By Norris Burkes Aug 29, 2021
Not long ago, I was walking near a construction site when I noticed that somebody had the conviction to scratch a two-word message in the freshly laid sidewalk.
“Wow,” I thought. “Did this Christian vandal think themself to be Moses? So confident that they wrote their truths in stone.”
Certainty can be good a thing. We need to board an airplane with some assurance it will take us safely to our destination. We need certainty when we employ medical treatments. We confidently expect love from a spouse or parent.
But when it comes to faith, I don’t need my doubts to be completely dispelled. I depend on a faith that will help me excel in the midst of uncertainty.
Whenever I witness the certainty of faith proclaimed in sidewalk graffiti like “Jesus Saves,” I want to scratch my cynical response alongside it –“Do you know what you need saving from?”
When placards pop up in football bleachers touting “Jesus is the answer,” I want to shout, “Yes, but do you know the questions?”
That’s because real faith thrives with questions.
My father was raised in a church that didn’t tolerate too many questions. They were called Primitive Baptists, but I’m not really sure how primitive they are today. After all, they do have a website, www.primitivebaptist.org.
They preach an altered form of predestination that teaches God predestines some of us for heaven while he’s handpicked other folk for the eternal barbecue. That means if your afterlife has been pre-prescribed by God, then your fate is written in stone. After your destination has been divinely appointed, I guess there’s not much room left for questions.
Fortunately, my father favored a faith that allowed a bit more leeway. Nevertheless, this kind of preaching can still be heard if you are channel surfing on late-night cable. And honestly, it’s easy to take potshots at these groups, because we are so certain we bear no resemblance to this egocentric faith.
But I’m not so sure.
We may not be Primitive Baptists, but we are capable of displaying our primitive faith when we wave a flag declaring God is on our side. I think we show our primitive roots whenever we say God favors the red or blue states. I even think we attempt a twin-like appearance when, coincidentally, our God seems to love or hate the same things we love or hate.
At the end of the day, you can claim your God is well defined, but if that’s true, then I think he’s ceased to be God. If faith is something you’ve confined to a space or a place, then you’ve lost the mystery and awe of faith. You have no faith.
Pema Chodron wrote the book “Comfortable with Uncertainty.” In it she points out that the problem with certainty is that “certainty always leaves people behind.” This kind of faith, whether it’s a journey to a Tibetan wise man or a visit with a televangelist, always will be what Chodron calls “a faith of personal escape.”
Real faith requires us to extend ourselves into uncertainty. It’s the kind of stretch the controversial theologian Karl Bart called “a leap of faith.” It’s the kind of reach Jesus described in one of the most widely known stories in Christian scripture.
In Matthew 17:20, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Jesus knew that the mustard seed is so small and insignificant that it has no other option but to give all its faith to God or die trying.
It goes to show you that Jesus was certain of at least this one thing – real faith requires the surrender of the certainty we have in ourselves.
Now, I don’t presume to add an 11th commandment, but it may be a certitude you can write in stone.
Read past columns at www.thechaplain.net. Contact Norris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.