On Being Certain
ISIS is certain that they are right. You don’t start cutting off people’s heads based on a premise that you are hoping might be true. You do it because you are certain.
This leads me to ask myself a serious question – am I certain in what I believe? I believe in God. I’ve experienced him in my life in ways that makes my faith strong. I worship best when I am open to receive the love and mercy that I see in Jesus in the Gospels. Having his teachings as a guide in my daily decisions gives me joy and peace.
I find it impossible not to believe in the God I see in the Bible. But this belief is not based on my certainty as much as it is on his grace and forgiveness when I am uncertain, doubtful or even clueless.
Everyone likes to be certain. Studies show that when we become certain of something there is a chemical reaction in our brains that causes pleasure. The best example of this for me was the night I asked Peggy to marry me. I was pretty sure she would say yes but when she actually did….wow! Whatever those pleasure chemicals are, they came pouring out.
Because our brains like to be certain when we get information that violates or casts doubts on our beliefs we really get defensive. We all have a desire to trust information that confirms our existing beliefs and to resist information that cast doubt on them. This is called confirmation bias and it explains why neither liberals nor conservatives are ever swayed by the overwhelming evidence the others think they give to support their stance.
In the area of religious beliefs certainty is dangerous. Atheists like to tell us that religion is the cause of so much violence, both now and historically, that it must be shunned. But it is not religion that is the problem, it is certainty. When you are sure you are right it gives you a sense of superiority. ISIS can convince itself that its certainty gives it the right to do whatever it wants with those who are wrong.
From the beginning Christians knew that their faith should make them humble. That is why so many creeds and doctrinal statements began with “we believe” and not “we are certain.” Churches today instinctively know this. Just compare the numbers of churches with “Grace” in their names versus the number with “Truth” in their names.
Certainty is proud, belief is humble. Certainty argues, belief discusses. Certainty resists hearing other points of view, belief respects the rights of others to differ and is open to the idea it might be wrong. Don’t misunderstand; I can be confident in my beliefs, and assured that I am not deluding myself in them. My faith may not require certainty but it does give me the assurance to share it with humility.
I sometimes hear people say, when I admit to not being certain, that something is wrong with me; that I am open to be bounced around by whatever idea comes along. But choosing faith instead of certainty doesn’t make us stupid, it makes us gracious. Frankly that sound like a better thing to be than certain.