Removing the Façade of Certainty

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Growing up, I was taught that doubt was an enemy. “It’s ok to ask God questions, but it’s not ok to question God,” they said.

It made sense to me. So, I suppressed the questions and repented of my doubts.

I convinced myself of my certainty.

Consequently, I became a little satan—an accuser. I judged those who believed different things. I chastised those who acted or spoke in different ways.

When I made it to college, I had all of the answers. I proudly told my new friends which books they should read and which “heretical” theologians they should avoid.

Then, I started to learn how others read and interpret the Bible. The questions came flooding back. My façade of certainty began to crumble. I had the feeling that I’d been wrong all along. I committed what was, for me, the unforgivable sin.

I began to doubt.

In the midst of that doubt that I learned the discipline of being uncertain. As I engaged in different beliefs and—more importantly—spoke with the people who held them, I realized just how selfish and prideful I had been to assume that the only correct understanding of the Bible was my way of understanding the Bible.

The truth is: we see what we want to see in the Bible. We bring our preconceptions to it before we even crack it open. We pick the passages we will believe literally and those we will interpret to mean something else.

Take, for example, the issue of Christian Universalism—the belief that, in the end, God will save all people (even those in Hell). Contrary to popular caricatures, people who hold this belief do so because they take the Bible literally.

“And I, when I am lifted up from the Earth, will draw all people to myself” Jn 12:32
“And all people will see God’s salvation.” Lk 3:6
“Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.” Rom 5:18
“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 Jn 2:2

That’s just a sample!

As Scot Mcknight explains here, it doesn’t matter on which side you land in the Universalism debate: both sides use the same methods to reach their conclusions. He states, “Either you take the ‘all’ texts and soften them so that ‘all’ doesn’t mean ‘all’, or you take ‘eternal Hell’ texts and soften them so that ‘eternal’ no longer means ‘forever.’”

For one side, the Bible is clear that most people will perish for eternity in Hell. For another side, the Bible is clear that God will save all people.

The same goes for every other debate within the church. Both sides are convinced that Scripture is on their side.

It just goes to show us that it rarely works to say that the Bible is “clear.” Sometimes, it couldn’t be less clear.

Now, I don’t believe truth is relative or that we can never know the truth. Yet, there is a tension we must learn to live in. While I think we can know the truth, I don’t think we can be 100% sure that what we believe is, in fact, the truth.

Think of it this way. You expect others to be willing to hear your side of an issue with openness—to be willing to admit that they could be wrong. Is it not prideful hypocrisy to refuse to extend the same courtesy? Should everyone else be open to correction except for you? Certainly not!

It isn’t courageous to refuse to question. It’s arrogant. Paul said that for now we see in a mirror dimly. We only know in part.

It doesn’t matter how crucial our beliefs are. We should be willing to put them to the test. To refuse to question your most foundational beliefs demonstrates a complete lack of faith in them. It demonstrates a concern for protecting one’s own ideologies rather than seeking truth.

I constantly question what I believe. Does God exist? Is Jesus God? Did he really rise from the dead? Am I right in my stance on this or that issue?

Each time I force myself to face my doubts, I come out more convinced and more willing to live and die for Christ. I become more able to empathize with those who believe differently than I do. Sometimes I change my mind on issues. Sometimes I don’t. But I have never regretted asking a question and searching for the answer.

So, let’s face it. You’re probably wrong on something. It might be the next thing you debate with a friend. It might be the debate you just had!

It’s possible to live with conviction and open yourself to the possibility that you’re wrong.

The motto of the Protestant Reformation was Semper Reformanda—“always reforming.” The Reformers saw the danger in blindly accepting answers without asking the difficult questions. They risked everything by doubting what everyone else accepted as infallible truth. We owe a great debt to them for this legacy.

Furthermore, look at all of the saints throughout Scripture who dared not simply to ask questions, but to question God himself…

When God decided to destroy the nation of Israel, Moses questioned that decision and ultimately changed God’s mind (Ex 32:9-14).

The Psalmists are continuously shouting at God and accusing him. They refused to suppress their questions. Yet, each time they are reassured by his unfailing love (cf. Ps 22).

Jeremiah constantly questioned God. At one point, after being tortured for doing God’s will, he shouted at Yahweh in exasperation, “You deceived me!” (Jer 20:7). At no point does God strike him down. At no point do his doubts lead him to abandon the faith. Quite the contrary—we see only a few verses later that his doubts lead him to praise God.

Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest man who ever lived. Sitting in prison, facing imminent death, John sent a messenger to Jesus with the question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus didn’t respond by saying, “Don’t question me!” He responded by saying, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Lk 7:18-23).

God isn’t afraid of our questions. He isn’t angry with our doubts. He isn’t offended by our finitude. In fact, I am convinced that it is in our doubts and struggles that God most reveals himself to us. The strength of Christ is revealed in our weakness—whether spiritually, emotionally, or intellectually. He identifies with our limitations and reveals that our strength comes from him alone.

We cannot sink into such depths of pride to presume that we can find the truth without ever having asked the question. That we can minister to the doubting without ever having doubted. That we can teach someone to search for truth without ever having sought it for ourselves.

How can you find the truth without first asking the question?

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10 responses to “Removing the Façade of Certainty

  1. Pingback: Is it a Sin to be Wrong? | Tylor Standley·

  2. Pingback: The Death Penalty: Killing the Work of Christ (A Response to Al Mohler) | Tylor Standley·

  3. good post. I just finished reading Boyd’s “Benefit of the Doubt” and recommend it if you haven’t read it. It takes a lot more faith when you are uncertain of your beliefs, and it is only through that uncertainty that faith is truly authentic and real.

  4. What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert–himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason. . . . The old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which makes him stop working altogether. . . . We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.” — G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

    • Chesteron’s quote, though often repeated to discouraging doubting or as an anti-postmodernism prooftext, only applies to those outside the faith. He is an apologist after all. Tylor and others here are not doubting “Divine Reason” as Chesterton puts it, but doubting teachings that were taken at face value within a very specific subset of the faith.

      Chesteron’s Orthodoxy was written as a personal journey of faith. He defines “Orthodoxy” as the apostle’s creed (p. 5), which you may note that no one here questions.

  5. “To refuse to question your most foundational beliefs demonstrates a complete lack of faith in them. It demonstrates a concern for protecting one’s own ideologies rather than seeking truth.”

    AMEN!!!! All too often I have seen people vilify someone who questions or is uncertain about aspects of their faith. “REAL Christians just believe the Bible as it is written, and you better check your salvation.”

    I actually believe that God loves the doubters, the questioners, the unsure, for they are truly pursuing a a real relationship with Him and not just a thin veneer of a relationship. After all, Jacob wrestled with God and granted he walked with a limp afterward. But God did make a nation from him and chose to be born into that nation. To wrestle with God you must be close to Him. You can’t do that from a distance.

    Love the blog. I’m glad I ran across it recently

  6. Excellent post! I just had a conversation with my wife about universalism in which many of your insights were shared. Thanks for writing this.

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