“The opposite of faith is not doubt; it’s certainty…”
In my last post, I expressed my agreement with the above statement and received a bit of dissenting feedback in response, which is quite wonderful, as it means I’ve moved readers to think – always my goal – and in hearing the reaction of others, I’ve been inspired to think even more myself. The symbiosis is thrilling!
I’m going to explain briefly why I’ve come to the belief I have where it comes to faith. You might assume (correctly) that I did not arrive here by agreeing with Miriam-Webster’s dictionary definition of the word faith; indeed, my favorite dictionary app puts “certainty” fifth in its list of synonyms for the word “faith”. As a longtime lover of words, it pains me to admit that I disagree with the dictionary in this instance.
You might also point out that some Bible scriptures appear to disagree with my assessment of faith.
Hebrews 11:1 may come to mind: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
“Luke,” you may say, “that word ‘assurance’ sure looks a lot like ‘certainty’ to me.”
And what about James 1:6: “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”
This scripture seems to indicate that an absence of certainty could even be dangerous, leaving one to the whims of a proverbial stormy sea.
Before you label me a heretic and verbal buffoon (though you could be right on both counts), let me throw another word your way – one I believe is a closer approximation to the word faith: Trust.
(Tell me I didn’t just win over at least one of you certainty types.)
When I say that I have faith in an individual, what I’m really saying is that I trust that person, and trust is quite different from certainty. Trust is a broader idea, a concept of the heart. When the character Job cries, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him”, I believe he is expressing the most authentic sort of faith, and to me it looks less like certainty and more like abandon. Job could easily be saying, “God, I have no idea what you may do in my world, but whatever you may do, I choose to trust you, for I trust you are good.”
Therein lies my issue with certainty. I cannot think of a thing I ever chose to be certain over. As much as anything, I am certain I will awake tomorrow to find that the Sun has risen once again in the East. This isn’t something I choose, though. It’s a conclusion I’ve reached after having witnessed it nearly fifteen thousand times in my life. It’s a clinical observation. My faith is not like this. I do not observe God any more than I observe love. Likewise, I can observe a sunrise, but the beauty of that sunrise – the way it impacts me – this I can only experience. Even as a writer, I will never be able to properly describe love, or beauty, or God. I suppose it is angst over the inability to properly capture these ethereal ideas that drives a writer to write in the first place.
The most useful bit of advice I’ve heard in recent years is that I should consider holding my beliefs with open hands. Those who have known me for a long time would say that I have never been an open-handed kind of guy. It’s true. Luke is a guy who wants to always be right. Luke is a guy who loves to argue his perspective, and his study of the English language may just be a grand ploy to better equip him to that end. Luke can be a real stubborn asshole when it comes down to it. Clearly, I have my work cut out for me in the open-handed living department. I will say that, in the moments I succeed in releasing my stubborn grip on certainty, I find freedom from anxiety and depression. How unexpected.
I choose my faith, and the faith I choose, based on my experience, says two things: God exists, and God is good. My open-handed mindset says I must admit I could be wrong about either of these, and I’m comfortable with that. Not long ago, I would have been thrilled to argue the certainty of my beliefs. Now, I hope I’m learning to simply share my experience with faith and to approach my fellow humans with open hands.
photo credit: wikitravel.org