This is the third blog in a series about "certainty". What does it mean to be "certain"? In the first blog, I referred to Matthew 25 and the parable of the sheep and goats as an example of Scripture that brought up a lot of questions for me. Questions I can't find answers to that leave me "certain". Maybe it's about a final judgment and maybe it's about a local judgment on Earth. Maybe it's about the 12 disciples and maybe it's about all Jewish people and maybe it's about all people. Maybe it's about salvation by works and maybe it's about...well, salvation by works.
Lots of questions and that was just one passage. Perhaps you've never thought of that kind of stuff. Or, perhaps you have, but you're willing to "let it go". You may see letting go of those kinds of pesky questions as "faith". I'm not here to make you feel bad if that's you. Rather, I want to help those of us who can't let go of those pesky questions. Oh, and there are plenty more than that too, believe me.
Quick quiz: Who wrote the first five book of the Bible? Answer: Moses. But inquisitive minds like mine ask "Well, did Moses write the part where he dies?" (Deut. 34:5) Someone else had to write that part, if not the whole thing. Ugh. I thought I could be certain about who wrote those first five books (often referred to as the Pentateuch). That makes me start to wonder if something similar happened to any of the other books. Did Jeremiah write Jeremiah? Did Matthew write Matthew? We know someone else wrote the last chapter of Mark (the earliest manuscripts don't include it). This, of course, raises further questions like "Did God forget to inspire Mark to write an ending to his Gospel?" Or "Did God inspire an unknown scribe to finish it?" Same with Deuteronomy. How can I be certain about these kinds of things? Authorship becomes an issue for those who ask questions and have inquisitive minds. We can't rest that easy.
I've come to accept that I can't be certain. Not 100%. For some, that's really bad news. In fact, some people call it a day for Christianity right there. "It's all phony baloney!" they cry. Well, I want to spare you of making that decision.
Christians are called to follow Jesus by faith. "The just shall live by faith" said Habakkuk. Or, at least, I'm fairly sure it was him. His name is on the book title. So, what's faith?
When you get in your car, how certain are you that the brakes will work? 100%? If you actually stopped to think about it, you'd likely have to leave some room for the possibility that they could fail. So then, do you stay home? Well, if you have a reasonable confidence that they'll work, you'll get on the road. That's an act of faith and it doesn't require 100% certainty. You feel you have reason enough to act on the possibility that your brakes will work just fine.
Or how about banking? According to a digital statement I look at online, I have money in the bank. I don't see that money. I transfer money and assume it works. I pay my credit card bill online and assume it works. I have reason enough to act based on what I know about banking. Call me a "negative Nancy", but I can't be certain that my bank would never take my money. There are laws that I hope would be enforced, but that's a hope and not a certainty. I feel confident enough to continue banking though. That's faith.
Faith isn't about having 100% certainty about something. Faith is about acting despite your level of uncertainty. You can live by faith without being 100% certain about all kinds of doctrines and questions you may have about Scripture.
I don't believe God is looking for us to be certain. I do believe He's looking for us to act in faith regardless of whether or not we feel certain.
Do you have any nagging doubts about God? If you do, I understand why you may not be quick to admit it. There's a good chance you'll be wheeled in for emergency theological surgery by the elders. Or you might even find yourself outside the fellowship where you'll be given some time to "get it right". Perhaps these sound harsh, but surveys of those who have left the Church because they raised some questions and had some doubts show these responses to be pretty common.
This concerns what is often called a "faith crisis". Someone is struggling to maintain faith. They've asked some questions and not found answers that leave them "settled". Or something has happened in life that they thought wouldn't if they just "followed the rules". Perhaps they've found that Science and Scripture don't always agree and now they're struggling with their faith.
What does the Church do with people in faith crisis mode? Well, if folks are brave enough to actually admit to having doubts, we usually try to answer their questions so they can be certain again. They need to be sure. We've got to get them back on track. I mean, what's their problem anyway? Can't they see that chapter such and such, verse so and so, clearly states the answer to any doubts they may have?
Our intentions are good.
So, we set out to prove that the Earth is actually only 6,000 years old and not billions. Genesis should settle the issue (yes, the Book with a talking serpent that becomes the world's first snake). We'll show them how it clearly states that God created all things 6000 years ago. We'll make sure they understand that Science is wrong about this one. If they don't agree after that, then perhaps they can still attend, but they probably shouldn't be allowed to teach Sunday School.
Or perhaps someone is struggling with the violence of the Old Testament and the fact that God seemed to get angry quite often and would smote people for things like trying to keep precious cargo (like an Ark) from falling off the cart. The God who handled the gay agenda by burning down the ancient equivalent of San Fransisco. "Is this the same God as Jesus?", they ask. "Well, of course it is", we respond. "It's from the same Bible, don't you see?" Another faith crisis subverted. All in a day's work. If they have follow-up questions such as "Well, does that mean God has a split-personality? Is God given to His emotions like we are? Could God's ancient rage flare up at any moment?", then this is a good time to warn them of the Marcion heresy (who taught that the God of the Old Testament was a different entity than Jesus). The fear of being a heretic is sure to snap them out of their faith crisis and bury any nagging questions deep under their new skin-deep faith.
Or how about when a Christian is dealt one of life's brutal hands? Their child goes off to college and never goes back to church. Their spouse wants a divorce. They never do get healthy or wealthy. God hasn't kept them from the evils of this world. The "protective hedge around them" must have been trimmed down to something demons were easily able to hop over. They think God has abandoned them. What then? So often, this is when we do our best imitations of Job's friends and throw Scripture darts at their open wounds in order to "cure them" of their faith crisis. "God works all things for the good...Train up a child in the way...For You, O Lord, will bless the righteous..." That's it. We'll make sure they're certain that their wayward child will return to God because they trained him/her in the way they should go. We'll make sure that they know that if they are certain that they've been "called according to His purpose", that He'll be sure to work all things for the good (feel free to apply a little spiritual pressure here to free their minds of doubts). Let them know that according to Psalm 5, they must simply not be righteous enough to receive God's blessing. Crisis averted! Great job team.
Forgive the sarcastic tone, but I think we need to do better than this. It's not that we don't try. It's not that our motives are impure. I think we genuinely don't know how to handle doubt and uncertainty. We don't know what to do if it creeps into our own lives and we often mishandle it when it creeps into the lives of other Christians. So, many of us stay in the "crisis of faith closet" and keep it to ourselves. What would people think? I mean, just imagine what might happen to a pastor that admitted doubts, right? Uh...
First of all, people with questions and doubts about God are often genuine seekers of God. Don't assume they are hopeless atheist, heretics, or lesser Christians of some kind. They are not to be pitied. They are not to be shunned. They aren't even to be fixed! They are to be encouraged to keep going. Just keep swimming, as Dory wisely shared with an anxious clown fish.
Keep going after God. That's the key. Go after God Himself. It's not that we should stop asking the questions or seeking the answers. By all means, engage! But the goal is having God, not not having doubts (I felt a post like this deserved a double negative). Doubt actually feeds faith. If faith increases, it's in spite of doubt, not because there is none to begin with. Faith acts without certainty. That's what makes it faith. Otherwise, we could call it "knowing". Like what God does.
I think there's a place for doubts and questions in our journey with God. And, for the record, I don't believe the Bible answers all our questions. I don't think it's meant to. It's the Bible that actually raises most of my questions. It's often those who read their Bible in pursuit of God that have the most questions and nagging doubts. Don't stone them (though there's a verse for that). Don't hand them over to Satan (though there's a verse for that too). Love them in their uncertainty. Love them enough to honor the mind God has given them. They're engaging God. Encourage that. Point them toward faith instead of certainty.
BTW, I have doubts about being right about all of this.
And so do you.
1 Jesus said some strange things. No, really. Stranger than strange. Stuff that will whack you out if you stop to think about it. If you stop to think.
Dave became the Senior Pastor in April 2015 at TCC after serving as the Director of Children's and Praise Ministries for 9 years. He graduated in 2011 from A.W. Tozer Seminary with a Masters in Christian Leadership. He and his wife, Katie, live in Sequim with their 6 children, 2 dogs, 15 chickens, and 50,000 honeybees.
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