What do people debate? Often we debate what we supposedly know for certain to be true.
- If scientists tell us the universe is 15 billion years old, the earth is 4 billion years old, and life began and started evolving half of a billion years ago, some suggest we should accept these assertions without a qualm. After all, when the high priests of science receive new revelations from Nature and derive a new theory, they will just replace their old theories with new ones that are even more correct. That is, our knowledge of our origins is evolving to a greater and better certainty.
- Others, priests of many other variations, point to their ancient manuscripts, documents bequeathed to us by our forebears. The various priests say the wisdom contained in their documents was revealed ancient prophets by God. We just have to figure out which of these priests and which of their old books to believe.
- In their confusion over all this certainty, increasing numbers revere uncertainty as the only Truth, and this was once my school of thought. Like so many others, I believed we have no answer except the certainty we cannot know the Truth. With complete certainty we can only know that we did not, do not, and cannot know the Truth. So there is no use in worrying. The Truth is just an unresolvable riddle.
What changed my mind? I read an English translation of the most popular of the ancient manuscripts, the Bible, and I believed it. And so I was born again.
What does being “born again” mean? That’s a phrase used by Jesus when he speaks to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21. Nicodemus found the phrase quite confusing. So he asked Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
Can you imagine being Nicodemus? Can you imagine his bafflement. He has seen Jesus perform miracles, but being born again? Well, Jesus wasn’t telling Nicodemus he needed to enter his mother’s womb again. Jesus was speaking of being born of the Spirit.
Romans 7 describes the joy of being born again, escaping the damnation and the slavery of sin. Saul, the man who later became the Apostle Paul, was a Pharisee. Like Nicodemus, Saul well understood the Law, and he tried to obey it. Yet in his heart he knew he could not. When Saul saw the light (Acts 9:1-9) and became Paul, he understood he had been forgiven, that our Lord through the Holy Spirit had begun the process of releasing him from the slavery of sin. Because of Jesus, Paul was inestimably better off than Saul.
Romans 8:1-11 explains what the Holy Spirit does.
Romans 8:1-11 New King James Version (NKJV)
Free from Indwelling Sin
8 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who[a] do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be [b]carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the [c]carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies [d]through His Spirit who dwells in you.
Paul called himself the greatest of sinners, a slave for the Gospel. Paul would have readily agreed Christians are not better, but Jesus is God. We have faith in and follow Jesus. Jesus is God. Better does not describe Him, but it is the best word we have. Because of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit we are better, and that is why we share the Gospel. We want to share the gift that Jesus has given us.
- Religious Certainty is a Dangerous Weapon (centerforinquiry.org): Do you believe the Gospel. Have you faith in Jesus? Are you certain Jesus’ promises are true? Well, some equate this certainty (not their own certainty, of course) with a dangerous sort of drug induce psychopathy.
- On Religious Certainty, Violence and War (psychologytoday.com): Here the argument is that doubt creates room for tolerance. Certainty does not.
- Religious Certainty versus Certitude (patheos.com): This is about semantics. What is “certitude” in this author’s world view. Well, “certitude” is believing what she believes.
- Tennyson’s In Memoriam: a farewell to religious certainty (theguardian.com): The object here is to use Tennyson’s poem to glorify doubt.
- Why Doubt and Uncertainty are Good — For Both Religion and Science (huffingtonpost.com): Here we have a couple of presentations.
- Faith is the Joy of Religious Doubt and Uncertainty (crescas.nl): Consider this observation.
Faith means striving for faith. It is never an arrival. It can only burst forth at singular moments. It does not arise out of logical deduction, but out of uncertainty, which is its natural breeding ground.
To have faith is to live with unresolved doubts, prepared to rise above ourselves and our wisdom. Looking into the Jewish tradition with its many debates, one clearly understands that those who deny themselves the comfort of certainty are much more authentic than those who are sure. (from here)
A Few More Observations
Does anyone have perfect certainty? Not really. Doubt is normal. Perfect is not a word that describes human beings.
Consider what Jesus observed about the faith of His apostles when Peter, James, and John were unable to stay awake and pray with Him in Gethsemane.
Mark 14:37-38 New King James Version (NKJV)
37 Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
On our own we don’t have much faith. Until Pentecost, the apostles did not have the moral strength to preach the Gospel. After Pentecost, they did. This was in fact evidence that what they preached is true.
What then are those complaining about religious certainty complaining about? Is it about religious certainty? No. Most of them just don’t like the fact that Christians don’t want to tolerate their sins. So they cast doubt to defend their sins, and they call those who condemn their sins bigots, and they try to intimidate the “bigots” into silence.
Should we carefully examine our beliefs? Yes. Should we tolerate the right of others to practice their own beliefs? Of course. Are we obligated to respect all ideas and beliefs as equally valid? No. Some ideas are just wrong. Some are even sinful. If we are Christians, we are suppose to love Jesus and obey His commands. So sometimes we have to call that which is good good and that which is evil evil.