Monthly Archives: May 2011

What do you do when you are not sure?

This post is part of the May Synchroblog “Life Unfurling” which asks: Have you found more life by letting go of something? So many of us are continuing to grow in our faith by letting go of things that we once held tightly.  These things aren’t easy to shed.  Sometimes people think we’ve lost our minds, are ascribing to bad theology, or have put our souls in mortal danger.  But many of us, in different ways, have found a deeper, richer, and riskier spiritual life as we’ve let go of certain rules, doctrines, theologies, or practices along the way.   

A list of all the participants and their contributions to the synchroblog can be found at the end of this post.

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Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. – Voltaire

Skepticism is the beginning of faith. — Oscar Wilde

 

I still remember where I was and who I was talking with the day that I first seriously entertained the idea that a “real” Christian did not have to be absolutely certain about what they believed.

I have to admit that at first I was rather appalled by the idea.  After all, uncertainty and doubt were viewed negatively in my faith community (for the most part). They were viewed as signs of immaturity or spiritual weakness.  If someone was uncertain or doubtful the standard response was to pray for them to find certainty about their beliefs.  (and, if certainty wasn’t regained then perhaps they never were a “real” Christian)

But something about this conversation struck me deeply and I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t really as certain about a lot of things as I said I was.  Although I suppressed and hid my doubts, questions and uncertainties (not just from others but also from myself) they certainly existed.

In the days that followed that conversation I couldn’t help but begin to confront my own doubts and uncertainties.  And as I did – as I got honest with myself – I found that there wasn’t really a whole lot I was sure about.

What in the world was I to do with that????

That’s the question that Father Flynn asks in a sermon he delivers at the beginning of the movie “Doubt”.

“What do you do when you are not sure?”

Father Flynn doesn’t give an answer.  Instead, he leaves the question hanging out there to be pondered.

As I pondered the question I came to the conclusion that there are two things we can do when we aren’t sure.

We can either confront our doubts honestly, stop pretending they don’t exist, stop flippantly explaining them away, honestly explore and seek answers to the best of our ability, accept that there are some things we can never know for sure, live with the ambiguity that is so often a part of human life and learn to exist with the tension that this kind of honesty creates for our faith.

Or, we can, as I had been doing, embrace a dogmatic kind of certainty, ignore our doubts, live as though our certainty is the absolute truth and that anyone who disagrees with us is absolutely wrong and live with the tension that this way of life creates for our faith.

I chose to let go of my certainty and I believe that I gained a lot more than I lost.

What did I gain when I let go of certainty?

I gained some much needed humility as I adopted what is known as a proper confidence or a chastened epistemology.  In other words, I could have enough confidence in what I believed to be able to live out my beliefs with conviction but I could be humble enough about what I believed to be aware that I may be wrong.

The gained humility then created “more space” for the transforming work of God to be active in my life… thus allowing for spiritual growth to take place.

The humility and spiritual growth helped me form better relationships – more honest, authentic, loving relationships.

The new and better relationships helped me become better at loving others.

Loving others better helped me become more passionate about actively living in the way of Jesus.

Of course, I am human, and I fall down and get up a lot…so I am certainly not saying that I am doing all of these things perfectly all the time.

But, I am certain that I have gained much more than I lost when I let go of certainty.

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Check out the other synchroblog contributions: