Normally, I don’t pay too much attention to the quotes my friends share online. But one day a while back a friend shared one that made my heart hurt. It was quote from Ann Lamott, perhaps you know it—”The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.”
This, to me, is heartbreaking because it speaks to a deep confusion I suspect many of us struggle with, which stems from our struggle with absolutes. We are constantly told that absolutes don’t really exist. It is arrogant, even presumptuous, to say you are certain of something—to say that you know something. As the philosopher once said, “The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing.”1
Thus, certainty is the enemy of faith. And of this we can be certain.
The difficultly, of course, is our tendency—aside from being wildly inconsistent and thus amazingly certain about our certainty that certainty is the enemy of faith—to equate certainty or knowledge with absolute certainty or exhaustive knowledge. And so we create our man of straw, perhaps give him initials starting J and M, and tear down his certainty-driven Christianity.Certainty is not the enemy of faith—unbelief is. Click To Tweet
But for those of us who have perhaps drank a little too deeply from the well of relativism, we run into a large difficulty, that being the Bible. For it is difficult to walk away from reading the Scriptures and see any claim to certainty being the enemy of faith.
Instead, what we is the opposite—not a command to achieve exhaustive knowledge, but to be certain about what can be known:
- “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life,” John wrote (1 John 5:13)
- “May they know that You alone— whose name is Yahweh— are the Most High over all the earth,” wrote the Psalmist (Psalm 83:18)
- “The secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know,” Jesus told his disciples (Matthew 13:11)
- “I know My own sheep, and they know Me,” Jesus said (John 10:14)
- “Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known,” Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 13:12)
- “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure that He planned in Him.” (Ephesians 1:9)
- Peter commends to us, “knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness” (2 Peter 1:6).
What the Bible commends is not an anti-intellectual faith, nor does it advocate full heads with empty hearts. In the Scriptures, the consistent message is that we are to strive to know God, looking forward to the day when we will fully know even as we are already fully known.
But that day is not this day. And so what we need to remember is it is not certainty that is the enemy of our faith. Unbelief is. Unbelief draws our hearts away from the Lord. It takes our eyes off the promises of God. It sets our hearts on something other than his glory, striving to find joy in something that will fail to satisfy.
Certainty is not the enemy —unbelief is. Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief.