Skip to main content

When it comes to God, we are all agnostic. And I think I mean that quite literally.

The word comes from the Greek agnosis [α-γνωσις] which simply means “not knowing.”

Is there a God? Is there no God? We simply don’t know, if by “know,” we mean, “are certain about the scientific facts.”

I am not sure why this is a scandalous thing to say. It seems quite biblical to me. In fact, the famous passage on faith in Hebrews 11 seems to say that faith can only exist for those who are agnostic.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible . . . By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance,obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going . . . 13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised . . .”

If we believe that our Christianity consists in what we know then you will not be able to accept what I am saying here. But if our Christianity consists of how we live, then what I say may be more palatable.

What makes one an agnostic, a Christian, or an atheist, is not whether or not we “know,” it is what we do with our “not knowing.”

Or, as I have become accustomed to saying, our faith is not in our “certainty” but in our “confidence,” and the difference between those two terms is trust

So, then, for me, those who claim agnosticism are perhaps the most honest but the least courageous of all. They acknowledge something important about the human condition but also something largely uninteresting. “I am agnostic. I don’t know if there is a God or not.” Okay. Welcome to being human. What else ya got?

Of course, what they generally mean is, “and so I will choose to stay as detached as possible from the whole conversation. I will hedge my bets.” And I find that to be an uninteresting mode of living. The atheist and Christian then are like the woman who knows that she cannot know for sure if she will get hit by a car today, but goes out to live her life anyway. The agnostic is like the man who knows that he cannot know for sure if he will get hit by a car today, so he stays home.

The atheist and Christian may calculate the odds differently, but they still go out.

And in this way, the Christian and the atheist are more alike than different. We are all agnostic. But it is only the Christian and the atheist who are willing to take a risk. They both courageously make an existential stand when no conclusions are available.

Perhaps the Christian is the most imaginative and courageous of them all (as Hebrews 11 attests). Or, perhaps we are the most delusional and stupid. There’s typically a fine line between those. The Christian thrusts her agnosticism onto God, not knowing, but believing, not understanding, but trusting. Instead of living by the rules of others, out-rationalizing the rationalists, out-sciencing the scientists, the Christian ought to celebrate her ability to create, to out-imagine those without imagination. And this is not because we have more knowledge, it is because we have more trust.

I understand this may not be the Christianity that most Americans are used to.

In fact, everything I have said might sound downright anti-Christian. And maybe it is. I just don’t know.

Jared Byas, M.A.

As a former teaching pastor and professor of philosophy and biblical studies, he speaks regularly on the Bible, truth, creativity, wisdom, and the Christian faith. Tweets at @jbyas