Friday, June 22, 2012

Certainty: Its Reality and its Rejection

Whenever I write, I write with the unavoidable taint of certainty. Why else should I write if I cannot instruct. This requires a high degree of certainty! (Some write simply to express themselves, but I have little interest in this.) Nevertheless, I earn the disdain of many by speaking authoritatively about truth. However, I would be tolerated if I’d simply write, “Christ seems to work for me.” However, once I claim that Christ is the truth, gentility vanishes, and I become the object of scorn.

Today, many Christians are joining the chorus against certainty. One evangelical castigated the church for speaking out publicly and authoritatively on social issues, claiming that we really can’t be that certain. Curiously, she was certain enough to speak up against the church.

At an apologetics forum, another evangelical, a professor, defined “certainty” as “objective uncertainty appropriated with passion.” In other words, what seems like “objective certainty” is really a matter of our passion getting the best of us. He tried to prove that certainty wasn’t really a part of the Christian life by citing 2 Corinthians 5:7 – “We live by faith, not by sight” – apparently unaware of his absurd position that he needs a high degree of certainty in order to prove that a high degree of certainty isn’t possible.

In addition to this problem, the Bible never pits faith against certainty. Although there are indeed things that defy certainty – for we only see in part - there are also spiritual truths that we can bank on, truths that we must bank on!

The professor also cited the account of Peter walking on water as proof that we shouldn’t expect to walk in the light of certainty. He claimed that Peter sank into the waves because he required a guaranteed certainty, when he should have been content with faith and uncertainty. However, this lesson can’t be justifiably derived from Scripture. If anything, Jesus castigates Peter for his lack of certainty:

·        But when he [Peter] saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:30-31)

Peter’s problem was a lack of faith and not a demand for certainty. Initially, he had been willing to follow Jesus into the water, but then got cold feet.

In fact, the Bible not only recognizes certainty - and our assurance and confidence in the faith depend upon certainty - as a precious and almost indispensable gift:

·        My purpose…so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ. (Col. 2:2)

Clearly, faith is not opposed to a “full assurance”:
·        Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:22)

·        That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. (2 Tim. 1:12)
·        For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. (John 17:8)

Scripture informs us that we can be certain:

·        So that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:4)

·        For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephes. 5:5)

·        Then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you. (Joshua 23:13)

It is pointless for me to point out these verses. Everything that Scripture says, it says with certainty. There is no suggestion that “perhaps the Gospel might be true.” However, I must confess that for many years I struggled with debilitating doubts regarding God and His Gospel. However, I am now thankful that I had experienced this horribly painful ordeal. It led me to devote myself to God’s Word (Psalm 119:71).

For many of us, growing in assurance/certainty is a long and painful process. However, this process in no way should suggest that certainty isn’t a possibility. I must also admit that there were times when it would have been comforting to acquiesce to uncertainty. If uncertainty was the norm for the Christian life, then I wouldn’t have to feel that there was something wrong with me because it didn’t have certainty.

Besides, why should we rule out certainty? After all, I am certain that I am now typing at my computer. If I can be certain about this, why not also spiritual things? Weren’t the disciples certain that Jesus had appeared to them? Of course, and this certainty gave them the necessary courage to live according to their faith.

However, uncertainty is a social lubricant. The uncertain are perceived as less rigid and socially responsive. They seem ready to accommodate themselves to others and their experiences. We tend see to them as having a humble, inquiring and scholarly disposition. However, true uncertainty cannot say anything. While our professor expounded upon the virtues of uncertainty, everything he said required a high degree of certainty.

Jesus conducted Himself with certainty, not as the Scribes and the Pharisees. After Him, His Apostles also conducted themselves with certainty. However, they did offend many and lost their lives because of it. Therefore, social approval should not serve as the final arbiter of truth or even the way we present ourselves.

Someone asked our professor, “How then can we know for certain that we have the truth?” He answered that we can’t:

·        “There are no neutral facts or argumentation. We cannot objectively weigh evidence because we cannot get on the outside of ourselves, our biases, and presuppositions in order to stand on neutral ground. Consequently, biblical interpretation will always be a matter of uncertainty and disagreement.”

However, if we can never stand on neutral ground and, consequently, everything depends upon our subjective interpretation, how then can he make such an objective, certain and sweeping statement?

Indeed, there are some biblical teachings that are very difficult and uncertain. Consequently, there are legitimate differences, which we will probably never resolve in this life. However, there are much clearer and more certain Biblical assertions, like “Christ died for our sins.”

When I was uncertain about this, I lived in constant torment. I am certain that the church would not have endured had it not been delivered from its doubts. In fact, it was in destruction-mode until Jesus’ resurrection appearances.

I think that there are many ways that we can know the truth. Have you seen the series of books called “Magic Eye?” They include many computer-generated designs that contain a secret, yet discreet image or picture. Some people are unable to see it. However, for others, the picture is seen with certain clarity. If you wonder whether it is your mind that constructed the image, well, it’s easy to resolve this question. The books have an “answer sheet” containing the hidden image. Consequently, we can be sure that what we see is real.

The Bible contains many discreet, hidden “images.” When you see them, you will know that you are not inventing them.

It may be temporarily comforting to reject the idea of certainty. However, it is also the way of almost certain torment. Instead, continue to ask our Lord to make His revelation real to you. He has promised to bless those who seek Him!

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