Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Category: Sin of Certainty (Page 2 of 2)

January 22, 2020 – Dialogue With God

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 Psalm 73

If I had said, “I will talk on in this way,”
I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I perceived their end.

More thoughts for meditation

“The thought of God not coming through, of God not being worthy of our trust, is so distressing that the psalmist is about to explode.

He can’t talk out loud about what he sees. If he did, he would have ruined other people’s faith—sort of like pastors who have a crisis of faith but can’t tell anyone about it. So they keep it inside, that becomes a ‘wearisome task’—like carrying around a dead weight in their stomachs.

The world isn’t working the way God said it does. ‘Good things happen to good people’ is nice idea to have in the Bible, but the real world tends to get in the way of our thinking that we are certain what God will do.

Parents know this by the time their child is two years old. You can read the right books and have a really good plan of attack for raising them to turn out ‘right,’ but then life happens; their own DNA comes to the surface, they interact with their environment, make friends, eventually go to day care, and then school. Soon they start thinking and acting for themselves, and comparing your original ideal version with the actual offspring in front of you can be shocking.

Like parenting, faith in God doesn’t follow a script—even if, as Psalm 73 shows us, that script is the Bible. The disconnect between how the psalmist thinks things should work and how his life actually turns out produces a crisis of faith. What he thought he knew, what he was so certain of, turns out not to work.

How does the psalmist’s crisis play out at the end? He realizes that brooding isn’t doing him any good, and so he enters the ‘sanctuary of God’ (verse 17; to worship, maybe offer a sacrifice)…

Even when all the evidence showed that God doesn’t follow through on the rules, the psalmist enters the sanctuary; he moves toward God, not away from God—a movement of trust when all the evidence is against it. That was the only option open to him…

Our psalmists wouldn’t make very good Christian fundamentalists who see the Bible as a source of certain knowledge about God, the world, and our place in it. Rather these Psalmists are laying it all in front of us, that the Bible is less an instructional manual and more of an internal dialogue, even a debate, among people of faith about just who this God is they are dealing with” (Pete Enns, Sin of Certainty, HarperCollins, 2016, p.68-70).

Suggestions for action

The psalmists have no problem having a dialogue with God or one another. They don’t think of God as unapproachable, and can lament or doubt or fight when they need to, Can you try that out today? Try praying out loud. Maybe use the Psalm.  Air your grievances if you have to. Lament. But find assurance in God’s faithfulness, like the psalmist.

Enns is trying to help people who feel like their faith might have a lot of “evidence” against it. One reaction is to pile up evidence for faith and fight. But another reaction could be to give up on “evidence” as a way to meet God. The Bible compiles centuries of stories about how people meet God beyond their normal sense of reality. We have piled up a lot more stories, just in our church. What is your story?

January 21, 2020 – How We Got Into This Mess

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

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. — 1 Timothy 3:16

More thoughts for meditation

“The long Protestant quest to get the Bible right has not led to greater and greater certainty about what the Bible means. Quite the contrary. It has led to a staggering number of different denominations and sub denominations that disagree sharply about how significant portions of the Bible should be understood. I mean, if the Bible is our source of sure knowledge about God, how do we explain all this diversity? Isn’t the Bible supposed to unify us rather than divide us?

In a sense, the fact that churches continue being preoccupied with correct thinking is perfectly understanding; holding to what you know is part of the Protestant DNA, passed down to contemporary evangelicalism and fundamentalism via the Fundamentalist Modernist Controversy. But the preoccupation is also inexcusable, because we only need to google ‘churches in my area’ to see that this road of getting the Bible right has led, if not to a complete dead end, then at least to an endless traffic circle.

This struggle between fundamentalists and modernists over the Bible has revealed an odd fact lying down just below the surface. Even though these two groups see the Bible in polar opposite ways, they share the same starting point: any book worthy of being called God’s word would need to talk about the past accurately. The modernists, looking at things like the problems with Genesis[1], concluded that the Bible wasn’t, after all, a supernatural book that told  us reliable facts about the past.

Fundamentalists fought back. They said modernists showed lack of faith in God by doubting that the Bible gives an accurate record of history. The Bible, because it is God’s word, must get the past right. Otherwise the whole Christian faith collapses. This attitude spawned a long history of fundamentalist crusades to defend the Bible against modernist ‘attacks’ by amassing their own arguments about why the Bible can be fully trusted as a historical document despite what mainstream academics say.

These crusades are still very much part of Christian culture, at least in America. But the question many are asking today, as I am in this book, is whether the Bible is really set up in the first place to give the kind of certainty that both of these groups expected. Is the Bible’s role really to give us certainty about what happened in the past (and to be judged thumbs up or down)? Perhaps the endless back-and-forth were rooted in the wrong question.

I believe the Bible does not model a faith that depends on certainty for the simple fact that the Bible does not provide that kind of certainty. Rather, in all its messy diversity, the Bible models trust in God that does not rest on whether we are able to be clear and certain about what to believe” (Pete Enns, Sin of Certainty, HarperCollins, 2016, p. 52-53).

Suggestions for action

Maybe you are familiar enough with the modernist-fundamentalist controversy to find yourself leaning one way or the other; or perhaps your expectations of the Bible are similar to what Enns warns against. Consider the idea that our need for certainty is one that lessens our need for faith. Can you see that fatal flaws in the binary way of thinking about the Bible? Imagine another way.

Enns is talking about a kind of certainty based on a world view one that believes the material of the universe works in predictable, measurable ways. A commitment to that certainty sins against our love for God, who is beyond our full measuring, but who fills our need for assurance to overflowing. Imagine a love that is beyond your sense of reality.

In Circle of Hope, it is not certainty that holds us together, but a dialogue in love. In that spirit, as you consider today’s passage, talk about it with your cell leader or spiritual friend.

[1] For instance, the fact that Moses, himself, probably didn’t write the Torah, since it contains documentation of his death.

January 20, 2020 – The Sin of 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 Exodus 32:30-35

The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”

More thoughts for meditation

“Preoccupation with correct thinking… it reduces the life of faith to a sentry duty, a 24/7 task of pacing the ramparts and scanning the horizon to fend off incorrect thinking, in ourselves and others, too engrossed to come inside the halls and enjoy the banquet. A faith like that is stressful and tedious to maintain. Moving toward different ways of thinking, even just trying it on for a while to see how it fits, is perceived as a compromise to faith, or as giving up on faith altogether. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Aligning faith in God and certainty about what we believe and needing to be right in order to maintain a healthy faith—these do not make for a healthy faith in God. In a nutshell, that is the problem. And that is what I mean by the ‘sin of certainty.’

It is sin because this pattern of thinking sells God short by keeping the Creator captive to what we are able to comprehend—which is the very same problem the Israelites had then they were tempted to make images of God (aka idols) out of stone, meta, or wood…

We don’t make physical images of God. But we make mental ones.

I don’t mean that our thoughts of God are no different than images of wood and stone. The images we read about in the Bible always limit God, because they confuse the Creator with creation. Thoughts about God, on the other hand, are not only often helpful but downright inevitable. When we confuse God with our thoughts about God, however, those thoughts can become idol-like—getting in the way of the real thing, hindering rather than aiding a life of faith.

When we grab hold of ‘correct’ thinking for dear life, when we refuse to let go because we think that doing so means letting go of God, when we dig in our heels and stay firmly planted even when we sense that we need to let go and move on, at that point we are trusting our thoughts rather than God. We have turned away from God’s invitation to trust in order to cling to an idol.

The need for certainty is sin because it works off fear and limits God to our mental images. And God does not like being boxed in. By definition, God can’t be. I believe we are prone to forget that. God is good to remind us—by any means necessary, if we are willing to listen. God understands our human predicament and is for us” (Pete Enns, Sin of Certainty, HarperCollins, 2016, p. 18-19).

Suggestions for action

It takes a lot of faith to be able to let go of the idea of certainty of God’s invitation to love. Consider the mystery of God in meditation today. As you consider God, empty your mind with a prayer word and breathing. See if you can sustain a moment where you feel close to God without “thinking” about God.

Enns is talking to people who have made their thoughts about God into idols. You may be coming from the exact opposite place where you assume nothing can be certain and you long for some assurance God is there and with you in Jesus. Solidifying your doubt or securing your certainty are other other sides of the “sin of certainty.” Maybe you need to doubt your doubt instead.

Today is the MLK national holiday. It is one of two days the nation celebrates that we think should intersect with the Christian calendar. Check out our thoughts at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

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