Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Category: Sin of Certainty (Page 1 of 2)

July 03, 2022 – Trusting beyond certainty

We’re praying through Pete Enns’ Sin of Certainty (HarperCollins, 2016). It is a book that considers “certainty” for the faithful Christian an idol. Pete shares his story and tries to relate it to his readers, who he hopes can mature and hold onto their faith as they grow older. It is a great book for the Water Daily Prayer reader. I will mainly offer you excerpts of the text and reflections thereafter.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt       

Read Philippians 4:4-7

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

More thoughts for meditation

“Trust is not marked by unflappable dogmatic certainty, but by embracing as a normal part of faith the steady line of mysteries and uncertainties that parade before our lives and seeing them as opportunities to trust more deeply.

Instead of relying on absolute either-or thinking, a trusting faith understands that trusting God is a process that takes time and practice. That pilgrimage doesn’t necessarily follow a linear progression but accepts the unpredictable and disquieting nature of life as an encounter with God—and a move ultimately toward God, trusting that God is involved in that very process.

Rather than focusing on the badges that define our tribal identity (our church, denomination, subdenomination, doctrinal convictions, side of the aisle, whatever), a trust-centered faith will see the world with humble, open, and vulnerable eyes—and ourselves as members and participants rather than master and conquerors. We will see our unfathomable cosmos and the people in our cosmic neighborhood as God’s creation, not as objects for our own manipulation or unholy mischief.

Rather than being quick to settle on final answers on puzzling questions, a trust-centered faith will find time to formulate wise questions that respect the mystery of God and call upon God for the courage to sit in those questions for as long as necessary before seeking a way forward.

Rather than counting on the acquisition of knowledge to support and defend the faith, a trust-centered faith values and honors the wise—those who through experience and mature spiritual habits have earned the right to lead and are given a central role in nurturing faith in others.

Rather than defining faithfulness as absolute conformity to authority and tribal identity, a trust-centered faith will value in others the search for the true human authenticity that may take them away from familiar borders of their faith, while trusting God to be part of that process in ourselves and others, even those closest to us.

The choice of how we have to live is entirely ours.” (Pete Enns, Sin of Certainty, HarperCollins, 2016, p. 148-149).

Suggestions for action

Enns ends his book on the sin of certainty by focusing on doubt as an instrument of God and trusting God as a better option than certainty. If we are dead-set on what we think is certain, we actually create less room for faith and trust.

Our community is formed to resist that doctrinal certainty and to create a container and environment of love where faith and trust can flourish. Enns’ book may speak to exactly what Circle of Hope is creating in our region: a place where a dialogue of love holds us together, not the right ideas and certainty about them — and not certainty about our resistance or cynicism either. Occupy that space intentionally today. Pray to trust God beyond your doubt and certainty.

July 2, 2022 – Doubt isn’t the final word

We’re praying through Pete Enns’ Sin of Certainty (HarperCollins, 2016). It is a book that considers “certainty” for the faithful Christian an idol. Pete shares his story and tries to relate it to his readers, who he hopes can mature and hold onto their faith as they grow older. It is a great book for the Water Daily Prayer reader. I will mainly offer you excerpts of the text and reflections thereafter.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt       

Read Romans 8:28-39

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.

More thoughts for meditation

“Being ‘saved’ by God is an ongoing process of growth and transformation, of dying and rising, of being ‘conformed to the image of his [God’s] Son,’ as Paul puts it [above]. Following Jesus means experiencing the taste of resurrection and ascension now—whether doing laundry, paying bills, or leading nations.

Getting there is all about dying, and each cycle of dying and rising we come to in our lives brings us, I believe, to greater insight into our deep selves where Christ lives ‘in us’ and our lives are ‘hidden’ in God.

Of course we all know that dying, rising again, Christ in me, hidden in God, seated in heaven are metaphors—the use of common language to grasp the uncommon, a reality too deep and thick for conventional vocabulary. Following Jesus is an inside-out transformation so thorough that dying and coming back to life is the only adequate way to put it.

Doubt signals that this process of dying and rising is underway. Though God feels far away, at that moment God may be closer than we realize—especially if ‘know what you believe’ is how we’re used to thinking of our faith.

Doubt isn’t cool, hipster, or chic. Doubt isn’t a new source of pride. Don’t go looking for doubt, don’t tempt it to arrive out of time. But neither is doubt the terrifying final word.

Doubt is sacred. Doubt is God’s instrument, will arrive in God’s time, and will come from unexpected places—places out of your control. And when it does, resist the fight-or-flight impulse. Pass through it—patiently, honestly, courageously for however long it takes. True transformation takes time.

Being conscious of this process does not relief the pain of doubt, but it may help circumnavigate our corrupted instinct, which is to fear doubt as the enemy to be slain. Rather, supported by people, we trust not to judge us, we work on welcoming the process as a gift—which is hard to do when our entire life narrative is falling down around us. But we are learning in that season… to trust God anyway and not to trust our ‘correct’ thinking about God.

Doubt is divine tough love. God means to have all of us, not just the surface, going-to-church, volunteering part. Not jus the part people see, but the parts so buried no one sees them.

Not even us” (Pete Enns, Sin of Certainty, HarperCollins, 2016, p. 164-165).

Suggestions for action

It can be tempting to pursue doubt as a way of overcoming the faith we know from our childhood or the culture around us. Enns warns us against doing that, and actually says that doubt can be useful to us. As I write these entries for Circle of Hope, I’m comforted to know that we resist surface-level Christianity. That “going to church” isn’t really a part of our vocabulary, let alone the experiences we are of faith. I’m encouraged that we actually do honor mutual care, spiritual direction and therapy as tools to go deeper with ourselves and with God. I think Enns would be right at home in Circle of Hope. Thank God for that today.

July 1, 2022 – Belief and faith

We’re praying through Pete Enns’ Sin of Certainty (HarperCollins, 2016). It is a book that considers “certainty” for the faithful Christian an idol. Pete shares his story and tries to relate it to his readers, who he hopes can mature and hold onto their faith as they grow older. It is a great book for the Water Daily Prayer reader. I will mainly offer you excerpts of the text and reflections thereafter.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt       

Read James 1:1-8

But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.

More thoughts for meditation

“I’ve known people suffering from terminal illness who say they’ve been preparing for this moment their whole lives without knowing it. They’ve been in all sorts of situations and seasons of life where they needed to let go of control and trust God. And now, facing the biggest letting-go moment, as we all will, their training is paying off. Trusting God has been a habit, which is now ready and able to strengthen them in their hour of need. They are ready to give to those around them ‘an account of the hope’ they have…

Belief and faith always have content—a what. But a faith that looks like what the Bible describes is rooted deeply in trust in God (rather than ourselves) and in faithfulness to God by being humbly faithful to others (as the Father and Son have been faithful to us). That’s basically it—though it’s anything but easy.

A life of faith that accepts this biblical challenge is much more demanding than being preoccupied with correct thinking—because that deeper faith is self-denying.

That is the kind of faith we are all called to, and I am glad the Bible models it for us—a faith where our first impulse in the face of life’s challenges is to trust God rather than figure out what God is doing so we can get a handle on life.

Ah yes. Life. Ready and waiting to deliver those challenges right to our front door with no warning and when we least expect it.

Life’s challenges mock and then destroy a faith that rests on correct thinking and the preoccupation with defending it. And that is a good thing. Life’s challenges clear the clutter so we can see more clearly that faith calls for trust instead” (Pete Enns, Sin of Certainty, HarperCollins, 2016, p. 115-116).

Suggestions for action

Enns argues that faith and belief beyond our certainty is deeper. Trusting God when our certainty is clouded or when the mystery of God isn’t clear is the mark of deeper faith. If you begin to doubt, you might be on your way to a deeper life. Sometimes all we need to do is want to trust God. Pray this famous prayer from Thomas Merton (that Enns also quotes on page 111):

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

June 30, 2022 – Trusting God in the Absurd

We’re praying through Pete Enns’ Sin of Certainty (HarperCollins, 2016). It is a book that considers “certainty” for the faithful Christian an idol. Pete shares his story and tries to relate it to his readers, who he hopes can mature and hold onto their faith as they grow older. It is a great book for the Water Daily Prayer reader. I will mainly offer you excerpts of the text and reflections thereafter.

Today’s Bible reading  and an excerpt     

Read Ecclesiastes 3

For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot; who can bring them to see what will be after them?

More thoughts for meditation

“Qohelet[1] looked at life square in the eye and refused to play the religion game, where everything is working out and God makes sense. I’m drawn to his honesty and the fact that he is saying what we all feel, at least now and then.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we dive in with Qohelet and try to live lives of despair, glorifying our doubt. I’m not even suggesting that he has the last word. But I am suggesting we pay attention to what this book is saying through Qohelet’s despair… there we see a startling lesson of faith, a faith that has let go of needing to know” (Pete Enns, Sin of Certainty, HarperCollins, 2016, p.77).

“When we reach that point where things simply make no sense, when our thinking about God and life no longer line up, when any sense of certainty is gone, and when we can find no reason to trust God but we still do, well, that is what trust looks like at its brightest—when all else is dark.

The book of Ecclesiastes isn’t a drawn-out and sorry tale of weak faith and poor thinking that the truth faithful need to avoid. It is an honest reflection of what people of true faith experience. The author drags his readers through one discouraging scenario after another, where reasonable people might give up…

Ecclesiastes is one of the true gems of the Bible. It paints for us a picture of what faith looks like when all you thought you knew about God and how the world works is ripped from you, when certainty vanishes like a vapor…

When we have stared into the pit of despair over God and his world, and our thoughts about God don’t line up at all, and then we trust God anyway, enough to continue living in the hope that trusting God is worth it… Ecclesiastes never says “You gotta know what you belief,” but rather “Trust God even when you don’t know what you believe, even when all before you is absurd” (Pete Enns, Sin of Certainty, HarperCollins, 2016, p. 79-80).

Suggestions for action

Ecclesiastes is an important book of the Bible because it teaches us that doubt and despair aren’t enemies of faith, but they can lead to maturation if they aren’t the last word. We don’t need to avoid our despair or doubt to keep our faith, but we need to move through them to deepen it. Certainty doesn’t save us, we are saved by grace through faith. See if you can be open about the despair you feel and even if you aren’t comforted immediately by God, pray that you can trust God anyway.

[1] The “narrator” of Ecclesiastes.

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