Doubt And Uncertainty

Airplane in flightMore than a few times I’ve encountered people who elevate uncertainty and doubt to the level of virtue–at least when it comes to God. I suspect those same people don’t want any uncertainty or doubt when it comes to the money in their bank account, however. When they deposit funds, they want to know with certainty money will be available to them when they write checks or make withdrawals.

The same is true about the planes these folks, and all others, I’m pretty sure, travel in. They want assurance that they have a fully trained pilot and crew, that the vehicle has been properly maintained and inspected. Doubt and uncertainty about the plan aren’t virtues. They are red flags.

Or how about doctors? Not many people I know are standing out on the street with a sign: “Doctor wanted, anyone willing to try will be hired.” Quite the opposite. When it comes to medical care, we want some assurance–via tests and second opinions–that the doctor who prescribes our treatment knows what he’s doing.

Few people are up to the task of building their own homes. They know they don’t have the expertise in electricity, plumbing, and basic architecture. When it comes to a house, they want something they have reasonable assurance will be standing in five years or fifty-five years–whenever they’re ready to move on–and that isn’t going to be a structure of their own concoction.

So why is it we are willing to accept the murky, the questionable, the uncertain, or the self-made when it comes to spiritual things? I can think of three possible reasons.

1. People who embrace uncertainty don’t believe certainty exists.
2. People who embrace uncertainty don’t believe certainty matters.
3. People who embrace uncertainty believe there’s freedom in it.

Undoubtedly some people who find virtue in doubting and questioning regarding spiritual matters do so with the idea that they are being intellectually honest. After all, are we really supposed to take the word of some musty book written thousands of years ago?

The thing is, intellectual honesty will dive into that “musty book” and study it to see if there’s truth within its pages.

Just today, I read a blog comment from someone who said they were struggling with the “indoctrination” they received as a child in a local church. Another commenter gave this advice: question everything, “and I mean everything. Make a note of your question and Google each and every one. Read Richard Carrier and the early works by Bart Ehrman, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, Jerry Coyne, Neil Shubin.”

I found that answer to be odd. (I guess I’d start by questioning that particular advice! 😉 ) Why would someone who wanted to know about democracy dig into Hitler’s writing or Stalin’s philosophy or look at China’s Cultural Revolution? I mean, I suppose a person could come to the idea of democracy by rejecting failed systems, but wouldn’t it make more sense to study the thinkers and writers who played a part in establishing democratic societies?

Intellectual honesty will also embrace the possibility of finding answers. Doubt and questioning won’t be virtues for someone who is honestly looking for answers. Why would you look for what you don’t believe you’ll find?

Another group, then embraces uncertainty because they don’t believe certainty matters. These people, I suspect, haven’t thought deeply. They don’t want to think about what happens to a person when they die or whether or not people have souls. They would rather feel good.

They want pleasure, not pain, and thinking about death and dying is painful, or scary, at least. Thinking about God is scary, too, especially the idea that He can be a judge who ensures people receive just consequences for their actions. So, frankly, it’s easier not to think about God, and one way to dismiss Him is to say He can’t possibly be known. So why try?

Which dovetails to the third position. Some think there’s freedom in uncertainty. If I don’t know for sure that God is and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him, then I can fashion a god who will reward me for my doubts instead of for my belief, for my pursuit of my own pleasures instead of his glory. I can sound spiritual without having to deal with any unpleasant repentance business, without any “denying self” stuff.

So, yes, for some, uncertainty sounds like the preferred path when it comes to spiritual things. In the same way, some people “invested” their life savings with Bernie Madoff and his fraudulent scheme. Others “bought” homes they couldn’t afford when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were greasing their credit wheels.

We can look back and say, why didn’t those people pay attention to what Madoff was doing with their money? Or why did those people not pay attention to the details of their loans? They could have known. They should have known.

And so should each one of us know with certainty what God has made apparent about spiritual things. He is not hiding. Quite the opposite.

He announced ahead of time, what He was doing. He painted pictures with the lives of any number of people–Joseph as a savior of his family during a time of famine, Moses as a redeemer leading an enslaved people to freedom, David as a king freeing his people from oppression.

In addition, God sent spokesmen to prepare people for what He had in mind. Throughout generations He announced His plan, and when His Son fulfilled His work at the cross, He broadcast the fact that God completed what He’d foretold. And now He has a people who once were not a people, all commissioned to be His ambassadors, repeating the announcement–God is; His Son Jesus shows Him; and by His death and resurrection, believers can know Him.

Doubt and uncertainty? Those are not virtues when it comes to choosing someone to watch your children. Why would they be virtues when it comes to thinking about God?

Published in: on October 14, 2013 at 6:13 pm  Comments (5)  
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  1. Sure, there’s nothing romantic about uncertainty. It’s a dark wasteland, and spiritual uncertainty is the most depressing kind. That doesn’t make it go away. I don’t think uncertainty is quite the same as doubt.

    Just today, I read a blog comment from someone who said they were struggling with the “indoctrination” they received as a child in a local church. Another commenter gave this advice: question everything, “and I mean everything. Make a note of your question and Google each and every one. Read Richard Carrier and the early works by Bart Ehrman, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, Jerry Coyne, Neil Shubin.”

    The person replying to that comment is obviously an opportunist, trying to indoctrinate the poor questioner.

    But questioning is always bad. If Christians never question their faith, they have no right to expect people of all other worldviews to question their presuppositions when confronted with the Gospel, for one thing. I think no questions are off-limits, as long as we always question ourselves first. We must always be questioning ourselves, our motives, and our questions. If we never cease to doubt ourselves — if we never become certain of our own ability to find truth — then I think we are free to question all things.


    • -> “But questioning isn’t always bad.”


    • Bainespal, I think there are different levels of questioning. At my darkest moment–a crisis of faith, really–I asked God, “Are you good? Are you really good?” Because I saw so much of the mess our world was in and the hurts of people all around me. God’s answer–and it really was that, almost audible, as “supernatural” as that sounds–was that if I was grieved by all the mess, how much more was He who knew each of those hurting people by name? For me, it was enough. I didn’t need God to give me proof of His goodness or a treatise on suffering.

      One of the residual effects of that experience was that I learned to take my questions to God. Not accusations. Questions.

      I don’t think there’s any problem with asking questions. But I don’t believe asking is the same as doubting. Maybe that’s what you were thinking when you differentiated between doubting and uncertainty.

      The people of Israel, when they asked Moses, why did you bring us out into this wilderness to die, weren’t asking a question to learn; they were expressing their doubt. God had specifically said He was taking them to the promised land, not into the wilderness to die.

      They chose to believe their own perceptions rather than God.

      Faith that meets the everyday events of our lives is just the opposite. It’s Daniel’s friends saying, God is able to get us out of this furnace, but even if He doesn’t we’ll praise Him. It’s Jeremiah saying there might not be any food in sight, but I’ll still exult in the God of my salvation. It’s Peter telling Christians in the first century, even if you’re suffering, you’re blessed.

      For me, this Christian life is all about trusting God because I know He is trustworthy. The I know part has to be in place, a little more each day. God sometimes woos me and sometimes goads me to trust Him and yield to His sovereign control. I think sanctification just might be that point when we actually and finally give Him all rights over us. That’s actually a little scary to me even as I write it, so you know, I’m pretty far from where I think God wants to take me. 🙄



  2. […] Know,” “What Else Christians Know,” “Christians Also Know . . .,” and “Doubt And Uncertainty.”) Frequently those who take the “can’t know” approach accuse Christians of being […]


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