Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Look at Certainty

Certainty is a funny thing. We all like it. We want to be certain that our investments will yield a decent profit. We want to be certain that our children receive a good education. We want to be certain that our spouse is being faithful to us.

But this kind of certainty does not work like math. Math is comforting because 2 + 2 is always 4. In life, this sort of certainty is rare, and I believe it can be a spiritually devastating thing to seek a sort of mathematical certainty in the arena of spiritual decision. It can lead to needless worry, indeed a sinful worry, if we obsess over a type of certainty that is never guaranteed to us. The truth is that my last physical could have missed a cancer that is currently killing me, but I am confident that I am okay. That sort of "it could be" doubt arises due to the uncertainties of this life, and I believe that they can be silenced through a mature and confident walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.

I own a 12 gauge Remington shotgun. I have used it to devastating effect on various critters over the past 18 years. I have taken that shotgun apart more times than I can remember. I know how it patterns at 30 yards with a 3 inch magnum turkey load, and I know how it shoots with number eight shot with a modified choke tube. I also know that it is currently unloaded and locked in my gun safe.

Yet, if I were to walk with someone into my office and get that gun out, and they asked, "Are you certain that this gun is unloaded?" I'd say, "Yes, I'm quite certain." And they said, "Well, then I guess you wouldn't be frightened if I were to point it at you and pull the trigger, right?" I confess freely that I would be quite nervous. I've seen what that thing can do. Indeed, if I said, "Well, no." And they said, "Alright, go ahead and check it." If I checked it and found it empty, and then I handed it back and they said, "Now would you be afraid if I pointed it at you and pulled the trigger?" I would still say, "Yes."

Do I have a little bit of doubt? Yes? Would you say it is unreasonable doubt? Perhaps. Maybe I am just a little bit paranoid. To see a gun barrel pointed in my direction makes me a little nervous, even if I am "certain" that it is unloaded. But this type of doubt is no reason for me to throw away all hopes of any sort of real certainty.

I believe that it is quite understandable that people often struggle with spiritual certainty, whether it be over a concern so great as salvation or with entering some sort of ministry. The stakes could not be higher. When death comes for us, we don't want to be uncertain about what happens next. Or, we don't want to waste our lives in a career or relationship that will not maximize our potential in Christ.

When this sort of difficulty comes, and I believe that it comes to us all, it is detrimental to then neglect Scripture. In terms of salvation, all the promises of God are there in bold print. Much could be said to the soul that struggles with this sort of ominous doubt, and I do not have time to deal with it thoroughly here. What I would say is that the best place to begin dealing with this question is not to look to the past but to concentrate on the present. Take the Bible, read John 3:16-18 and let God speak to you through His Word. Listen to Him, not your nagging doubts.

But for other things not pertaining to salvation, I try to reach a place in my decision making where I am comfortable that I am not shaming the gospel of Christ. Is this thing that I am pursuing sinful? If not, then I must ask is it beneficial? Is it beneficial for me only, or will it bring others closer to Christ as well, especially my family? Would it offend me if I knew that one of my spiritual mentors were to do this thing? Have I asked for their counsel? If not, then why not? Is it because I am embarrassed? What would appear to be the wisest decision?

If, after all of this, one can still pursue that new house or relationship or job or car or school with a clear conscience before the Lord, then I feel that is the type of certainty for which we strive. This sort of certainty is more related to the "confidence" that the Bible speaks of than mathematical certainty. Could one go through all of this and still make a mistake? Perhaps, but it is unlikely. One may still have jitters, just as when a double-checked empty gun is pointed in your direction, but I believe I sound, Biblical, Spirit-filled walk will quell such doubt.

In the end, we must walk by faith and not by sight, but this does not mean that we stumble blindly in the darkness. No, the Lord guides us very well by His Word and through His Spirit. We can be confident in the Lord's pleasure if we have placed everything before the bar of His Word and the counsel of His saints, and even if we still err after all is said and done, we may bank on the fact that God's mercy knows no bounds and that His grace is always sufficient.

1 comment:

Rebekah said...

I find myself in the midst of one of these gut-wrenching decisions at the moment. I honestly do not know who I should go to for proper counsel, but we are seeking very much to make a wise and faithful decision based on what we understand the Bible to teach, and it's something my husband and I are prayerfully considering because however we decide will greatly impact our family and other people. We want to make the best decision for appropriate reasons, not selfish ones. Thanks for your words here.