THE VIRTUE OF RELIGIOUS UNCERTAINTY?

Different Alternatives

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.

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

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. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 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, 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. 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. For to be [b]carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the [c]carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

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.

Other Views

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.

40 thoughts on “THE VIRTUE OF RELIGIOUS UNCERTAINTY?

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  1. Reblogged this on Rudy u Martinka and commented:
    Citizen Tom has written an interesting Post on the subject of certainty of our religious beliefs.

    James T. Houk, and anthropologist wrote a novel titled. The Illusion of Certainty, and brings up claims of critical reason and empiricism. Some philosophers believed that nothing in life is for certain.

    Over time, our religious faiths seem to have changed for some of us, same as our government and politics views changed.

    If interested, read Tom’s post and discern if your current religious beliefs and behaviors have changed over time in your life.

    However, Wise King Solomon observed the one thing in life that is for certain.

    What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

    If interested, read both links below and discern if anything really changed over time or are our we creating an illusion of critical reason and empiricism.

    Regards and good will blogging.

    http://ministrybymail.clclutheran.org/archive/1967/12-10-67.htm.

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  2. Tom,

    You’ve been busy. Excellent post. Good argument, and good effort to present all sides. I thought at first you were going to make an argument for antinomianism, but you appear at the last minute to pull back from the brink of that and argue, as I did in my comments to a previous post, that the “certainty” of faith and grace is not the same sort of “certainty” that comes from a reasoned certainty.

    Your statement, “No. Most of them just don’t like the fact that Christians don’t want to tolerate their sins” gets to the real nut of the issue, but then you don’t really explain what form of “certainty” that judgemental and condemning intolerance is suppose to come from, especially when the moral issue in question is not really explicitly expressed in the Bible (such as when a soul enters the unborn, or what form of government is most just).

    Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, a Holiness theologian of the Nazarene denomination, had the view that the heart of Christian activism was love rather than a sort of fundamentalist fact obsession. To Wynkoop, original sin is a disconnect in one’s relationship with God that is remedied at the moment of justification, but that a Christian life demands continued nurturing of the relationship to God and humanity through love. As one interpreter of Wynkoop put it, “Love for others and personal holiness are two sides of the same coin”. They are not different coins. The grace that justification through faith provides is not certain and inerrant knowledge of biblical interpretation (else why are there so many denominations that interpret scripture so differently?). But more importantly, justification just begins the Christian’s humble STRUGGLE in search of holiness and in the application of imperfection justice through faith and love, it doesn’t end it.

    An interpretive logic that is literalist, judgemental and rule based, but that is not tempered by some humility about the limits of human knowledg, and more importantly, by this nurturing love, may provide easy, seemingly certain, dogmatic answers to every single pressing worldly problem, but judgement without faith inspired humility and love is not really justice, now is it?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. @tsalmon

      Glad you like the post.

      Antinomianism? The Apostle Paul said we are not under the law, but we are still suppose to refrain from sin. Why? It grieves the Holy Spirit.

      If we want to know what pleases and displeases God, we need to read the Bible. If we love Jesus, then we will do what He wants us to do and not do what He does not want us to do. If we don’t love Jesus, we probably have not accepted His gift of salvation. As James observed, faith without works is dead.

      Your statement, “No. Most of them just don’t like the fact that Christians don’t want to tolerate their sins” gets to the real nut of the issue, but then you don’t really explain what form of “certainty” that judgemental and condemning intolerance is suppose to come from, especially when the moral issue in question is not really explicitly expressed in the Bible (such as when a soul enters the unborn, or what form of government is most just).

      What form of “certainty” causes us to be judgemental and condemn others intolerantly? The sin the Bible most condemns is pride. The prideful make everything about “me”, including the Bible. When a prideful person gets hold of the Bible, the Constitution, a job, a fancy car, a friend, their spouse or their own child, or anything else; they possess whatever they have in their clutches and use it to glorify themselves.

      Think about this Bible passage. It is a head scratcher.

      Matthew 7:21-23 New King James Version (NKJV)
      I Never Knew You
      21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

      We can go through the motions of being a fine, upstanding citizen and still be lawless. We can fool everyone except God. He knows whether we worship Him or love only our self. He knows whether we put our self before Him.

      Are we all capable of arrogant pride? Yes, but a Christian knows that the only good reason we have for loving our self is the fact God loves us. When we don’t strive to see things from God’s point of view and love our neighbor, we don’t have much objectivity. Then we don’t see the Bible as it is.

      Does the Bible say abortion is wrong? I wrote a series on the subject some time back => https://citizentom.com/2013/01/06/what-does-the-bible-say-about-abortion-part-5/. I think there is far less ambiguity than you realize.

      Since the series is old, I expect some of the links are broken. Let me know if that is an issue.

      An interpretive logic that is literalist, judgemental and rule based, but that is not tempered by some humility about the limits of human knowledge, and more importantly, by this nurturing love, may provide easy, seemingly certain, dogmatic answers to every single pressing worldly problem, but judgement without faith inspired humility and love is not really justice, now is it?

      You know anyone who actually reads the Bible and interprets it the way you fear they might? Most people don’t even read the Bible. Hence, the biggest error we have these days is people who think they understand a complex work they have never read because they don’t think it worth the trouble.

      We live in a society that is increasingly Secularist. What is going on? Is there some massive conspiracy? Well, there is a conspiracy, but I doubt there is some secret organization conspiring against us. We are just lazy, greedy, lustful, gluttonous,….and we must be disciplined to become virtuous. Unfortunately, we have left the education of our children in the hands of the wrong people. When nobody in his right mind trusts politicians, why would we trust them to educate our kids? You tell me. Given all your “kind” words about President Trump, you should find this task easy.

      Some years back I realized I had been taught to be an antiChristian bigot => https://citizentom.com/2007/07/01/reviling-christian-fundamentalism/. That started a very slow process that forced me to reexamine my assumptions. That includes my assumptions about how government should work versus how it actually does work. One of the best articles I have seen with respect to this was written by C. S. Lewis => http://www.lewissociety.org/innerring/.

      So what did I finally conclude? Most of human history people have sought to own the people around them. So half the human race usually owns the other half. America was once an aberration from that norm, but we are slowly restoring the norm. How? Our political class, our schools, and our mass media are “conspiring” together to denigrate our nation cultural heritage, especially our Christian beliefs.

      When separated, church and state are natural adversaries. The hierarchies of each tend seek the other’s power. At least some of the clergy wants the power of the state to enforce their religious beliefs. Some political leaders always seek religious authority to back their schemes. Hence the maintenance of freedom of religion requires continual vigilance.

      What has happened in the United States? Our government cannot easily claim the authority of Jesus to justify its actions. In fact, Christian churches often raise holy Hell on issues like abortion. Therefore, politicians have paraded under the banner of secularism to shut up the clergy, and they have used the schools to preach the virtues of Secularism (religion starts wars, don’t you know). The mass media has happily gone along with this. Why? Why don’t you try to imagine reasons they would not go along with it?

      Anyway, you want to call me a conspiracy nut? That’s A-okay with me. Heard the latest about Trump colluding with Putin?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Facinating. Thank you for the time it took to respond to me. Much of what you wrote about Christianity, I understand and perhaps even understood long before you did. You may not remember or you had already moved on, but, when I was not going to Catholic school, I always went to weekly religious classes in junior high and high school. I was in the Catholic Youth Organization and went to weekly meetings, retreats and conventions. (I even serriously considered becoming a priest for a while). My first year of college was at a Jesuit Liberal Arts college where I took several classes in religion. You may also not remember, but the Catholic Mass itself, although more Eucharist centric than some other denominations is a weekly, focused Bible lesson.

        I went through a brief rebellious period in my late 20’s, but soon returned to the Catholic Church in my 30’s where I have remained safe at home ever since. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I am a great Catholic or even a good one – I struggle with sanctity, but as I have said before, as I get older, my belief systems simply get more orthodox, more accepting of faith, more hopeful for grace. Throughout the journey of my life, regardless of the state of my faith, however, I have always studied religion and theology. I have never lost my basic belief in God, and even in my worst periods of doubt about certain presuppositions of Christianity, I have always thought that either this search for God was the most important endeavor to find meaning in life, or life simply had no meaning, and so there is nothing lost from trying, just from not trying.

        My point in relating this is your statement here:

        “You know anyone who actually reads the Bible and interprets it the way you fear they might?”

        Well yes, of course. Don’t you? Simply reading the Bible, even studying it intently is not an antidote for terrible error, nor has it stopped endless division of the Christian catholic that often has lead to perverse condemnation (think of the sect that picketed the funerals of American military personnel who died in Iraq and Afghanistan claiming it was God’s punishment for tolerance of homosexuality) and even violence (over a hundred, yes a hundred, years of religious wars and persecution). Here’s where I think you misunderstand me. Let’s make the presuppositionalist assumption that the Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.

        First of all, when was the last time you read each and every book of the Bible in thier oldest editions in the ancient languages that those books were written in? Unless you give inerrancy to every mere translator, then you are dependent on the opinion and biases of that translation. This is probably not a big problem if one reads several translations, but the mere fact that you need to read several translations means that there is at least some minor divergences.

        Second, if you practice a careful exegesis in your Bible study, then don’t you try to interpret the import of each passage in the context of the time, place and situation of the audience who would have first heard that passage? If you are doing so, you are probably relying on one or many experts who have studied the history in question and then formulated an opinion (sometimes according to their own theological prejudices) which may or may not be the result of inerrancy.

        Thirdly, how do you determine how a given Bible passage fits into a wholistic theology? Why would you or I try to reinvent this wheel when generations of biblical scholars and theologians have done so already? Are all of them in agreement? Actually, I think most of them could be if they were to focus on what is important, but it is absolutely amazing the lengths we will go to in order to disagree when it suits our pride and our prejudices.

        Finally, how does personal revelation come into play, and what truths does such a revelation bring? Truth about who to condemn? Really? Interpreting Wesley, Wynkoop wrote in “A Theology of Love”:

        “First…love, as Wesley conceived it, solves more theological and religious problems than other concepts seem able to do. The second reason follows the first in that love as the central truth makes better sense out of the gospel than do some other aspects of theology. Love is the gospel message. Christian love revealed by God in Christ, is the correction of man’s limited, selfish, selective, perverted love. It stands against any human concept of love PROJECTED INTO A THEORY of God’s nature and His way with man. [emphasis mine]

        It is precisely this unlimited, impartial, indestructible love that needed to be ‘revealed’ because the best of human love has been limited. The very nature of sin’s is love’s perversion, which makes the self the object of it’s own dedication. Could the dogma of particular election as understood by some theological traditions be the projection of faulty human love onto the very nature of God? The gospel was not born of human philosophy but in God’s heart revealed in Christ.”

        Think about that last sentence.

        You and I, I hope are trying to get to the same place by different routes. Because we are human, we both are subject to going down some blind alleys occasionally. If you are trying to read the Bible directly, you are subject to someone else’s interpretive philosophy whether you like it or not. You literally stand on the shoulders of thousands of others, including some giants. You think you are going to the source, but honestly, you know that you are not.

        I read the Bible often, and I’ve been exposed to it all my life, but my study starts from the end wholistic theologies and works back to the source. I often read specific Bible sections and passages to understand what the theologian is trying to say. Which one of our approaches is best? Who knows, but I think we both are likely to error when we chose a theology where we project our own prejudices onto God rather than looking for the kind of revelation through love that Wesley preached, don’t you think?

        How do we know when the scriptural philosophy is inspired by revelation rather than a projection of one’s self? I think it is when that philosophy is love centric and open at the top toward God rather than formulated and closed. It is one that makes us quest for personal sanctification and grace through love rather warring over who is holier than who. But that’s just my opinion so far. It could change or evolve further with God’s grace. Probably will. You help change it often.

        As for your grand secularist conspiracies, this is really all about the role of religion since the Enlightenment. Divisiveness that derived from our dealing with this brave new epistemology is the problem, not the solution. Something more akin to the Wynkoop quote above, I think is closer to a solution.

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        1. @tsalmon

          I asked you who is interpreting the Bible the way you fear, and what do you do? You reference news reports about an unusual, hateful, cultic “Christian” group our biased news media chose to publicize as much as possible. Actually, when I was wondering, what you might use for an example, that was just the group I thought of, but that’s not reality; that’s propaganda.

          The point of such propaganda is to shut up Christians by making anyone who sounds the least like such hateful group guilty by association. That’s how political correctness works. It stifles debate through intimidation, not logic.

          What is closer to the truth? Think about what you said. Who simply reads the Bible?

          To understand the Bible, we have to think about what it says. If we are saying something the Bible clearly does not say, we have not read it.

          Is it possible for someone to read the Bible, even in the original language, and still misunderstand what God wants from us? Yes. Does the understanding that God is loving, gracious, and merciful help us to interpret the Bible? Yes, but our biases, the perspectives we bring, largely get in the way of understanding God. Unfortunately, we cannot easily discard our biases.

          God is God. We are just fuzzy images of Him, and what the Bible tells us about Him is not much, just as much as we need to know and can understand. So we have to read it and pray God will help us to understand.

          The Bible calls us sinners, deserving of Hell. It says Jesus saved us, that we did not have the capacity to save ourselves. This unflattering story is not one we wish to hear and accept, and many stop right at this point. What sinner wants to believe that someone had to die a horrible death to save him from his sins? Not one.

          What sinner wants to believe that he is so vile that only God could save him from his sins? None of us, but we have sinned, and we have separated ourselves from the love of God. So God hates our sins.

          Because God hates our sins but still loves us, the Bible tells a strange story, the story about a gracious and merciful God who loved His children, but hated their sins. If we want to know the story, we must read the Bible, study it, and accept what it says.

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          1. Well Tom, for the most part, what you just wrote is the same as what I just wrote, except it makes it sound like we disagre. 🙁 I put more emphasis upon God’s transcending love, the sacrificial love of Christ that I think we both would agree is at the center of Christian faith and less on what God purportedly “hates” (is it also “agape” hate?), but in my admittedly ambivalent opinion, that’s just quibbling on an interpretive distraction at the expense of the real substance on which we seemingly agree. How many schisms were caused by absurd theological disagreements where (like that obscure Florida Christian Bible sect) we tried to project our own hatreds onto God? I’d say tons, but maybe you would argue that hatreds that you disagree with aren’t God given and yours are. I don’t claim know. I don’t want to claim to know what God hates.

            Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that God is somehow hurt by our sins, but even that stretches the limits of human imagination and risks our own anthropomorphism of an infinite and indestructible God. Or better still, rather than projecting our own limitations (to hate or hurt) and the limits of language upon upon an indescribable God, why not just simply say, as so many theologians have agreed, that sin causes a “disconnect” with God that the two sides of the coin of faith and sanctity through love somehow the grace of God mercifully corrects? I don’t think that we disagree on that seminal proposition of scriptural revelation, and because we don’t disagree in that, and if that sanctifying love is our universal focus, then healthy, open minded disagreement on every other scripturally derived theological construct is like disagreeing about how many angels sit on the head of a pin. These are fun and exciting debates over ambiguous realities, but that debate starts from a common place of joy, the joy of revelation at our mutual reconnect with God through love, joy that makes us realize that love is open ended and is a dynamic “process” of problem solving and not always the perfect end solution in and of itself.

            Here is another quote from Wynkoop:

            “LOVE takes the Harshness out of Holiness. Love takes the Incredibility out of Perfection. Love takes the Antinomianism out of Faith. Love takes the Moralism out of Obedience. Love takes the Gnosticism out of Cleansing. Love takes the Abstraction out of Truth. Love puts the Personal into Truth. Love puts the Ethical into Holiness. Love puts Process into Life. Love puts Urgency into Crisis. Love puts Seriousness into Sin. Love puts Fellowship into Perfection.”

            Tom, we can argue about what and how God “hates” if you want (although even the concept makes me a little nauseous). There are plenty of biblical references on everything from porcine flesh to homosexuality to adultery to the female theat to herdsmen tribal patriarchy. How many angry battles have fought in the name of God’s supposed hatred for something?

            On the other hand, if we both start from the same joyful place of an all redeeming, all sanctifying love through our common faith, then don’t our disagreements (which I actually think are theologically few) seem academic, insignificant, pharisaic legalisms?

            Hallelujah for the sanctifying love of God! Hallelujah that we have this shared reconnection to God through love as a common foundation from which to amicably (although, ya, vehemently) haggle over unselfish solutions to a finite and fallen world’s intractable problems. Although we may disagree, won’t we know that our attempts are Christian and just by our love?

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          2. BTW, why does everything have to be a conspiracy with you? Of course the media covered a ridiculous obscure Christian Bible sect that picketed dead heroes’ funerals. Isn’t that news? If I remember correctly, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court and they basically won! That’s not news?

            Are good Christians somehow unfairly lumped in with this strange group simply because they call themselves Christian? Well sure, but then you have to ask yourself what distinguishes every other of the many, many other Christian denominations from this ridiculous denomination. Do we all agree on what the Bible essentially says, and if so what keeps splitting us apart? Does it have something to do with each our own pride of certainty of biblical revelation over dogmas that are insignificant and even counterproductive to the real, core, mysterious process of the Christian experience of revelation in scripture?

            It is natural for us to want to paint everything in a complex and ambiguous world into dualistic terms of us verses them but isn’t it often reductionist of something, love, which is dynamic, open and constantly expanding possibilities, rather than reducing them to absurd dualities?

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          3. And one other thing, and then I’ll leave this alone for a while. Because your post is about “certainty” and criticisms of certainty, you may fairly ask if I am guilty of the same pride of certainty in the theology of love that I have recanted here?

            Well, first if all, as I said previously, I don’t think that revelation through faith provides the same sort of ideological certainty that a deterministic and formulaic scheme does. Second, I don’t claim to actually fully comprehend what I have just related enough to be dogmatic about it. Why did God sacrifice himself for us? Why is sacrificial love redemptive when selfishness so obviously works in this world? These questions and endless more from scripture boggle the mind, and even beg more questions.

            I’m enough of a Thomist to be presuppositional in these things, but I admit that these presuppositions are absolutely as mysterious and unexplainable. What we know is infinitely less than we don’t know about God, but it is enough. This ambiguity should make us humble.

            As I said, the truth of love is a dynamic process where God reveals Himself by grace through our faith and sanctity. The logic of such revelation is an inherently open ended, experiential and mysterious process of self evident (rather that logically provable) benefit. How can one have a dogmatically exclusive pride of certainty in being graced with an undeserved gift that defies all human explanation, and that is understood better through its humble, selfless manifestations than its formulaic dogmas?

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          4. @tsalmon

            I did not respond to each of your last three comments separately. Too messy.

            Your 1st comment

            Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that God is somehow hurt by our sins, but even that stretches the limits of human imagination and risks our own anthropomorphism of an infinite and indestructible God. (from the comment before your last one)

            We cannot hurt God, but when we sin we sin against God, and He requires justice of us. Just as God is love, God is also justice. He is a just God.

            Imagine that your family is taken from you when you are on a business trip. The authorities come to your home, and they just take the people you love to parts unknown.

            When you return home, your friends warn you and hide you. What is going on you ask? Yet even with your emotions in turmoil, it quickly becomes clear to you that you cannot help your family by going to the authorities. Too many people you know are disappearing. With ruthless brutality the authorities are taking them from their homes in the dark of night.

            Time passes. You search, but you cannot find your family. To protect your friends you escape the land you once called home with just the clothes on your back. When war begins you join the military of your host country, and you fight against the regime that took your family from you. At the war’s end, you walk through a concentration camp. Then you learn what happened to your family, and all you can do is weep and beg God for justice.

            Forgiveness? Well, for your own sake eventually you mayforgive. But that is not your first reaction. You want the ones who hurt you and your family to understand the pain they inflicted. Because God is love, He must also be just.

            Your 2nd comment

            You made a big deal of Christian groups using the Bible to excuse outright hatred. To justify yourself you came up with what you now call a ridiculous obscure Christian Bible sect. That means that sect is not representative of anything, does it not? Yet to make your point, that’s the example you chose.

            Is it my objective to agree with everyone else? No. I much prefer to be right. Even if I am the only person who believes what I believe, I still prefer to be correct. Arrogant? No. Not if I am willing to make more effort than most to study and think.

            Consider Noah. The whole world died in the Great Flood. His family alone survived. Am I Noah? Do I want to see everyone else destroyed? No. Still I would much prefer to be Noah than one of those who left outside that ark.

            Because people disagree about the Bible, are there a bunch of different Christian sects? Yes. Does that make the Bible any less sacred, or is it just another example of how fallen we happen to be?

            Was it better before the Protestant Reformation? There was just one church in Europe, and everyone had to attend it. Doesn’t that have to be better than our present situation? Not necessarily.

            The Catholic Church does not point to the Bible as the ultimate authority. Instead, the Catholic Church points to church councils and the pope as the ultimate authorities. According to the Catholic Church, the Bible means what the pope says it means. And how do we know this? The pope says the Bible tells us so. Figure that one out.

            Myself? I don’t agree with all of their doctrine, but I suppose Catholics are among the saved. Since most of the world doesn’t even know Jesus, I would rather avoid the argument and let Catholics debate their doctrine among themselves.

            The Protestant Reformation arose out of arguments over what the Bible means and the role of the clergy. Those arguments have continued to this day. Because people knew they would die and were concerned about what followed, they took those arguments quite seriously. We still do, and I very much doubt that upsets God. Because He loves us He allows us to die. He wants us to take the sin that led to our fall as seriously as we take death. He wants us to turn to Him for salvation.

            Your 3rd comment

            I was going to ask you this question.

            Question: Why do you think Jesus died on that cross? What was the point of God becoming man, taking all our sins upon Himself, dying a horrible death, and rising from the dead?

            However, in your 3rd comment you said you don’t know the answer. The Bible is a book of doctrine. Don’t think so? Then read Romans or Hebrews. Consider this passage from 1 Corinthians.

            1 Corinthians 1:20-25 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
            20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the [a]message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for [b]signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach [c]Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

            To understand what Paul preached, we must strive to understand why Jesus had to die for us. Until we understand that Jesus died for our sins, we cannot accept the sacrifice He made for us.

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          5. On 1. I’m not really sure what you are arguing about, but it was a good story.

            On 2. You really don’t know much about Catholicism these days do you? I suggest that you learn more before criticizing, because what you said was ill informed foolishness.

            3. The smug superior tone of this response is interesting and revealing in and of itself bro.

            I believe that Jesus died for our sins out of faith and the little grace that God has given me to accept such a reality as the greatest of truths. But as to “why”, that is like asking why God exists, why does love exist, why do we exist?

            I’ve read many scripturally derived theological theories, but they are just scholarly hypothesis, and we think way too highly of ourselves if we believe they are more than such. As I mentioned earlier, Wynkoop thinks that it was our only way to reconnect with God after we turned away from God in pride with original sin. She said it better than that so I’ll refer you to her quote above. However, this isn’t really an explanation for “why” an infinite God would deem to die and suffer terribly on a cross so much as an explanation of “what” God did for us and that it has something to do with teaching us sacrificial love.

            “Why” is a mystery that I take on faith and in deep gratitude. But you are a scientist and you need your own biblically derived logical theory of why, an explanation of causality, to compete with all the other good ones. (This should tell you a good deal about how the Enlightenment pride in our own reason caused so much division). Just make sure that you don’t make a god of your theory by failing to recognize our complete inability to fathom the real thing. 😊

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          6. @tsalmon

            You don’t know what #1 is about? Do you believe God punishes sin?

            On #2. Don’t intend to argue about the Catholic Church. You don’t agree with what I said? Shrug. It is easy enough to look up.

            With respect to #3 you are characterizing me, not necessarily responding to my arguments. Am I being smug and superior? I cannot change your perception. I just don’t think pointing out that the Bible says more than love, love, love …is anything to be smug or superior about. Love is the most important virtue, but it is because of the grace of God we have redemption from sin.

            Why was Jesus willing to die on that cross? John 3:16 explains that. Why God loves us I cannot explain. Exactly why Jesus’ death was necessary — how His death paid for our sins — I don’t know. We can understand what God did, but how only He knows.

            Theologicians can make statements about these matters that sound reasonable, but the key is what the Bible says. Jesus died for our redemption, and even though He prayed to avoid that cross, He died upon it willingly.

            Does Jesus’ life and death provide us an illustration of sacrificial love? Yes, but Jesus did not sacrifice Himself to put on a show. He really did pay the price for our sins — my sins too.

            That is not my theory. It has nothing to do with science. It is just what the Bible says.

            Like

          7. “Why was Jesus willing to die on that cross? John 3:16 explains that. Why God loves us I cannot explain. Exactly why Jesus’ death was necessary — how His death paid for our sins — I don’t know. We can understand what God did, but how only He knows.
            Theologicians can make statements about these matters that sound reasonable, but the key is what the Bible says. Jesus died for our redemption, and even though He prayed to avoid that cross, He died upon it willingly.”

            That’s pretty much what I have been saying all along. “Why” Jesus died for our sins is a mystery that we can only theorize about. But no one here is disagreeing about “what” He did.

            As for the Catholic Church, I feel the need to defend my tribe a little here, not because of our tribalism, but instead because of all the ecumenical work that has been done over the last 50 years or so by the Catholic Church to repair the continuing tribal breaks that took place in the Christian catholic since the Reformation. Oddly, a book on Christian apologetics that you recommended to me was written by Catholic theologians just for the purpose of showing that our doctrinal differences are insignificant compared to the most important beliefs we hold in common, especially since the many Catholic reforms and ecumenical conferences with Protestant bodies that have taken place.

            The fact that we Catholics have a leadership body and a Pope who studies and guides doctrine, particularly when there are disputes, does not make our situation any different from the situation of early Christians. You are no doubt familiar with the Colossian Problem and also the First Council at Nicaea. These were examples where church leadership and church bodies sought to discipline and coordinate disputes over scriptural interpretation.

            One could argue that the endless atomization of scriptural interpretation (somewhat precipitated by Enlightenment rationalists) is what is anomalous to primitive church traditions, not the fact that Christians have respected elders, saints and leaders who interpret scripture and guide the Christian flock. The problem with Christianity today, and indeed with the world in general, is not too much expertise, but rather too much emotivism, where every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks that his opinion on everything, including scripture, is as valid as anyone else, and he is “certain” of it enough to fight about it.

            Liked by 1 person

          8. @tsalmon

            The problem with Christianity today, and indeed with the world in general, is not too much expertise, but rather too much emotivism, where every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks that his opinion on everything, including scripture, is as valid as anyone else, and he is “certain” of it enough to fight about it.

            I don’t necessarily disagree. I just that a strange statement for anyone who votes for Liberal Democrats.

            You have an opinion that differs from others? Until you try to force your opinion on someone else, why does anyone need the right to stop you from living by your beliefs?

            Do we have some beliefs we have to force upon others? Yes, we need a government to protect our rights, but that government only works properly when the objective of the government is to maximize the number and the importance of the decisions we each get to make for ourselves. Unfortunately, that is not the objective of our government.

            Like

          9. Seems like a bit of a non sequitur, but I’ll bite because it touches on “certainty”.

            Faux certainty on both sides of this debate very much seems to depend upon erroneously framing every debate as one of binary ideological choices: Individual rights verses community responsibilities, perfect individualism verses perfect collectivism, extreme libertarianism verses extreme socialism. Framing every complex real world argument in such a simplistic dualistic way ignores real world nuanced complexity and also disregards empirical ambiguity about vast unknowns. It’s not always one or the other in everything.

            And so comfortable dualist certainly replaces uncomfortable multifarious uncertainty. Each side of a dualistic ideology bends or ignores contrary facts and data to shape reality. Magical thinking replaces expertise and deductive imagination.

            Extreme failed states become cautionary models with individualists pointing Venezuela and collectivists pointing at Somalia. No one wants to do the hard work of looking at Denmark or even 20th century America to find out why high levels of market and individual freedom can also somehow succeed alongside high levels of social safety nets and worker protections.

            So to answer your question, I don’t vote for Democrats who are collectivist extremists any more than I vote for Republicans who are Libertarian extremists. I look for moderates. And I’m really tired of having my religion of love sacrificed at the altar of either dualistic idol.

            Like

          10. @tsalmon

            Government works the way it works, not the way we wish it would work. So we rarely get what we want out of government.

            To get what we want, we must set appropriate objectives. The choice of making people do something or leaving them in peace is a binary choice. What is not binary is our motivation. If we love people, we focus on protecting them, not bossing them around. Because we don’t love, we boss them around.

            How do totalitarians justify tyranny? It is with feelings.The Nazis used their disgust with the inferior races and their love of themselves. The Communists hated on the greedy bourgeoisie and justified hatred with their supposed love of the proletariat. Liberal Democrats do something similar. They hate on bigots, sexists, homophobes, the rich, the selfish, racists, ideologues, religious fanatics, and so forth, and they supposedly love on the dark skinned, the sexually confused, women, minorities, the poor, children, the old, and so forth.

            Creating extreme emotions or feelings is the essence of magical thinking. It gives the state an excuse to split off a group, identify that group as the enemy, and destroy it.

            Obama and the Clinton’s met the definition of collectivists. Were the “extremists”? That term, “extremists”, is really just a statistical term. In our era Socialism has become acceptable. In other cultures, human sacrifice, like abortion, has become acceptable. What matters is what is right and what is wrong, not just how we feel about it.

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          11. “Government works the way it works, not the way we wish it would work.”

            That tautological statement is as cynical as it is ahistorical. Under that view, the modern democratic state is no different from feudal Europe which was no different from ancient Babylon. Government of the people by the people for the people didn’t perish from this earth; it never actually existed because it’s impossible. All government Is tyranny, and well governed, happy, prosperous and free people of Denmark welfare state are delusional in thinking that they are any of those things. There can be no balance between our responsibilities to the common good and our right to be left alone. It’s all binary so government or no government are the only choices. I guess Patrick Henry should have said give me the tyranny of democracy or give me death. 🙄

            Like

          12. @tsalmon

            Cynical? No. You provide a perfect illustration. You vote for people who want to operate a constitutional republic as if our Constitution is just a nuisance. Then to justify yourself you put those silly words in my mouth.

            Government does not work the way we wish it would work because we are not as good as we would like to think we are. That is not cynical; it is just defining the problem. Neither of us is without sin, and neither are the people we vote for.

            Liked by 1 person

          13. Puuleeessse Tom!. You know about as much about how the Constitution works as I know about astrophysics. The Constitution is not some scripture set in stone, the document is about 90 percent process, and processes are by their very nature dynamic. You think that there is no balance in the Constitution because you’ve never studied case law. In practically every rights case that has come before the SCOTUS the have balanced the substantial interests of government against the fundamental rights of the individual. If the dispute doesn’t require balancing of some kind, it doesn’t make it to the SCOTUS.

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          14. @tsalmon

            I have never claimed to know the law better than a lawyer. Look at my comment again. It deals with what you call “cynicism”. It was that sort of “cynicism” that made the Constitution so difficult to write. If men were angels, we wouldn’t need a Constitution.

            Like

          15. I think cynic is the wrong word to characterize the Founders. I think “pragmatist” better describes the visionaries who wrote the Constitution. At that time in America, all the true cynics were Tories.🤓

            Like

          16. “If men were angels, we wouldn’t need a Constitution.”

            I’m not so sure that this Madison quote is true. Remember, scripture says that Satan was once an angel who was punished for essentially breaking God’s law.

            However, even if, as the quote implies, all men were good, men would still need laws and a government to govern themselves. In fact, I would hypothesize that, men without any vice would have nothing but government to productively lead and organize them.

            A better way to put it might be:

            Because men can be bad, they sometimes need good government to protect their rights, but because men can be good, they need good government to organize them toward the common good. Good government is defined as a precariously difficult and dynamic balance between these two competing incentives in all men.

            Like

          17. @tsalmon

            You are trying to rewrite one of the most famous quotes in history? Let’s just look at the quote.

            If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

            Two problems with your rewrite.
            1. I think the popular conception of angels is that they just obey God. God replaces government.
            2. Government is force, a necessary evil, because the governed need to be controlled. The supposedly good things that government does, the things you think so important, Madison saw as ancillary. Unless the government does control itself, the ancillary things don’t matter. In fact, when we make the ancillary functions more important than protecting people’s God-given rights, we start putting people in concentration camps.

            What is the “common good”? Do we all agree? Nope! That’s why limited government is best. We experience less strife when each of us has the liberty to control his own life and pursue his own version of happiness.

            Like

          18. Everybody always ends up in conscentration camps with you.🤨

            “What is the ‘common good’? Do we all agree? Nope.”

            Well, no. And that’s why we have majoritarian and individual rights protections inherent in our constitutional process.

            You say something political that the majority does not like. Under the 1st and 14th Amendments protections, the government may not impose the will of the majority upon you to make you stop (think of the religious group that picketed heroes’ funerals). On the other hand, majority rule branches of state government can pass a law penalizing your yelling “fire” in a crowded room. Why? Because the Court will balance your fundamental right to free speech (minimal in this case) against that state’s substantial interest in protecting it’s citizens from being senselessly panicked and trampled. It is a balancing test between the common good and the individual right. Is the next step really a gulag?

            Furthermore, the Constitution makes many provisions for the common good such as providing for common defense and commerce to name just a couple. Does everyone agree all the time? No. A passivist may not agree with his tax dollars going to war and he may object to the draft. If the objection is based on a fundamental right, the Court may balance it but the scale is weighed more in favor of the Constitutionally expressed state interest.

            The idea that “all” government should do is protect rights simply ignores how our government operates and how it has always operated. Yes, I agree that the Constitution limits “federal” general welfare powers, but we were arguing over what those powers were before the ink was dry and continue to argue to this day. That’s why we have in the courts a particularly non-majoritarian branch of government to referee. The fact that the courts do not always decide perfectly in your opinion hardly means you live under the yolk of tyranny any more than baseball is tyranny because the umpires make a bad call now and then.

            The system was designed to balance interests, not be as perfect as angels might be at already knowing how to govern for their common good or how not to infringe on each others’ rights. (Do angels even have “rights”?). In many cases a right is actually the ability to voluntarily oppose the common good – the freedom to act selfishly, even when the majority disapproves.

            I fully understand the Madison quote but.I stand by my version of constitutional reality as being more correct.

            Like

          19. “Kings and tyrants are pragmatists. The men who wrote our Constitution were principled. Most believed in Jesus.”

            Like the founders, I can believe in Jesus and still be pragmatic. I can believe that there is no justice without love, and still believe that the most loving justice for a psychopathic killer is to humanely lock him away from the rest of us, perhaps for the rest of his life. I can believe that one role of government is to provide certain limited public goods and services, and I can still know that the pure socialist state simply, even when well intentioned, pragmatically just does not work. Indeed, I would argue that the only evil of the well intentioned absolutist is his lack of pragmatism.

            Love does not solve every difficult complex and ambiguous problem, it just focuses our attention toward practical choices between often competing solutions with mixed virtues and vices. The most intractable problems often involved both imperfect solutions and unintended negative consequences.(Look at your own pragmatic choice of Trump).

            Also the “practical” application of God’s command to us to love has to have a “dynamic” quality because we exist in time, meaning that we exist in a constant state of change. The most practical and virtuous action is not the same in all times and circumstances. For example, can you see how just technological and economic advancement changes both the problems and the solutions, even assuming one is trying to be both practical and loving in both means and ends.

            Which is worse do you think? The tyranny of absolutist motivated by virtue or the tyranny of the pragmatist equally motivated by virtue? Wouldn’t you rather the latter? However, worse than both I think, is either the absolutist or the pragmatist who is cynical of virtue itself, and instead secretly rules through selfishness and vice. Quoting scripture, the first group is what Niebuhr named the children of light and the last cynical group are what he called the children of darkness. The founders were children of light but the ones most influential to our Constitution were obviously not absolutists.

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  3. Interesting word, “uncertainty”. Merriam-Webster lists of synonyms and antonyms in a special way as

    Near Antonyms of UNCERTAINTY
    credence, faith

    In today’s world, with so many opinions floating around on airways and computers, to weaken our sights same as a baby’s flesh develops in a womb and is medically described as “near term.”

    When the baby is born, its flesh is weak and helpless state of body and spirit.

    To be born again is when the spirit is no longer “near term” in spirit.

    The Bible passage in your post is a perfect reminder for us to help us on our path of life to move from just being near to God to help us avoid the misdirection’s being given us along our way in order to arrive safely at our final destination.

    “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

    Thanks for your great reminder to keep our faith when we see or hear all the misdirections of opinions being given us that are lacking credence on our paths in life…

    Regards and good will blogging.

    https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/uncertainty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @Scatterwisdom

      Interesting analogy you chose.

      When I think of a sin those preaching the virtue would have us waffle about, I think of abortion. While those promoting abortion are lauded for their utter certainty, Christians are suppose to be uncertain? Really? Meanwhile, as we dither, the unborn die, irreversibly dead whether we were uncertain or not.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Tom,

        I am planning on my next post in my series of, “Immoral Voters or Legislators” to “explore” the issue of abortion.

        Your comment “Christians are supposed to be uncertain?” is indeed interesting.

        There is definitely a a certainty. However, I am not “certain, yet how to address the issue with words which seems to have changed over time from a moral issue to a political issue in our contemporary world.

        In previous posts, I commented that abortion is killing, that much I am certain, regardless of all the other words being used to describe abortion.

        Thanks for your thought provoking comment.

        Regards and good will blogging.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Good post Tom, really like the concluding paragraph (I edited a little hope you do not mind:):

    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. {Illegal, Immoral and Unethical } 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. {We are to Judge, yup I used the “J” word, others using the bible as our guide in all things, Matt 7:24}

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Cool post,Tom. I think there are two sides to that “religious certainty” ditch. We need to be certain, yes, but we also need to embrace the mystery of God and to not lean too much into our own understanding. Don’t believe everything you think and keep approaching things with the wonder of a child.

    But to be uncertain of everything and so open minded our brain seems to have fallen out? Not good. Our world actually needs some certainty, some boundaries. The one I care about the most is not calling evil good and good evil.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @IB

      I am still trying to understand these words.

      John 14:6 English Standard Version (ESV)
      6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

      What have I learned thus far? We must put our faith in the person of Jesus Christ, but how do we know Jesus? The Bible tells us about Him. The Bible tells us what He has done for us and what He wants us to do.

      When people tell us we cannot figure out what the Bible means or that we cannot trust what it says, they — whether they know it or not — are trying to separate us from the way, and the truth, and the life. If we listen to them instead of trusting the Word of God, we risk calling evil good and good evil.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “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.”

    Yup. Can’t say it any better.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think we can live in harmony with those who don’t believe the way we do. God actually commands us to love one another as we love ourselves. So much division is caused by one or another believing they’re always right.

    Liked by 1 person

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