On Faith and Certainty

Warning: possible heresy to follow.

Did everything in the Bible happen exactly as it’s written? I don’t know. More to the point, I don’t care. Was Jonah actually swallowed by a large fish and spit out three days later? Did Noah really live in an ark for months with a bunch of animals? Maybe. Maybe not. Could God have made all that happen? Absolutely. Did God make all that happen? No idea. I wasn’t there.

I’m not trying to intentionally cause ass-twitching in the conservative evangelical community, but I don’t really care if I do. There is such fervent argument for the inerrancy of scripture and earnest pleading that one MUST believe that everything in the Bible happened EXACTLY THE WAY IT’S WRITTEN. I’ve even had good friends (whom I love and respect) say they believe the things in the Bible happened b/c Jesus & Paul believed that they happened. How do we know they believed they happened? They used illustrations from the Old Testament b/c it resonated with their audiences, not necessarily b/c they knew they were 100% accurate descriptions of historical reality.

Here’s what I think: being a person of faith does not mean I am a person of certainty. It requires a lot more faith and fortitude to believe that through the centuries and possible mishandling of manuscripts God can still manage to bring God’s truth to me, conceptually intact, and that God can use an imperfect text to reach out and communicate God’s love to the world.

Since when has God only been able to use perfection to accomplish God’s purposes? We take great comfort in the assurance that David, Paul, Moses, Noah and other biblical heroes were deeply flawed and tell the story of God working through human brokenness. Why then, can’t we apply that same principle to scripture?

In my opinion, people who harp on the inerrancy issue are trying to make themselves feel better about their choice of faith journey. The very definition of faith requires us to say “I don’t know” a lot, because at the end of the day, we don’t KNOW. We BELIEVE. It’s a less comfortable place to live, but it puts God squarely in control, which is where God belongs. Being a person of faith calls me to stop arguing about scripture and start submitting to it, a much more difficult proposition.

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9 thoughts on “On Faith and Certainty

  1. I said “possible.” I don’t imagine you would think it was heretical but the very suggestion of that Jonah might merely be an allegory would send some of my circle to their knees in prayer for my heathen soul.

  2. Good post.

    To play devil’s advocate (or perhaps conservative Christian advocate), doesn’t “faith” imply certainty — or at least more certainty than others — in spite of the lack of empirical evidence?

  3. I think faith implies a personal, internal certainty of “things not seen.” When we feel we have to empirically justify our faith, that’s when I think it moves out of the realm of faith because it indicates a lack of security. I can believe that the Bible is true because I wasn’t there to see any of it – I don’t have to adamanly defend how it all played out because I know that God guided the process of bringing the Bible to us, so I’m comfortable not knowing the degree to which it all actually happened.

  4. You said:
    “Here’s what I think: being a person of faith does not mean I am a person of certainty. It requires a lot more faith and fortitude to believe that through the centuries and possible mishandling of manuscripts God can still manage to bring God’s truth to me, conceptually intact, and that God can use an imperfect text to reach out and communicate God’s love to the world.”

    I think that too:>)

    I also find myself thinking that it is difficult for me to believe that anyone (including all the authors of the Bible) can keep from putting some of their own understanding/perceptions into even that which God inspires. I remember even as a very young girl thinking that God would have had to put these people in some sort of trance in order for them to get it all written down the way he meant it to be.

    But none of that takes away from scripture for me as I don’t see scripture as some sort of instruction book. I don’t need scripture to be inerrant in order to find truth about God in it. The story of Jonah doesn’t have to be fact in order for me to understand that the story is about God’s relentless love of everyone with a dash of how unloving and selfish we (God followers) can be at times.

    Scripture itself does not claim it is inerrant.

    AND…I think that a lot of the christian communities make a sort of idol out of scripture.

    I said to someone recently that I think one of the reasons we (I used to do it) want to make the bible be more than it is supposed to be is because it is easier to pull out a scripture (a lot of times out of context) to make sense of something rather than follow the holy spirit who blows like the wind in whatever direction he chooses often confounding us with what seems like contradictions because of some preconceived idea we have.

    Sorry, I guess I got a little wound up there. Thanks for the post.

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