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“When we become simply a promoter or a defender of a particular belief, something within us dies. That is not believing God–it is only believing our belief about Him. . . . If our certainty is only in our beliefs, we develop a sense of self-righteousness, become overly critical, and are limited by the view that our beliefs are complete and settled.”

The above quote is from a post entitled  “Gracious Uncertainty” at the Oswald Chambers website My Utmost for His Highest. (See also here, TSOCwhere I posted on this same quote nearly two years ago when The Sin of Certainty was barely a whisper in the back of my mind.)

Chambers has, as always, a deep perspective to share. It’s a very short piece, so please read what he has to say there.

At a couple of points I thought there might be some distance between his thoughts and what I try to say in The Sin of Certainty, because Chambers speaks of being “certain of God.”

But after reading the quote more carefully, what he means is not an intellectual certainty, but a deeper trust in God where we abandon the need for certainty in our lives in general.

Chambers’s challenge is to be open to a future that cannot be controlled by our “beliefs.”

By trusting God, we are opening ourselves to a life “full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy” where we are “gloriously and graciously uncertain” about what God is up to next.

That sounds a bit risky, but it beats thinking our lives follow a set, clear, and certain script.

 

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

12 Comments

  • Tim says:

    I would be interested in hearing how you avoid begging the question in this. To trust in God (or a higher power, etc.), you have to have some sort of idea of what that is. And depending on what geography you are born into, what faith community in which you are raised, how you direct that trust has been largely predetermined. If by some historical accident Pete Enns were to have been born to a Muslim family in Pakistan, it is more likely we may have been reading the Muslim “Sin of Certainty” than the Christian one. No doubt though with still worthwhile content. So if you say that what is needed is your trust first and foremost over your beliefs, then what I would be interested in hearing is how that works out in fact where your beliefs are not the primary determining factor in what you think you’re placing your trust in.

    • dunno why exactly to this came to my mind when I read your post. I guess truth is truth wherever you find it. I think Richard Rohr said something similar:

      Luke 19.37And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen;

      38Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.

      39And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. 40And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.
      PEACE! *~!!!]:D

  • Ross says:

    I am very aware of the many times I get things wrong. When younger I was aware I knew things better than most people I knew, then discovered that what I thought I knew was often wrong. I think it relates to self knowledge and temperament. When you realise you actually know a lot less than you think. A lot of people seem to assert as “fact”, that which they would like to be true, however they are usually wrong. When you come to the realisation that we don’t really know much at all I think you can either develop trust or pessimism. I’m trying to be a bit more optimistic in the face of general uncertainty.

    Looking at the adults around who seem ever so certain of so many things I recognise we are mostly in the playground still and the certainties have not advanced beyond “my dad’s bigger than yours”, wisdom starts, I think, at the point of recognising how little any of us really know. Our dad is probably a bit short, unkempt and not spectacular, a bit like us really!

  • Ross says:

    I am very aware of the many times I get things wrong. When younger I was aware I knew things better than most people I knew, then discovered that what I thought I knew was often wrong. I think it relates to self knowledge and temperament. When you realise you actually know a lot less than you think. A lot of people seem to assert as “fact”, that which they would like to be true, however they are usually wrong. When you come to the realisation that we don’t really know much at all I think you can either develop trust or pessimism. I’m trying to be a bit more optimistic in the face of general uncertainty.

    Looking at the adults around who seem ever so certain of so many things I recognise we are mostly in the playground still and the certainties have not advanced beyond “my dad’s bigger than yours”, wisdom starts, I think, at the point of recognising how little any of us really know. Our dad is probably a bit short, unkempt and not spectacular, a bit like us really!

  • charlesburchfield says:

    your post makes me think specially in this regard:
    ‘By trusting God, we are opening ourselves to a life “full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy” where we are “gloriously and graciously uncertain” about what God is up to next.
    That sounds a bit risky, but it beats thinking our lives follow a set, clear, and certain script.’

    that indeed trusting God, opening oneselves to a life “full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and being graciously uncertain” about what God is up to next
    isn’t a bit risky, IMHO. it’s entering a process where one’s character is being shaped by building one’s life on Bedrock Foundation that beats the stinking thinking of one’s obsessions and addictions. being completely broken of thinking one’s life follows a set, clear, and certain script one has to unlearn much & one has to go through the stages of grief and loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression to get to a place where one can accept this!
    all other ground is sinking sand.*~!!!]:D

  • your post makes me think specially in this regard:
    ‘By trusting God, we are opening ourselves to a life “full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy” where we are “gloriously and graciously uncertain” about what God is up to next.
    That sounds a bit risky, but it beats thinking our lives follow a set, clear, and certain script.’

    that indeed trusting God, opening oneselves to a life “full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and being graciously uncertain” about what God is up to next
    isn’t a bit risky, IMHO. it’s entering a process where one’s character is being shaped by building one’s life on Bedrock Foundation that beats the stinking thinking of one’s obsessions and addictions. being completely broken of thinking one’s life follows a set, clear, and certain script one has to unlearn much & one has to go through the stages of grief and loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression to get to a place where one can accept this!
    all other ground is sinking sand.*~!!!]:D

  • charlesburchfield says:

    dunno why exactly to this came to my mind when I read your post. I guess truth is truth wherever you find it. I think Richard Rohr said something similar:

    Luke 19.37And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen;

    38Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.

    39And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. 40And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.
    PEACE! *~!!!]:D

  • Gary says:

    From what I’ve observed, a few people in this religion can find such as this. And a few people in other religions can to. While yet many in each seem to only apply the vocabulary and a rhetorical hope to where they’re at.

    As such, I suspect it must be something *else* that transforms from what the vast majority seem to preach, claim, and even celebrate.

    • charlesburchfield says:

      Well, I’ve tried to be meek
      I have tried to be mild
      But I spat like a woman
      And I sulked like a child
      Hid behind walls that have made me alone
      Striven for peace
      Which I never have known

      the man’s too strong
      ~Dire Straits
      religion does nothing for me unless I know peace of mind and heart everyday.
      *~!!]:D

  • Gary says:

    From what I’ve observed, a few people in this religion can find such as this. And a few people in other religions can too. While yet many in each seem to only apply the vocabulary and a rhetorical hope to where they’re at.

    As such, I suspect it must be something *else* that transforms from what the vast majority seem to preach, claim, and even celebrate.

    • Well, I’ve tried to be meek
      I have tried to be mild
      But I spat like a woman
      And I sulked like a child
      Hid behind walls that have made me alone
      Striven for peace
      Which I never have known

      the man’s too strong
      ~Dire Straits
      religion does nothing for me unless I know peace of mind and heart everyday.
      *~!!]:D

  • Marshall says:

    “Belief” as a word in the world takes on a variety of colors; it can even express doubt. Normal use implies a measure of understanding which the faith use specifically denies. The commentaries often talk about “self-serving” vs. “sacred” use in the NT: I think that’s cheesy. Maybe unpacking it all could be a topic for your next book?

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