Faith vs Certainty

By Pastor Jim Parks, CLP

Scripture Reading: 1 John 5:1-5 (CEV) “If we believe that Jesus is truly Christ, we are God’s children. Everyone who loves the Father will also love his children.  If we love and obey God, we know that we will love his children.  We show our love for God by obeying his commandments, and they are not hard to follow.

Every child of God can defeat the world, and our faith is what gives us this victory.  No one can defeat the world without having faith in Jesus as the Son of God.”

Are you certain about your faith? If you have answered that question with a “Heck, yes!”, then perhaps you may not want to read any further. You see, I am generally wary of people who seem too certain in their faith. Some have even said that if I had more faith, I would be certain. But, certainty of my faith has never really been my experience. My faith has been more a journey of questions, searching, and wrestling than one of absolute answers

That is not to say that I have no belief system. Does God exist? Is Jesus Christ the Son of God? Does God love us? Does God work through us? I could say “Yes” to all those and more.

My wariness is with another kind of certainty. And that is the kind of certainty that establishes moral superiority, labels and exclusions. The certainty that “we” are right and that “they” are wrong. I believe that statements and thinking that reflect “’we’ are good and ‘they’ are bad” is what often threatens to divide the Church and separate us from each other.

I sometimes wonder if certainty, rather than doubt, might be the opposite of faith. Christ doesn’t ask us to be certain. He calls us to be faithful, to be trusting. When I am certain, I have placed myself “at the center of my universe and others revolve around me.” In other words, I become the focus. Trust, however, asks me to look beyond myself. It allows relationships. Trust places God at the center.

Faith is alive, dynamic, and growing. Faith opens us to possibilities beyond what we can presently see and understand. Certainty is more narrow. It naturally defines how we can think and act. It establishes limitations and restrictions on God, each other, and ourselves. Certainty creates boundaries. We all need boundaries to survive. But we must also recognize that the same wall that protects “us” from “them” can easily become the wall that imprisons us.

I know and understand that it is often much easier and less risky to be certain than it is to be faithful and trusting. Trust is hard work. It is more than simply believing. It is an action. Trust does not mean that we do not think for ourselves, that we do not get involved, or that we just sit back and let happen whatever will happen. Que sera, sera. Trust means that we must wrestle with the difficult questions. But we do so with possibilities, risk, and openness—with the possibility that our own opinion could be wrong, with the risk that we might be changed, and with openness to God’s ever-present love and grace for “us” and for “them.”

My hope and prayer is that I will be more faithful than certain, that I will not fear new truths, that I will not settle for half-truths, and that I will not presume to have all the truth. That’s faith, not certainty.

Prayer: O God, I don’t just want to be certain that you love me. I want to believe it. I don’t just want to be certain that all are your children and that there is no “we” and “they”. I want to believe it. I don’t just want to be certain that Jesus is working in and through me. I want to believe it. O God, strengthen my faith and help me to work on my trust level. Through Jesus the Christ. Amen.