Monday, May 16, 2011

Faith over Certainty

Hebrews 11:1 reads "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see." (NET). The verse is so often quoted that it can be among the most memorized in all of Christendom. The emphasis is often placed on being "sure" and "convinced," but not as much is said about "what we do not see." This is because so much is made of having "vision" in our culture, on "seeing" what's coming up ahead, detecting God's "plan" or discerning God's "will." The problem with that is that it seems to really marginalize the end of the verse: "what we do not see." If a thing cannot be seen, how then can one claim certainty about it? Oh sure, faith may be "convinced" of it, but it doesn't claim the same certainty as though it could SEE it.

In fact, if certainty is the standard, as though we could "see" these things, where is left room for faith? Certainty seems to have become so much of what we think is associated with "vision" that we even suggest that people just "have faith" in the same way. Therefore popular understandings of faith will tolerate no uncertainty. To entertain doubts about what is popularly believed is to "lose one's faith." In circles where faith is highly valued, the one with any doubts may find themselves in a silent minority. In essence, they must remain "in the closet," keeping their doubts to themselves. Otherwise, their faith will not be considered strong enough to receive that coveted of all titles within the fellowship: "edifying."

But over time, I've come to care less and less about whether I deserve the coveted "positive person" statue, and instead if I'm truly wrestling with matters of faith and doubt as I should. Oh this by no means excuses someone to suck the life out of the room when they enter. There's no reason to suddenly become a spiritual "Eeyore;" however, neither should one feel the need to artificially become the "Tigger" of the church either. Honesty with one's self is a vital component to honesty with one's God. Which leads me to my frequent maxim of faith:

Say what you know... not what you don't know.

The list of faith assertions I'm prepared to declare with great confidence has shrunk over time. I now assert fewer propositions, but assert them more strongly. By extension though, things that do not "make the cut," I've become more comfortable with saying, "I don't know... and neither do you." So many subjective assumptions become "received dogma" simply but the frequency of popular use. The everyday phrases thrown out regarding God's "will," God's "call" and God's "plan" all typically come from superstition more than Holy Scripture.

I'm prepared to assert a few things that I "know" (which are more likely than not found in the ancient Creeds), but I won't assert things that I don't "know."

---"You know this is God's will for you, don't you?".... No, I don't "know" that. I'm playing it by ear, hopefully with wisdom - which Scriptures say I should ask for.

---"You know that God has 'called' you to this, don't you?".... No, I don't "know" that. I'm remaining available to be used by the Church according to my skills, abilities and gifts that they perceive a need for.

---"You know that God has a 'plan' for your life, don't you?"....Perhaps, but since he has not revealed that "plan," it's fruitless to obsess over discovering it.

My doubts do not threaten my faith, they just corral it, clarify it, help me assert only reliable things. Please don't be upset if you hear me express doubts, even sharply in the face of adversity. I'm not punting faith, just trying to maintain a faith that won't look silly to me a few minutes later after I've regained the lucid ability to seriously think about what I just said. At those moments, I'd want to slap my forehead and think, "You dork. You don't know that at all. Why did you say it?" That's actually when a strong faith can emerge that, by it's nature, is really "faith;" not the grasping for certainty we often entertain that does not like that there are some things we "do not see."

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