Certainty vs. Doubt

I was recently reading a book when the writer pulled out a quote from Anne Lamott. He cited, “[she] reminds us that ‘the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.'”

I love Lamott’s writing but always keep in mind that her faith is syncretistic and not firmly orthodox and so needs to be considered in that light. Syncretists love to play up doubt and pooh-pooh certainty.

The writer of the book I was reading was using Lamott’s quote to support his argument that immature people (spiritually speaking) insist on “correct beliefs.” Meaning, having everything buttoned down, or up. All their theological and other ducks in a neat row, so to speak.

On the other hand, argued the writer, adults (aka mature Christians) “need to examine diverse voices to develop critical thinking, empathy, and love.”

Certainty in one’s Christian faith too frequently gets knocked. Doubt is held up as the only true beacon to correct faith. In other words, believe but hold your beliefs loosely — just in case. I say humbug. Mostly.

I’m a big fan of certainty and my faith is well-anchored in several. Here are a few key ones:

  • I am certain that God created this world and holds everything together by his Word.
  • I am certain that Jesus Christ is God and through the action of the Holy Spirit came to earth in the form of a baby.
  • I am certain that the angels shared the news of this arrival with a select group of shepherds in a field outside Bethlehem.
  • I am certain that Mary and Joseph were in awe over all that happened.
  • I am certain that Christ’s death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection opened the door to my redemption.
  • I am certain that my life is secure in Jesus and that when I die I will be with Christ in heaven.
  • I am certain this [2022] Christmas weekend is one of the coldest in decades!

Of these truths and others I have no doubt. Tethered to these certainties, I am safe to “examine diverse voices” as well as “noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort.” I can do this because even when it’s darkest there is always Light present.

Frankly, I get annoyed when Christian writers tout doubt over certainty. When they belittle the steady, sure grounding of others. The old hymn offers deep wisdom when it declares, “On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” That’s a hymn to assured certainty.

The Psalmist declares with confidence and gratitude, “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” (Psalm 40:2, ESV).

Paul echoes this declaration writing to Timothy, “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Timothy 1:12, ESV). Paul also declares, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 1:6, ESV). These are sure-footed encouragements that deflate doubt.

Too often I’ve encountered Christian writers and others almost mocking those who eschew doubt and stand in certainty as relates to their faith. This is not a good thing. In fact, in a sentence preceding the mentioned Lamott quote she states that she “has no real certainty about anything.”

It’s okay to have doubts from time to time. It’s okay to explore various ideas and even change one’s mind about things. I’ll admit, some things about the Christian walk are just downright befuddling at times. But not everything. And not all the time. James warns, “for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6, ESV).

Doubt is not where faith lives and thrives. Paul confidently assures that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, ESV).

Faith stands firmly on the truth of God’s Word, on His promises, on the finished work of Christ, and on our confession of faith in Him.

Of this I am very certain.

© Stephen R. Clark