Certainty, Uncertainty, Hope, and Trust

March 1, 2007

In one of the threads currently on this site, someone recently commented that it was a paradoxical statement for me to say that it is only in uncertainty that we find God.

It, to me, highlights the problems that we have in the Church today.

As I’ve said before many times quoting someone much smarter than me, the opposite of faith is not doubt.  The opposite of faith is certitude.

It seems to me that when we open ourselves up to the possibility that we are wrong, that is when we allow our faith to be challenged.  That is when our faith can grow and be shaped by the Holy Spirit.

The orthodox-renewal movement, however, sees a “pure faith” coming out of the patristic fathers.  It sees certitude in that “pure faith” as the way in which we should all be formed properly.  It attempts to romanticize the “glory days” of Christianity, when Christianity was embedded in the Roman Empire, and all citizens were Christian.  Christianity wasn’t counter-cultural, as they claim it is today.  It was the ruling power, able to effect change on the world.  Conveniently, atrocities of the power Christianity wielded in this stage of Christendom are ignored.  The orthodox-renewal movement, then, seeks to project its certainty that this face of God– this all powerful vision of the Church, combined with empire, as the vehicle for God’s movement in the world, certainly does not come from humility, but from certainty.  It is idolotry of the Church.

The orthodox-renewal movement is a reaction to something, of course.  We have the far-left liberals.  No, I am not one.  I am left, but I try to be balanced.  Those who take the current political state of affairs and try to project it on the Biblical narrative instead of taking the Biblical narrative and look for similarities in our own time misuse the Christian story.  Jesus was not anti-establishment.  Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God.  That was threatening to the establisment, yes.  But Jesus was a Jew, and a faithful one.  He followed purity laws, torah, and did not tell others to break torah in any way.  To say that Jesus was anti-Jew or against the Temple establishment in any way is distorting the historical Jesus.  The messages that have a negative Jewish bias appear in the Gospels written last- up to seventy years after Jesus’ death.  By that time early Christianity was competing with Judaism and so some negativity towards Jews appeared.  But Jesus himself was a Jew, preached the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God to the Jews, and was ultimately tried and crucified for sedition due to the uprising he caused in the Temple; not because he was a huge threat to purity laws or Judaism in general.  That doesn’t mean Jesus wasn’t for social justice; it just means that our concept of social justice in our context can’t be directly applied to Jesus in his context.  So the far-left movement to re-frame Jesus as something he isn’t misses the mark as well.  It also, then, is looking for certitude.  It does not come from a position of not knowing, moving forward humbly in faith, but looks just as certainly to project its own image of God onto the Christian narrative as the orthodox renewal movement does.

Neither of these approaches work for me.  A better approach for me is to understand the Christian narrative.  I seek to truly understand the narrative of the Christian story– understanding that throughout the history of the Bible, most times the people God speaks through are the outsiders.  Very seldom are they the elite, the empowered, the forces who know exactly what God wants of them.

I then approach my spiritual journey with the same humility.  I look to the narrative and then look at my journey to see if there are similarities.  I see a people working hard for justice, and I hear Jeremiah and Amos calling out while others call for uniformity.  I see a desire in the orthodox-renewal movement to find hope in uniformity– remembering the contrasting voices in the period of reconstruction that called not for justice but for Temple reconstruction, believing that worship took precendence over the needs of the people.

I believe +Gene’s letter takes the spirit of humility to heart.  It reminds us that we must not allow our own desires, whether they be to put the Church in the center or to project situations into the narrative that aren’t there, to get in the way of moving forward into our faith– into our understanding of God’s will for us.  And for me, that means always being willing to let go of my assumptions; of my understandings; of my beliefs.  If I don’t, I am in a position of certitude.  I may be 99.99% sure that I am right, but it is the 0.01% that matters, that I have to be willing to acknowledge in exploring those who disagree with me, because they may just have the one key piece of truth that God calls me to explore at this time in my life.  I have to realize that “conversion” of the orthodox is not going to happen because I tell them my truth.  “Conversion” of the left isn’t going to either.  Conversion only happens because I am willing to put myself at risk and engage in relationship, opening myself up to the vulnerability that I am willing to be changed by the experience of conversion too.  I can’t predict what that change will be, and neither can the other.  But can anyone ever predict where a relationship will lead?

The problem with the relational aspect of the Anglican Communion is that it is one-sided in this “conversion” process.  It has become increasingly one-sided in who is asking who to change.  Nobody wants to change if both parties aren’t willing to be vulnerable together.  Clearly, the Episcopal Church is being asked for vulnerability and humility in changing.  Yet there is no acknowledgement of any possibility that “the other” may have anything to gain from our mutual relationship together through this experience.  Forget about any justice issue.  That just isn’t how relationships work.  Not relationships that last.

On the justice issue, I mentioned that Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God.  We believe, as Christians, that Jesus died and was rose again.  I believe that we are now living into the resurrection; that we are living in the end times and have been for over 2000 years; that we are living into the Kingdom of God.  Unfortunately, Jesus didn’t leave us a road map.  Jesus didn’t tell us that in the year 2007 the Anglican Communion would pose a difficult question to the Episcopal Church in a country called the United States of America.  No.  We face uncertainty, not certitude.

That means we must move forward with what we know of the narrative of our faith.  In the tradition of Jeremiah and Amos, in the tradition of Jesus who calls us to live and move forward into the Kingdom of God and claim the resurrection day by day, we must do what we are called to do.  We do this not to make the church an idol, not to make ourselves idols, but to glorify God.  If others refuse to be changed by the process due to their own certainty that they have all the answers, then all we can do is pray for them and be willing to be here should they desire to enter into relationship with them.

I love today’s Psalm, Psalm 50.  Here is part:

‘If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
   for the world and all that is in it is mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
   or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
   and pay your vows to the Most High.
Call on me in the day of trouble;
   I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.’

I, for one, am giving this day that already belongs to God back to God in thanksgiving.

I’m also calling on God in this day of trouble, placing my trust in God in the hope that in this Kingdom of God justice will be done.

j

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One Response to “Certainty, Uncertainty, Hope, and Trust”


  1. […] March 2nd, 2007 Yesterday I posted an entry entitled Certainty, Uncertainty, Hope, and Trust. […]


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