Explorations in Theology

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From certainty to uncertainty and then…

Longing for certainty?

I have just completed the first round of zoom calls related to ‘Humanising the Divine’… (BTW I now hear an inner voice saying ask them why they have not yet bought this life changing piece of work? Quickly squashed by ‘Life-changing… really?’). OK no more advertising. Second BTW have you seen ‘The Social Dilemma‘? It is huge eye opening exposé of how vulnerable we are and how society after society is being manipulated to be polarised. It also fits with the preface with my confession that I am biased and believe certain things cos it suits me, and I can defend myself with the Bible… until someone comes along who knows a lot more than me!

I have been very moved by hearing the journeys that people have been on and the integrity with which they have responded to God provoked by crises or difficulties. It highlights what I suggest that the major ways in which we change is not simply through a ‘God-encounter’ but through how we respond (to God) when issues come up. A number spoke of the days (past) of certainty.

I have set out two aspects (borrowing from Robert Johnston) for certainty. The means of reconciliation to God is via the cross, and the authority for what we believe is Scripture. That faith cannot be expressed in a box, not in a statement of faith that someone signs. (Penal substitution, inerrancy, millennial rule etc., are all interpretations of Scripture, not teaching of Scripture, but are often written into statements of faith – on none of the above could I sign such a statement.) Those two certainties that I am settled on do not settle too much beyond that point. A Calvinist believing in limited atonement (Jesus only died for the elect) and a Universalist both tick the above two boxes… Not to mention the more challenging issues of ethics, such as a view on marriage or divorce.

If we have an evangelical background we will probably have come through to a place of confidence in a set of beliefs. That is such an advantage. However, there nearly always arise questions that push back against those beliefs. A common one of course is to do with justice and the ‘problem of evil’: if God foreknew… what about all the ethnic cleansing in the OT… etc.

The questions can of course be much more personal, particularly when we face issues that are very close to us relationally.

I have observed that there is a journey from a narrow certainty, to questions that lead to uncertainty (that is why I think the context for this uncertainty are the two ‘certain’ points above – cross and Scripture). It might be nice to think that there is a journey from certainty to uncertainty and back to a mature certainty. Nice thought!

I actually think the critical part of the journey is from certainty to uncertainty… and to a new place (and space) of openness. Not open to any wind that blows, but open in the context of non-defensiveness, humility, and less motivated by an anxiety to nail things down. Actually a healthy place to get to.

I know less now than I knew years ago. But I know more about myself, understand more about others, and although I still try to squeeze God into my perfectly formed box I am aware that there is a mystery in God and s/he is more outside my box than inside. A God I have found (cos s/he found me) so I have to on a daily basis get on my proverbial bike and go in search of the elusive God who is present everywhere.

4 thoughts on “From certainty to uncertainty and then…

  1. Thank you Martin that really makes sense to me. I have also navigated a path from certainty and rigidity in doctrine and belief to a place where I have no easy answers to any questions. The only thing I know is that God is mercy and that he wants me to be extremely merciful as in the Beatitudes. Haven’t got there yet and keep failing but he wants me to open my heart to his love more and more and extend it to others. Except for this a lot is a mystery to me especially eschatology and questions of who are/or not saved etc. I find the more I know his nature which is a constant learning curve the more I am hopeful.

    1. Oh my!!! Mercy… does not come naturally… ‘I am right’ (=’you are wrong’) comes much more easily. You are so right on, and I (maybe some others too) need to take note. The last sentence is awesome.

  2. So agree that uncertainty is a good place to get to… Not to imply I don’t have a ‘certainty’ about God but uncertainty about myself and what I think.
    What I sense and feel is more clear alongside what motivates. God is my Mystery and my Father. Of that I am certain(!) And my challenge is to engage him as Mystery more deeply… And perhaps attempt to show others how trustworthy that mystery trulyh is.

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