Uncertainty Isn’t Your Enemy
Rhett McLaughlin, half of the comedy duo Rhett and Link, wasn’t laughing much on February 9’s episode of their show “Ear Biscuits.” The topic was McLaughlin’s “spiritual deconstruction,” as he went public with how he had lost his faith in Jesus. The story was uncomfortable for him to tell and obviously agonizing for him to live through. For some time now, Rhett has been a closet “hopeful agnostic.”
McLaughlin’s story, like that of so many former Christians, starts with an upbringing staked down in the bedrock of certainty.
He was presented a Christianity he could be completely certain of. As a result, Christianity was so clearly true to him that any other belief system looked ludicrous by comparison. When that certainty was shaken by learning contrary evidence, it felt like betrayal. Those Christian thinkers who had made it sound like the case for Christianity was airtight had not prepared him for the many doubts he went on to experience.
It is true that arriving at certainty helps take away anxiety—at least for a time. But as we look at the evidence for Christianity, is certainty the goal we should hope to attain?
During two recent dialogues of mine, issues pertaining to knowledge and certainty (i.e., epistemology) surfaced:
- How do we know what we know?
- What should proper confidence of knowledge look like?
- How do faith and knowledge interact?
- Are faith and knowledge in perpetual conflict, or is it possible that they work in unison?
The first dialogue featured a young lady who told me how she strayed from the faith because she found God to be such a brute in the Old Testament—demanding blood, sacrifice, and retribution.
Now, although the OT sacrificial system might appear strange to us living in this Post-Christian society, it points forward to Jesus’s crucifixion. And for most ancient religions, such blood and sacrifice were right at home; almost as if everyone sensed that human rebellion came at a high price. Often God’s justice was brought against those who abused such sacrifice; even committing monstrous acts like offering their own children to the fires of false gods.
Yet from today’s outlook, the question seems fair: can we trust a God whose actions appear brutal at times?
A second dialogue was with a lifelong friend of mine, who, in a similar manner, no longer considers himself a Christian, at least not as traditionally defined. This dear friend of mine struggles with the doctrines of the Atonement (Jesus’ death for the sins of the world) and the inerrancy of scripture—two very important issues raising several key questions that often plague many.
So, are such doubts, questions, and uncertainties defeaters for faith? Is it possible for you to doubt and believe simultaneously? Do you often find yourself wrestling with life’s deepest questions, and you just can’t seem to close that gap of knowledge?
Absolute certainty eludes us, causing perplexity as we seek to hold onto God’s promises.
Perhaps you currently find yourself in an existential crisis; not knowing how you landed where you are. Perhaps you find yourself haunted by the inability to close the gap on questions such as:
- Why would God create mankind, fully aware of the ensuing rebellion?
- Why does God demand sacrifice in the Old Testament and then send Jesus His Son to die? What is with all this blood?
- Can we really trust that God has communicated to us through the prophets and the apostles—that the biblical authors got it right, wrote all the necessary things down, and understood God correctly?
- What about life after death?
- If God is so good, so powerful, and so loving, then why is there so much brokenness and despair in our world? I mean, doesn’t God love us?
Does uncertainty in the face of such questions imply that Christianity isn’t true? Actually, uncertainty about such matters is a clue that Christianity is true.
Imagine with me for a moment that the story of the Bible is true. From the outset, we meet the one true God: all-knowing, all-powerful, morally perfect, and ever-present. He has created everything good, and humanity, being created in His image and endowed with some of His characteristics, is especially good.
On top of this, we’re told that mankind has rebelled, disregarding God’s plan and precepts for this life, resulting in much, if not all, of the brokenness in our world.
If these things are true, we should discover not only a sense of goodness in us, but also actual goodness in this world around us. Likewise, if the Scriptures are true, we should simultaneously sense a brokenness upon this good creation, leading us to ask what is wrong with this world: Couldn’t things be different? Shouldn’t things be different?
These are the very questions which should be expected to haunt us if the Scriptural portrait of humans is accurate. For we are made in God’s image, yet creaturely, flawed, and broken. We were made for Eden yet live in exile.
When reflecting on our desire to make sense of all these daunting questions, it shouldn’t surprise us when our curiosity exceeds our cognitive capabilities. If the Bible’s descriptions of us are true, then we should anticipate longing for transcendent answers, yet being unable to close the cognitive gap.