ARTICLES

The Myth of Certainty and the Art of Convictional Complexity

September 26, 2020

It may seem strange to have someone like me—an evangelical Christian leader—talk about the “myth of certainty.” After all, Christianity, especially Bible-believing Christianity, is known for (if anything) its certainties and absolute truths. We are those who hold to the authority of Scripture, the exclusivity of Christ, and a moral code that is strict and unwavering. How on earth can I, of all people, write about certainty being a myth? 

Ah, but you see, there are things that we do not know, too. Paul writes about this when he says that at the moment we see as only through a glass darkly or “in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Ancient mirrors were not glass mirrors like we have today but were polished metal. You had to strain to see what you looked like, and it was not always clear. Our knowledge, even our knowledge of what is clearly revealed in the Bible of Christ and the gospel, is still somewhat “dim.” How much more, then, that what is revealed, but beyond our ultimate full human comprehension (though open to our apprehension), matters such as the Trinity, or how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility relate to one another without undoing each other?  

Yet, all this nuance, subtlety, willingness to admit that there are things we do not fully understand, seems to be so often lost these days. We have grown used to easy answers, or at least quick answers that come through Siri or Alexa or Google, and an answer that is complicated seems to us to be deeply dissatisfying, or even weak and inadequate.  

By contrast, though, this does not mean that we should avoid all convictions. Instead, we should hold our convictions with a sense that even those we fervently believe to be true are nonetheless more complicated than we can fully grasp. Famously, Isaac Newton described his extraordinary scientific research as little more than gathering a few pebbles on the seashore, while the vast ocean of understanding was still unknown to him.  

But don’t blind us with the facts. “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” It’s almost as if we have become beguiled by a thought form that is a mirror image of the digital age in which we live, where all is now binary, on or off, black or white, right or wrong, with no gray area, or rainbow spectrum of colors in-between. Life is more complicated than that. It is not merely digital. It is more quantum-like with its strangeness and extraordinary oddities of string theory, black holes, multiverses, and all these other attempts to try to grasp something more of the huge ocean of truth beyond our current human understanding.   

Be convinced. Hold to your convictions. Understand that even the simplest of them is also complicated.  

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