For centuries the notion of faith has been founded on certainty: particular beliefs and sets of beliefs which underpin Christianity. If anyone questioned any of these dogmas, a significant force of discipline was brought to bear, either to force recanting, or to punish the individual concerned. Those who felt the force of such discipline include Galileo, Hus, Martin Luther, and others whose work is now regarded for the brilliance of their insight.
But still the church marched on in certainty, herself changing attitudes (albeit a little more slowly and with much less fanfare), yet clinging to the prevailing notion that uncertainty was the enemy of faith.
With the rise of post-modern thinking, there have been increasingly shrill cries within the church for a call to return to certainty. Resorting to its authority on truth, the church has sought to remain firm and unquestioning, even as its own authority has been undermined by its actions. Unless the church takes some time out to question the very nature of truth, of church and of God, it will be bound to certainties which are not only irrelevant, but inaccurate.
Uncertainty is as much the friend of faith as conviction.
When I am certain I know what another person believes, I stop listening to them. When I believe that I fully understand what God says about something, I stop exploring. When it is clear to me that another person is wrong, I fail to hear anything they might say which rings with truth. And I stop learning.
Anything we know about God, about faith, is known “through a glass darkly… we know in part, we prophesy in part…” (1 Cor 13). The journey of faith is not primarily one of belief, but of relationship. As relationships always grow and change, so does faith, and the convictions which it expresses. That is not to say that there are unchanging elements of faith, but we only begin to understand what these might be through continual questioning and examination. And even then, knowing something in abstract as true does not automatically provide us with certainty in how we should live.
My old high school motto was “Cogito Ergo Sum”, Descartes ultimate dictum of the modern era. Today we might say, “I feel therefore I am”, or “I question therefore I am” or “I experience therefore I am”. All are true in different ways.
God grant us the ability to realise the strength which uncertainty brings.
June 22, 2003