Dabar [theme]

He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou find refuge: His truth is a shield and buckler
Psalms 91:4

Be it ours,when we cannot see the face of God, to trust under the shadow of His wings. C.H. Spugeon

Friday, January 09, 2009


Certainty is a feeling. The "feeling of knowing" or the "feeling of conviction" is vital to human cognition as it provides us with a reward structure for thought. After successfully solving a problem the feeling of knowing helps signal to us that a solution has arrived. The 'feeling of knowing' encourages to search memory for information affirming that 'feeling of knowing'. The catch is once I have the 'feeling of knowing' I may be content with that knowledge and forego any further search of memory or experience. The problem with the 'feeling of knowing' is that it is an emotional response to a dilemma or question of knowledge or truth. As a reinforcing emotion, knowledge feels good, it's pleasurable. Consequently, many people stick with the pleasure of "knowing" instead of shrugging off the feeling to reenter the world of debate and argument. It takes courage to move back into uncertainty, assuming of course that there was a question needing an answer before certainty was arrived at. It takes a desire to overcome the fear of the unknown; the fear of not finding an answer; the fear of the mystical; the fear of having to say, "I don't know", and the acceptance of the lack of knowing in the grasping of faith. "Knowing" is pleasurable and like with other pleasures of the flesh, self-restraint and discipline may be required to move back into uncertainty.

The point of all this is that religious dogmatism is stubborn because of the inability to deal with rationality. We are working with an emotional system. Overtly, the conversation is about biblical texts or rational arguments, but, at root what is governing the conversation is the feeling of knowing. If the person feels they are right then quality counter-arguments just won't penetrate. The dominant emotional tone of conviction convinces the person that he is in the possession of the truth. That feeling drives the conversation. Many people need or want to latch on to something that is constant, unchanging, certain and comfortable and to alter their opinion would alter who they are and their very identity. "Some people think they are their opinions."

Certainty seems to be rooted in how much is invested and how closely the investment is tied to one's identity and safety. It is very safe to be certain and "know." Not so safe to be uncertain.

Defensive behaviors always run high when the 'safety' of certainty is threatened.

Assume for the moment that a feeling of certainty is a good and valuable thing to have in a life of faith. Is faith only legitimate when it is shrouded in certainty? The answer is "Yes", but, What if we sought to ground that in something other than dogmatic knowledge? What if certainty was grounded in a conviction of being loved rather than being "right"? There would still need to be some facts one would have to assert and hold as certain (e.g., that there really is a God who exists and loves; ) But overall, you would have a vastly more open intellectual range for being uncertain about things because they wouldn't all be threads that could threaten to unravel the garment your experience of certainty is based on.

The 'feeling of knowing' cannot be a substitute for a stance which compensates for a lack of knowledge, nor a means of placating a sense of fear of what is not known through personal experience or knowledge.

There are many affiliations and groups which strive and successfully promote certainty. They seek to instill a sense of certainty which plactes our inherent existential fears. They provide security through a belief system. We seek this security as a coping mechanism. It is when we are faced with contrary information and ideas threatening our core beliefs and that emotional core reflecting our 'feeling of knowing' that our fears are brought again to the surface of our existence. The presence of people who question and desire to infuse the faith community with flexibility and curiosity in order to prevent ossification and stagnation become 'enemies of the state'.

However as the New Testament reveals, the instituitions and the belief systems they propound are not always those that are exhibiting and modeling faith:

Matthew 8:10, "When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!"
Matthew 8:26, "But He said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm."

or anticipating our expectations of faith:

Matthew 9:2, "Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you."

nor do they remove us from the need of God's power and mercy in the face of fear:

Matthew 14:31, "and immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

or answering the questions of our inherent doubt in the face of the miraculous:

Matthew 17:20, "So Jesus said to them, "Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you."
Matthew 21:21, "So Jesus answered and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' it will be done."

Mark 4:40, "... but He said to them, "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?"
Mark 11:22, " ... Jesus answered and said to them, "Have faith in God".

Faith exists in a duailty and a dichotomy, faith holds the certainty of belief as truth, and in that all the assurance we need exists. Faith also views with a sense of uncertainty the mystical and sovereign actions of God, fully recognizing but not fully understanding the infinite and eternal proportions of His love.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Emergent movement is all about entering into conversations about what it means to be a Christian in a postmodern world. The conversations focus around a yet to be determined theology and new way of life. The more conversations the closer they might come to truth. However, to them truth is more beauty more than fact. Truth is messy and beautiful but never objective or eternally certain. Emergents will speak with passion and urgency but never with certainty. To them there is no certainty, only what one believes today, at this moment, in this locale. In addition, they seem to leave open the option of their theology evolving beyond what we know as Scripture as well as a total reinterpretation of that Scripture. The good thing about Emergents is they are a gentle people actively and graciously seeking dialogue with divergent forms of thought.