This four part series is meant to be a brief, yet fairly comprehensive, overview into the world of uncertainty for Christians. SUMMARY:
- In Part 1, uncertainty is explored as a human experience- one for which Christians do not escape simply in lieu of being a faithful follower.
- Part 2 addresses what ways people generally handle uncertainty. Broad definitions are given alongside clinical considerations for Intolerance of Uncertainty (IU), finished with a strong exhortation that faith does not equal certainty- faith is more robust than being some fake “feel-good” tool.
- Part 3 provides a framework and evidence for the need to embrace uncertainty, through faith.
- Part 4 launches us into the incredible Good News- and includes a worksheet to help you face uncertainty in your own life.
The Argument For Christians To Embrace Uncertainty (Part 3/4)
The attainment of certainty in the sense we are discussing does not exist in the world at large, and it does not exist in the Bible. Even the few English translations of the word “certainty” are not reflective of a feeling or control that a person can possess with infinitude.
You may protest, quoting Luke 1:4, “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” But that’s not what certainty is saying here. It’s talking about a very specific truth, not some feeling. In fact, in one key translation of 66 books and 3 different original languages, only 5 instances are found with the English word “certainty.” The other occurrences are more along the lines of the concept of knowing a truth and/or having confidence.
Biblical Evidence (Spoiler Alert- Prepare to be Uncertain After Reading)
Join me in looking at some crucial examples of the uncertainty we must live with by faith- and countless saints have done it and are doing it now. Let’s go!
- “The meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain” (cf. Job 12:6) Get used to seeing this phrase a LOT in Scripture translations.
- God’s kingdom comes in a way that cannot be observed like we normally observe (Luke 17:20).
- The Book of Life– we don’t currently get to see this! Only God does (Revelation 20:12).
- While some of the sweetest words in all the Bible may be, “For by grace you have been saved…” (Ephesians 2:8-9). BUT we must also hold the tension that says, “…if indeed you continue in the faith” (Colossians 1:23).
- Jesus’s disciples naturally wanted to know dates/times with their pressing concerns. He replied in Acts 1:7, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”
- Philippians 1:6- “And 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.” Later. NOT today.
- 1 Timothy 6:7 “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” There are numerous passages that point this out, and there’s definitely more than just money that can be uncertain.
- One of my favorite raw exclamations “messy belief” is the record of a desperate father seeking Jesus for the healing of his son: “ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
- John 20:24-29 is the infamous story of “doubting Thomas.” It is obvious from many Scriptures that belief in God is required to follow him (Hebrews 11:6). God reserves a special blessing for those who don’t need to see (John 20:29). However, this doubt was not a deal-breaker for Thomas like it was for religious leadership who continually rejected Christ (Matthew 12:39).
- “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3).
- Psalm 147:5: “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit” [we are thus limited in our understanding].
- Doubt: in Luke 1 we have two different responses at the news of an angel: Zechariah doubted and the Virgin Mary believed. Both saw the realization of the promise God was enacting on their behalf (albeit Zechariah has to go mute for 9 months because of his doubt). To be clear, Mary was nervous (1:29), but she did not give into the fear and demand a sign like Zechariah did.
- The Disciples often asked questions (Matthew 24:3, etc.), including arrogant questions (cf. James and John’s request in Mark 10:34-45).
- Deut 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
- Ezekiel 20:49 is an interesting verse that brings up the mystery with which God operates. I really like what the Adam Clarke Commentary says: “Is it not his custom to deal in enigmas? His figures are not to be understood; we should not trouble ourselves with them. We are not obliged to fathom his meaning; and perhaps after all it does not refer to us, or will not be accomplished in our time….”
- Esther 4:14: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Clearly Esther was being asked to summon her courage and risk her life, and while Mordecai knew God would find another way for His purposes, he asked a question we now have hindsight bias to know the answer to: “Who knows?”
- Notice how the who knows, while it’s obvious Mordecai thinks this could be a key moment to act, it also tolerates uncertainty.
- The same is with Daniel in the lion’s den: “…even if he does not [save us from the specific peril] (Daniel 3:18).
- Jesus, talking with some disciples, let them sit in uncertainty as to what he would accomplish- “what is that to you?” (John 21:22).
- The prophecy of Jesus being a Nazarene isn’t actually found in any Scripture we know about (Matthew 2:23).
- In Matthew 11:25 and following, Jesus states that it is God’s will to keep things hidden in some ways, for we must approach him with faith like a child (Matthew 18:2).
- Possibly the penultimate example (outside of Christ) of enduring suffering is that of Job. In the book, Job’s friends set out to comfort him (Job 2:11; 4:7), but quickly started to make assumptions (Job 2:11) to which Job rebuked them (Job 6:26-27). In the end, though Job was originally right in his approach (1:22), he veered off course in making assumptions and getting unduly distracted through his suffering (and maybe the external pressure of his friends (Job 38:1 and following). In spite of the whirlwind mess that was experienced by everyone in Job, a true theme of the whole books is this: Who can comprehend God?! (Job 38:4-42:6).
- God allowed a man to be blind from birth until adulthood to do something even bigger (John 9). Talk about uncertainty and living in the dark!
- Revelation 10:7 lets us know in no fewer words, “…but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished…” Regardless of your interpretation of this verse, there is clearly a waiting period involving mystery.
- Mark 2:25 talks about a man who was waiting for the “consolation of Israel.” Countless people were waiting over hundreds of years for prophecy to be fulfilled. As Christians, we see the current and ongoing fulfillment of this through Christ.
- Waiting for Christ’s return implies….waiting. We don’t know when he will return (Mark 13:32).
- Romans 9 is a tough passage, but in talking about the potter and the clay, it’s reminiscent that God does what He desires, and we often don’t have an answer as to what this is in many specifics.
- Last of all, you can check out a page dedicated to bible verses on Mystery here.
Being A Christian Means Living In Mystery and Uncertainty Every Day
The reality, friend, is that we live in uncertainty and mystery every day. Most of us take this for granted. However, the more that uncertainty exists alongside the things we love or want, the more dire it feels.
The more important something feels, the more we have a characteristic alarm response in our body- including our brain- when doubt or questions occur.
For me, things that seem to get touchy are topics of “certainty” around being right with God and being right with others- two things that can really rock my world If I’m feeling a little off:
- Doubts about God, occasional questions on God’s “realness,” and concerns about doing the right thing.
- Close relationships when something feels rocked and shaken- such as if a loved one is upset with me and if the relationship could be jeopardized.
What about you?
Would you pause for a moment to write/consider the following?
What leads you to experience uncertainty?
What in your life really brings this out?
Scriptures have all sorts of references to “mystery” and uncertainty.
Why do I/we assume that we’ll perfectly know what God is thinking? That’s actually NOT what God tells us, if you believe the words of the Bible. Isaiah 55:8 asserts:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.”
There are mysteries God has revealed, those he reveals over time in part or in whole, and those yet to come.
We shall know him, even as we are fully known. But we always know only in part right now (from 1 Cor 13). We do not possess, own, control, or ever have total certainty because WE ARE NOT GOD.
Scriptures Tell Us That Those Who Were Made Righteous By Faith Didn’t Always (Often) Understand Exactly What God Was Doing At The Time
From the beginning to the end of the Bible, all the faith “hall of famers” (Hebrews 11) were very human and messy. An incredible piece of prose that is from an unknown author bears replication here (I pulled it from Bible.org):
“Abraham lied. Sarah laughed at God’s promises.
Moses stuttered. David’s armor didn’t fit.
John Mark was rejected by Paul.
Timothy had ulcers.
Hosea’s wife was a prostitute.
Amos’ only training was in the school of fig-tree pruning.
Jacob was a liar.
David had an affair.
Solomon was too rich.
Jesus was too poor.
Abraham was to old.
David was too young.
Peter was afraid of death.
Lazarus was dead.
John was self-righteous.
Naomi was a widow.
Paul was a murderer.
So was Moses.
Jonah ran from God.
Miriam was a gossip.
Gideon and Thomas both doubted.
Jeremiah was depressed and suicidal.
Elijah was burned out.
John the Baptist was a loudmouth.
Martha was a worry-wort.
Mary may have been lazy.
Samson had long hair.
Noah got drunk.
Did I mention Moses had a short fuse?
So did Peter, Paul and lots of folks.”
Do I Ignore My Feelings When Something’s Off?
If I feel strongly I must check my child’s well-being, how do I not without feeling neglectful or possibly making some big mistake? If I want to be confident I didn’t/won’t harm someone by my actions, how can I ignore the nagging doubt I have without gaining certainty? If I feel I am not right with God, isn’t it the utmost priority to make sure I am?
Just because we feel something or doubt something doesn’t make it true (conversely, if we feel confident also doesn’t make it more or less true).
The mom who gets the sudden urge to check on her child randomly in the night is normal. People who cannot tolerate uncertainty and have a pathological relationship to that uncertainty will check until it’s impairing them in some way. Maybe they can’t sleep. They might be inviting their spouse to check constantly and they are getting tired and frustrated. Their purchases of all sorts of technology to monitor their child may make them more nervous- and tight on money. They might avoid a date night for years because they can’t leave their child alone. This person will have to learn to face uncertainty to not be controlled by it.
To be fair, it takes a lot of learning and re-learning to approach situations like this differently. But it is not only possible, most people seem to be able to do so!
Learning To Tolerate Uncertainty
If we do not learn to welcome uncertainty, we will fight it. If we fight it, we will not accept current limits, or conversely, not accept other possible solutions. In other words, it limits us and narrows our focus.
A.W. Tozer, pastor and theologian said:
“All of us at some time in our lives become suddenly aware that we are in a strange place called the world. We do not remember coming here, and we are not sure when or how we are going to leave. A score of pressing questions fill our minds. We must have the answers….But we have no answer.
Then we approach someone who looks as if he might know. We eagerly put our question, but…. Each one has the same answer: “I’m sorry. I’m a stranger here myself” (emphases/formatting mine).”
Ephraim Radner, professor of theology, notes,
“Scriptural revelation is riddled with the deepest of uncertainties, often signaled by the question “who knows?” It is a question that both unveils our fundamental ignorance as creatures, and that, in that revelation, turns us to the dizzying grace of God in the place we actually live. One can sort this ignorance into at least three areas: Who knows what will happen tomorrow? Who knows what God will do? Who knows where I will end up?”