The writers of the New Testament speak from a position of certainty otherwise they would not have written what they did, or faced death and suffering for what they believed and fearlessly proclaimed. O.K. They did not have all the answers. They faced dilemmas and paradoxes. But look at the certainty of the writer at the end of John’s gospel account and also the opening words of his first letter (1 John).
Perhaps we need to clarify what we mean by “certainty” or rather “the need (quest) for certainty”. The unbelieving world must be challenged, head on, with certainty—uncertainty will silence us—challenged, with hope, as the biblical texts mean hope, that is certainty: a sure and certain hope rather than a mere desire or wish.
The “new atheists” appear certain that there is no God, certain that science explains everything, certain that people who believe are ignorant or unintelligent. Richard Dawkins and his ilk make absurd leaps of faith. Never mind that many eminent scientists are believers. Do the unbelievers look for the evidence? Or are they like the marketers of harmful and toxic products –cigarettes is only one example—who live in constant denial of evidence, like flat earthers, like Holocaust deniers, shouting down all other voices. Fundamentalists of the highest order.
The “enlightenment and its sister, western modernity” have removed certainty and replaced it with doubt about the Biblical world view! About everything. Enlightenment philosophers are responsible for so much cynicism and doubt in the West today, seen in the media, in film, art, philosophy, etc.
So what do the scripture writers say is the opposite of faith? Unbelief! Of course there are many matters which are uncertain. There are paradoxes for us to wonder about and ponder. And if we rush to be dogmatic about some things we too become rabid fundamentalists. There are notable examples of mystery and we must live with these like the Hebrews did, follow their good example and stop trying to have all the answers. There is sometimes no one right answer.
The secret things belong to the Lord our God but the things that are revealed belong to us and out children forever. Deut 29:29.
We people of faith have so much more than mere probability! We have boundless possibility! By faith. Faith in the God who is really there. It has been wisely said that probability breeds uncertainty while possibility gives birth to faith, hearing the promises, the plans, the purposes of the Almighty Lord of Hosts for us, the objects of his eternal love. Certainty.
Tread sensitively everywhere? Tiptoe around sensitive, politicly correct issues? No. No. Shout! Rather tread boldly. Boldly proclaim the mighty salvation through the gospel of Jesus, boldly ask and receive, boldly keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking, boldly believe even against all the odds.
In the Gospel story, Peter wants to walk on water like Jesus. At Jesus’ word “come on Peter”, over the side of the boat he goes, boldly. Until he suddenly takes his eyes of the object and source of his faith, and sinks! Doubt rather than mere uncertainty. Maybe, what I, and many of my brothers and sisters in Jesus have to turn against, is doubt rather than uncertainty.
We all have our times of doubt. This is borne out time and time again in the testimony of countless believers and also the biblical stories of real men and women, stories which never attempt to white-out their failures.
In the real world, you are indeed certain, not doubting, of many matters. You know without a shadow of doubt, your birth date, the names of your family members and friends, children. And many of you, and me, have decided to depend on Him that we shall remain faithful unto Him till the end.
As the apostle Paul wrote to his rep, Titus,
We are filled with hope, as we wait for the glorious return of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. He gave himself to rescue us from everything that is evil and to make our hearts pure. (Titus 2:12-13)
And he wrote in his second letter to Timothy
Because of this, I suffer also these things: yet I am not ashamed; for I know him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)
And in his letter to the Romans
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)
We could go on … and on. This kind of faith sounds like ‘certainty’ to me. Like he said to Thomas (here feel my hands and side!) and the two travellers to Emmaus (O you slow of heart to believe all the prophets!) –doubt is the opposite of certainty. We, like them, are called to believe based on good evidence. As for unessential matters, we can’t be certain, but one day we will find out. We have the good news! We have the advantage!
If we are going to doubt anything, let’s doubt the efficacy of unbelief, let’s doubt the crippling undermining of faith. We do not have time for uncertainty about the essentials, about what is revealed, it would cripple us, it would silence us.
Let us not be silenced. Go tell it on the mountain! Good news.