certain that what we are viewing through a microscope truly reflects reality before we can meaningfully investigate a virus or the operation of the cell.
It is our certainty about certain true presuppositions that begets true answers. Of course, if we begin with the wrong idea, we will derive wrong conclusions, as when we start buttoning our shirt with the wrong button. Every subsequent button will have been misplaced. Does the Christian faith misplace the buttons, or does it enable truth to fall into its proper holes? C.S. Lewis stated something like this:
• “I believe in the sun, not simply because I see it, but by it, I can see everything else.”
Lewis found that Biblical truth enabled him to make sense out of the rest of the world of knowledge, bringing it harmony. Similarly, our Messiah promised that if we continue to follow Him, we shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free (John 8:31-32). This is exactly what has happened to me and to so many others.