Certain or Faithful?

I am generally wary of people who seem too certain in their faith. Some might say I am equivocal or unwilling to make a commitment. Others might say I have fallen into relativism and that if I had more faith I would be certain. Or maybe it is jealousy; certainty has never really been my experience. My faith has been more a journey of questions, searching, and wrestling than one of absolute answers.

That is not to say that I have no beliefs or commitments. Are the creeds true? Does God exist? Is Jesus Christ the incarnate Son of God? Does God love us? Is the resurrection true? Yes to all and more.

My wariness is with another kind of certainty – the kind of certainty that establishes moral superiority, labels and exclusion. Certainty that “we” are right and that “they” are wrong, that “we” are good and “they” are bad is what often threatens to divide the Church and separate us from each other.

I sometimes wonder if certainty, rather than doubt, might be the opposite of faith. Christ does not ask us to be certain. He calls us to be faithful, to be trusting. When I am certain I have placed myself at the center and I become the focus. Trust, however, asks me to look beyond myself. It allows relationship. Trust places God at the center.

Faith is alive, dynamic, and growing. Faith opens us to possibilities beyond what we can presently see and understand. Certainty is more narrow. It naturally defines how we can think and act. It establishes limitations and restrictions on God, each other, and ourselves. Certainty creates boundaries. We all need boundaries to survive. But we must also recognize that the same wall that protects “us” from “them” can easily become the wall that imprisons us.

It is often much easier and less risky to be certain than it is to be faithful and trusting. Trust is hard work. It is more than simply believing. It is an action. Trust does not mean that we do not think for ourselves, that we do not get involved, or that we just sit back and let happen whatever will happen. Trust means that we must wrestle with the difficult questions. But we do so with possibilities, risk, and openness – with the possibility that our own opinion could be wrong, with the risk that we might be changed, and with openness to God’s ever-present love and grace for “us” and for “them.”

My hope and prayer is that I might be more faithful than certain, that I not fear new truths, that I not settle for half truths, and that I not presume to have all the truth.

“Never look down on anyone.

You do not know whether the spirit of God prefers to dwell in you or in them.

– Sayings of the Egyptian Fathers


  1. Wonderful reflection. I just finished last night a book on the teachings of Saint Francis and the author used “Openness” as one of the 5 key principles of seeking to become an instrument of peace like St. Francis.

    I think your use of the word “certain” indeed drives us away from this place of “openness”. We must be more faithful than certain if we are to receive the power of the Holy Spirit.



  2. Cash, thank you for your encouraging comment. I like that imagery of openness. I think authentic faith has a quality of openness. That does not mean anything goes. Rather, I am suggesting that openness is about surrendering – trusting God more than I trust myself. Certainty, as I used it in the post, is about maintaining control.


  3. I’m a long-time fan of Pascal’s Wager, the notion that we bet that something is true even if we can’t prove it rationally or scientifically–and we accept the possibility, if not necessarily the probability, that we could be wrong. This lets me hold a fairly orthodox set of beliefs without using them to beat other people over the head.


  4. Joe, thanks for your comment and the reference to Pascal’s Wager. I was not familiar with it before your comment. I like it. It sounds very Anglican! It offers a middle way. Pascal’s Wager reminds me of a priest who told me that whenever we speak of God we are saying more than we actually know.

    Peace, Mike


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