Friday, August 23, 2013

I'm pretty sure I'm right about certainty

Lately I've been thinking that our culture has been so impacted by the so called 'Age of Reason' that we actually believe that certainty is an attainable goal for matters of significance. If we can be certain that 1+1=2 and that a water molecule contains 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen atom, then surely we can be certain about matters like global warming and the existence of God!

Not so fast... Maybe the more important something is, the more factors there are involved and the less certain we can be. Maybe relationships, the most significant of all things, are for that very reason resistant to such a thing as certainty. Instead, relationships are risky ventures. 1+1 does equal 2, but who cares? 1 person plus 1 person demands trust. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

This may sound overwhelmingly negative to many in our culture. We've been trained to demand certainty. We've been taught that if we look long enough and in the right way, we'll never have to leap. I risk causing depression by insisting that such a pursuit is hopeless except in trivial matters. But my goal is not to demonstrate that our goals are unattainable. Rather, I aim to show that our goals have been wrong all along.

We never should have allowed certainty the place of pride. Certainty is not a treasure worth seeking. Truth is. Beauty is. Love is. This is rather obvious once we think for more than a moment. Would I rather be absolutely certain that my wife is faithful (attainable only, perhaps, by implanting some sort of chip in her brain or having her drink a love potion of sorts) or experience her faithfulness day after day? I think those are the options.

But we desire certainty. We crave it. And when we inevitably don't find it, we are left with two bad options. Some decide to force the issue. They attempt to convince themselves of their certainty even though the attempt to find it has fallen short. This usually takes the form of dogmatism, unwavering opinions, and ridicule towards alternative possibilities. Others admit defeat. Craving certainty and finding none, they give up on most everything of significance. They become indifferent and jaded.

I think I see the former course more often in people older than me and the latter in people younger, but that is just an untested observation. In any case, both options are bad news. The devil dances in delight at a fork in the road like this. What a victory for him to have us choose between two errors without even thinking of turning around and heading back to where we got off-track.

The road is a good analogy, by the way, for what we may have been on before we took this turn for the worse. We are travelers, after all. We are headed somewhere. We have a destination, but we are not there yet. And because we aren't there, we can't be certain exactly what that destination will look like or that we're taking the right route. It's not that we are driving blind. There are plenty of signs, fellow passengers, and fueling stations along the way (though most men refuse to ask directions!). But even with a great map or GPS, we're lacking absolute certainty.

My point is... who cares? Getting there has always been half the fun. Getting out on the road is risky, but it's the only way to get to God knows where. Our lack of certainty along the way is not an indication that there isn't certainly a destination beyond our wildest dreams, only that we travel by good old-fashioned faith. It's actually more reasonable to risk the roads than to hold tightly to a dead-end sign or simply stay at home forever.