There are No Certainties

This may seem like a strange title for someone who follows Jesus Christ, but we need to be honest about the realities of life and belief. It’s been well said that the opposite of faith is not doubt but rather certainty. Those who claim certainty or actively seek it in this life are at best misguided and at worst they can become rigid in their world view and – horror – rigid in their notion of God.

I know someone who is a very devout Catholic and a daily mass go-er, but their faith has largely morphed into an extreme traditionalist practice. As such they are deeply suspicious of Pope Francis as he seeks to reform the Church, and they prefer to listen to Pope Emeritus Benedict. On this point we must be clear: there is only one earthly leader of the Catholic Church, and while we are in somewhat new territory with a pope who has resigned, his presence and role is now only honorary. To reject Francis in favour of Benedict is to identify with a reactionary world view and that is quite simply contrary to the Gospel where the Holy Spirit is constantly asking us to widen our views and stances and to be prepared to respond positively to the ‘sign of the times’. It is a good indication that we are truly listening to the Holy Spirit when we are open to new possibilities and prepared to enter uncharted territories. Sad to say that the Church has often been guilty of the opposite!

In regard to my traditionalist friend, there is little point trying to argue with someone who claims a rigid certainty. We need to understand what underlies this ‘unnatural’ human stance. I would suggest rigidity and reactionary beliefs are the result of someone desperately needing certainty – and certainty is never ours to grasp. To hold a rigid stance, whether in religion, politics or what-have-you, is to deny the dynamic of life, and to cling to the pool side while others are plunging into and splashing about in the joys and sorrows and unpredictabilities of life. Certainty is also closely allied to pride: the rigid person knows the right position, rules and choices, and doesn’t tolerate any dissent. Faith in contrast is predicated on humility (as I previously wrote about).

I suppose the constant challenge for us, especially for those of us who believe in the God of Jesus, is to be passionate about our faith but always to humbly admit our lack of understanding – that in this life we all see through a ‘glass darkly’ and struggle to focus on the ‘real’. As such, our doubts are actually good indicators of our faith, and that our faith is something alive and active. In all things we need to work hard to discern what is God’s will and to be open to different voices, constantly checking that the fruits of the ‘new’ are positive and affirming in a human sense.

To give some examples of what I mean: someone who says the Holy Mass can only properly be celebrated in a certain way and ritual – they are in fact in love with forms and are missing the whole point of what Mass is – our radical union and reunion with Jesus and one another. They might as well be an unbeliever who delights in sacred music and ‘bells and smells’. And someone who categorically states that women can never ever be priests is actually setting themselves up against the Holy Spirit – we can never say never!

Life is never black and white, but always subtle shades of grey. Many atheists know this better than many religious folk! Sadly, religion can frequently encourage arrogance. Many religious folk give the impression that God dances to their tune, when in fact it can only be the other way round.

To say there are no certainties in this life is not to deny the revelation of Jesus. I’m fond of saying:

nothing in this life is free except the one priceless thing – God’s unconditional love for us.

And while I hold firmly to that belief in His great love, I have to admit that I cannot claim to know how that love expresses itself in every time and situation.

To summarise, a strong faith is always characterised by humility, whereas a rigid belief usually indicates arrogance and self-righteousness, and both of these attitudes are entirely contrary to the Gospel of Jesus.

We need to constantly discern, discern, discern! And that is not weakness.