During a Sabbath School class a while back, we were studying 2 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6. Here Paul talks about how his readers ought to treat each other, which became a springboard for talking about how we treat each other in the church, in society, in relationships, in business, in politics, etc. An observation was made that many of the problems we encounter seem to arise from a need for certainty. We humans appear to have a strong drive for certitude. The Oxford English Dictionary defines certitude as: “Subjective certainty; the state of being certain or sure of anything; assured conviction of the mind that the facts are so and so; absence of doubt or hesitation; assurance, confidence.”
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/views/2023/desire-certainty-original-sin
I’m so pleased to see this addressed. As followers of Jesus, we find commands and pleas for us to embrace humility from Genesis, to the moving passage in Micah 6:8. Jesus reinforced the concept of dismissing pride and embracing service, of loving enemies, and letting God separate wheat from weeds exactly because God knows the heart, and because we are limited human beings.
It’s no surprise to see the temptation in the garden phrased as trying to “be as gods, knowing . . .” The belief we can do so, strips us of reality, of our dependence on God, and of our healthy humility in the face of our limitations. It is the ultimate self-deception. The main thing we are implored to request and know, is the fact that God is. We are offered the peace and comfort of seeking for the joy of learning, not for the impossible goal of knowing all. Thanks so much for this lens on the original sin that hits the critical point.
Basically the garden experience is about trust.
I’m surprised that question was posed. I thought it has long been established that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certitude. The entire God-man relationship is about faith.
The entire God-man relationship is about faith. But the opposite of faith is not certitude; it is fear. Read the gospel According to Mark. Still, faith is not mental agreement to a proposition. If that were the case, as James points out, the devils have faith. Faith is a way of being certain of God’s power to give life that informs and is demonstrated by a way of life.
Ok, we’re dealing with a word that has a number of meanings. I was more than surprised to find that “faith” (as we commonly know it) is not found in the Old Testament. There are only two places - Deut. 32:20 and Hab. 2:4. In Deut. it refers to trustworthiness; Habb. comes close to the NT use of the word.
Even in the NT “faith” has more than one definition, basically coming down to TRUST and BELIEF. “Trust” is interpersonal, while “belief” deals with an acceptance of facts (as we know them). In the sense of trust, fear is an appropriate antonym; while certitude deals with “locking down of knowledge”.
I have to admit, doubts abound in my daily walk, and its only “faith” in the greatness of God, that keeps me from giving up. If I needed certainty to believe, there is none. Even so,"we first have to know He “exists” to have any of this to work - and that is purely a state of “faith”.
Two books have helped me understand myself and my doubts: “Benefit of the Doubt, Breaking the Idol of Certainty” by Gregory Boyd. The second book is called “Convictions, How I Learned What Matters Most” by Marcus Borg. Oh well, why not bring in one more: "Faith After Doubt (Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What To Do About It), by Brian McLaren. You can see that I’ve had my doubts about a lot of “biblical” things, but reading more widely outside the bubble and having discussions with other doubters has been immensely important.
My experience in teaching theology on university level is, that students with conservative backgrounds tend to equal spirituality in lectures with certainty. If the teaching is not answering the question, what should I do, then this teaching is labeled as not spiritual enough. It seems like salvation by human works is equaled by such people with the highest levels of spirituality. Exploring different options and giving diverse literature to master level students to explore for themselves is not appreciated by those looking only for certainty and “what should we do”.
The problem here is that it begins with a very faulty premise. To enter his talk of certitude he has to read certitude into the Garden story. Basically rewriting the story. That is Eisegisis, simply put reading your own ideas into a Bible text. As the author does: "“If that were so, how come I am able to eat it without harm?” replies the serpent. “God is merely trying to keep certain knowledge from you.” He continues, “If you eat this fruit, then you will know everything, just like God does, and you will then be certain, like he is. He just doesn’t want you to be equal with him.”
“Knowing everything” sounds a lot like certainty, so could we say that the real temptation in the garden was the temptation of attaining certainty? Is it possible that this same issue is the one that Lucifer struggled with and lost? I think so."
From there of course it goes into the Lucifer myth. Really not a productive conversation at all! But apparently, the lucifer myth has the same method behind it, that is reading ideas into the text that aren’t there at all.
Thanks for opening this discussion on certainty. The Hebrew Scriptures hold these ideas in tension. Many psalms and proverbs align with certainty through the concepts of wisdom, claiming clear consequences for actions. By contrast, Job and Ecclesiastes are informed by counter-wisdom: life is not predictable or just but requires risk and acceptance.
Likewise, the priestly teachings of the temple enforce the ideas of certainty with countless rules, while the prophets mourn tragedy and imagine how things could be different.
From these two options, Jesus selected uncertainty, evoking the prophets while exposing legalism for missing its aim of righteousness. He also spoke the language of counter-wisdom (blessed are those who mourn …the first will be last, etc), leading us to faith - the capacity to continue precisely when we can’t be certain.
In the presence of certainty, faith no longer has a function. So, to live by faith is to affirm uncertainty.
Thank you everyone who has responded both here and privately. Please continue the conversation. It was not my intent to take a dogmatic position, but to posit a question and open a discussion. It is my hope that the discussion that has started does not end here, but that you take some ideas from this discussion and take it back with you to discuss with others. I appreciate each and every response. Thank you.
I am in Dave’s class and recall him bringing this to class about a year ago. I’ve had a little time to think about it. I believe Dave is onto something. Let me try adding a corollary to his statements about uncertainty. They apply to this sinful world and to other inhabited worlds during their period of probation, for lack of a better term. There are many scriptural passages that support the idea that God the Father knows the future in all its detail. I would go further to suggest that if He exists outside of time, He could be inhabitiing the past, present and future. If that is true, then certainty is an attribute of His existence. Let us try that on for a minute. If so, He is the only Being who experiences certainty. Especially those of us here on earth deal with uncertainty every second of every day. I may have an additional “insight” to this, tongue in cheek, because I am color blind. Some days are better than others. I can usually tell a bright red sports car is red, but not always. So I deal with more uncertainty than many of you. I never know, quite literally, when i can trust my senses and when i cannot. As at least one or two responders has noted, faith in God would be totally unnecessary if we knew everything with certainty about Him. That may even be obvious. In the garden, I think there is considerable merit to what Dave is proposing. Until the serpent spoke, Eve was probably certain (can we use relatively with that term? probably not) that what God asked of her and Adam was what was best for her. Eating the forbidden fruit was something God asked her not to do. Satan’s words introduced uncertainty. Does God REALLY want what is best for me? Or is He trying to hide something from me. Satan insinuates doubt about God’s intentions. So if we define certainty as an attribute of God’s character that not even the carnate Christ experienced on this earth, then, yes, attempting to arrive at certainty (= God) WOULD be sin. I would not go so far as to say uncertainty is an underlying element of the universe, but I would say it is an element of this sinful world as it is currently. There are elements of what Dave states that strike me as very thoughtful possibilities, even a deep truth perhaps. There are other parts that trouble me. As i thought about it, I realize I see his statements about certainty as having an “operating radius” around this round earth, but not beyond it. At least I would like to throw it out there as something to consider. That would account for Jesus’ not knowing until He got to heaven whether His sacrifice was sufficient to obtain our salvation. When He moved from the sphere of uncertainty, this world, to the certainty sphere of heaven, God assured Him that the sacrifice was sufficient. On this world, risk and uncertainty go hand in hand. God’s love is the current, the undercurrent and the air above.
I appreciate your comments @translator not only because I’m also acutely red/green color blind but given that having been raised third generation SDA, I’ve always known a sense of being “different” as well as having an inability to be certain that I can trust my senses.
However, the fact is that everyone has this same limitation, to some extent. For example, our eyes can only ever see at most 180 degrees in front of us. We know our noses gradually somehow filter out smells to which we become accustomed. Similarly, our ears can develop some sort of “selective deafness” where we only hear what we want to hear, all of which makes us see the world differently from others and perhaps even from most and that none of those perspectives is absolutely comprehensive or ultimately correct.
So given the above, it seems certain, if nothing else, that certainly will almost certainly elude us.
But the question is, has our creator risen above this uncertainty and is it a sin to want that certainty for ourselves?
I think the answer to the first question is that knowing that anyone, including a god, is omniscient, and is certain about everything, is as impossible as trying to a negative. That is, just as no one can disprove the existence of The Flying Spaghetti Monster, it is not possible for our creator to know that there’s not a more intelligent being hiding somewhere in the cosmos.
Is it therefore a sin to aspire to certainty, something that even god cannot have?
I think it probably is-not sure, obviously🤣-but that said, I think this aspiration is only natural and may indeed be just one more trait we share with the creator whom we’ve made in our image.
Thanks Dave for opening this discussion. I found Peter Enns’ book ‘The Sin of Certainty’ helpful when I was pondering this issue a while back. His thoughts are similar to what you have expressed, “The Adam and Eve story is about what happens when knowing is elevated above trusting” (p104). His comments relating to belief vs faith were also very helpful: ‘Being obsessed with making sure we have all our thoughts about God properly arranged and defended isn’t faith. How trusting we are of God day to day and how Godlike we live among those around us day to day is’. (p102)
I appreciate your comments, Bruce. Yes we all have many many limitations, many of which we are unaware of. I see you certainly had fun with “certainty,” so forgive me for indulging in a bit of that myself. God created us with a sense of humor, and sometimes I find it too difficult to restrain mine! Having translated a few chapters in the Old Testament, I am fairly certain (there it is again) that God injects humor every now and then. A favorite of mine is when Laban convinces Jacob to stay on board for six more years. Jacob proposes that white livestock go to Laban and speckled and spotted ones go to him. “Laban” means “white” so of course Jacob’s suggestion makes a great deal of sense, and I think injects a little humor. Sorry for getting off track. I cannot prove that God is omniscient. No one can. I cannot prove that He is love, but I think there is enough evidence of that fact around us that we can believe the principle on faith. If everything was certain, faith would not be needed. I think David makes some good discussion points, which was his intent. I like bringing the Heisenberg Principle into it and making comparisons with freedom and certainty, risk and all. I notice you intentionally do not capitalize “God.” I hope your journey can take you to a place where you someday put a capital G there. He loves you as if you were the only person in the entire world. That concept leaves me speechless, that He feels the same way about each of us.
My journey has taken me to the place where I’m pretty sure (i.e., not absolutely certain) that god is not a “he” or a “she” and that thinking of our maker as a “thing” is silly semantics.
In fact, I wonder it might be better to talk about what makes us who we are rather than who, and to refer to that force of nature as It, or ItSelf.
That “I” would capitalize religiously every time, just for the fun of it!
BTW, and you can call me reckless if you like, but I would also stack books on top of the “holy” bible, if I could find one in my house.
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