Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Certainty isn’t Unrealistic or even Optional, but it might be Elusive

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.” (70)

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. He is certain that we can’t have certainty!

Besides, how can Taylor prove that “God is not reducible to proof?” Is he saying that God can’t prove His own existence? Does he realize that he is putting the almighty God in a book from which He cannot emerge?

We desperately need certainty. We need assurance to come boldly before our God (Hebrews 10:22). We need to know that certain things are wrong, like murder, genocide, and joining the Klu Klux Klan. We have to be able to make decisions, not just stopping at red lights and driving when the light turns green. We need to make moral decisions and give moral lessons. We need to oppose the liar and the rapist. This requires certainty.

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 come in God’s time!

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; for 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? In regards to what he mentioned previously - “self-control,” “perseverance” and “godliness!”

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).

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