On not being sure
“When we become simply a promoter or a defender of a particular belief, something within us dies. That is not believing God– it is only believing our belief about Him.” Oswald Chambers
Over the years I’ve become convinced that being certain in all our beliefs, something that is generally seen in evangelical circles as a sign of spiritual growth and maturity, may actually hinder spiritual growth. I suspect I might even agree with evangelical author Peter Enns and his book “The Sin of Certainty” even if the word “sin” goes a bit too far.
In the quote above, part of a devotional message you can read here, Oswald Chambers long ago put his intellectual finger on the truth; we tend to be more attached to our beliefs about God than to God. The source of a great many rip-roaring disputes between evangelicals and the world, and even more tragically between evangelicals, come from this reality. We become more vehement defending our views on marriage, the end times, the sovereignty of God, and a host of other things than we are about simply trusting God.
Modern American evangelicalism was founded to promote the reasonableness of our faith; to show the world that our beliefs were not drawn from some ignorant backwoods fundamentalism but could stand the light of intellectual scrutiny. We still, to this day, make every effort to come to some sort of “biblical” position of everything around us. The problems come when we are forced to come to pre-determined conclusions because our doctrines determine the “right” answers in every situation. For example, we can study origins all we want but ,by God, we have to conclude that the earth is only a few thousand years old.
This “believing in our beliefs” mindset is at the root of pretty much every culture clash we have. The current firestorm on transgender bathroom privileges is a good example. We feel pressured to come to a “biblical” stance on this cultural reality and end up in the type of conflict that results in our being seen as haters. We can’t accept that the Bible might have nothing to say about 21st century public restrooms.
While being seen as a hater is unpleasant I think that there is even a worse potential in our obsession with certainty. I read this article by Christian author Rod Dreher this week. He passes on a story from an unnamed “tough Texas chick” about a troubling encounter she had with a gang of marauding transgender individuals at a movie theater in an upscale suburban community. Setting aside my incredulity about malevolent roving packs of the transgender, and also my marveling about her ability to spot transgender people in a glance, something deeper troubles me.
When we are convinced that we are 100% right in all our beliefs and in their application to the world around us, it becomes important to see people with whom we disagree as not only wrong but wicked. We then become susceptible to a sin that another long-gone Christian thinker, C. S. Lewis, warned us about. We become relentlessly determined to believe incredulous stories, and unwilling to accept that they might be wrong, “for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible.” The end result is that we endlessly pass around easily disproved horror stories about how bad the world is and how we Christians are being persecuted. Rarely a day goes by when my wife and I don’t receive at least one of these stories.
To me, the only way to combat this reality is to live in what Chambers calls “gracious uncertainty;” to have, as Enns urges, more trust in God than in our beliefs about him. A byproduct may very well be that we can share the love of Christ in ways we never dreamed possible.