"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." 1 Corinthians 13:12 (ESV)
In the above statement of faith, there is an acknowledgement of partial knowledge, or uncertainty. As Gordon Fee has commented, "it is not a distorted image that we have in Christ through the Spirit; but it is as yet indirect, not complete."
The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans) 1987. Page 648.
In order to understand and defend our faith we must understand that uncertainty is an integral aspect of the faith relationship. This will lead our discussion outside of normal devotional parameters and into the elemental issue of the existence of God.
There are two possibilities about the existence of God. Either God exists, or he does not. Mathematically, it means that both believers and atheists have a theoretical 50% chance of being right. This is actually very exciting for the believer. Before he has even begun to examine the evidence, to read the Bible, pray, engage in fellowship, or listen to the life-changing testimony of other believers, he has a 50% chance of being right about the existence of God. Small wonder that we believers, having experienced the richness and power of a life of faith, tend to seem remarkably sure of our belief system at times.
Our apparent certainty is probably one of the things that annoys our atheist friends. It may therefore be useful, and even important, to acknowledge freely to atheists, we do not know everything for sure. Upon this humble foundational premise the conversation may proceed in many directions. Firstly, what does it mean to know something with absolute certainty? A clever philosopher can make us doubt whether a tree makes a sound when it falls in the woods, when there is no one to hear it. Can we trust our senses? We know that cats and dogs can hear and smell things we cannot. What about the things they cannot hear and smell? Can we trust our sense of logic and reason? Can any of us say that we have never made a mistake in perceiving, analyzing or reasoning? Can we be absolutely sure of our intuitive reasoning? If we are absolutely sure, why are we? How certain are we of any abstract proposition communicated through that funny medium known as language: those puffs of air, those scribbles of ink?
All of which is simply to say we might as well be humble about the issue of certainty. We live, and we do the best we can, making the best decisions we can. To those committed to a life of faith, it is hard to imagine any other life. The rewards are found both in the experience and the promise.
It humility also leads to the interesting proposition that if we knew everything for certain, there would be no need for faith. God's edicts would be plain, we would not have to think much, nor would we have to make difficult decisions. The rewards and punishments would be obvious. There is something not right with this picture. God is benevolent, but he is not a dictator.
How different it is to understand the idea rather that we are trusted by God. We are given free will to go forth and live and learn. We are free to make decisions for good or ill. What does God ask in return? That we trust him, that we have faith in him and his Word.
Trust is rather a beautiful thing. If you lend money to a friend you trust that he will pay you back. Perhaps faith is the highest form of trust. If you do not really worry if your friend will pay you back, then you have faith in him. A relationship based on trust or faith is a vibrant and meaningful thing. A relationship that has no element of trust or faith is dramatically different.
This leads to a question we might meekly return to our atheist friends: how, exactly, can they be certain that there is no God? Let them marshal their evidence; it must fall short of certainty. If they could prove absolutely that God does not exist, there would be no need to argue with us about it-we would be convinced. Absolute proof by definition does not allow for doubt.
Are both sides doomed to endless debate? As believers, we are certainly not doomed in any way. We are challenged to love our neighbours and atheists are certainly included in that group. Gentle discussion and the sharing of joy are the evangelist's best tools.
Although there are only two possibilities as to God's existence-- he is or isn't-there nevertheless appear to be three categories of belief: the believer, the atheist, and the agnostic.
Unlike the atheist or the believer however, the agnostic has a 0% chance of being proven correct on the proposition of whether or not God exists. The agnostic presumably thinks that he is being intellectually honest. If neither the believer nor the atheist can prove the issue once and for all, then surely the only thing to be is an agnostic. Following this line of reasoning, the following propositions must also be true:
--if one cannot be absolutely certain that one will have a happy marriage, one must never get married.
--if one cannot be certain one's children will grow up to be happy and prosperous, one must never have children.
--if one cannot be certain that a business venture will succeed, one must never take a commercial risk.
--if one cannot be certain there will be calm waters, one must never go boating.
--if one cannot be sure of getting a hole-in-one, there is no point in playing golf.
One could go on. Uncertainty is an element of virtually every aspect of our existence. This is, as a general rule, a good thing. It makes commitment, excellence and heroism possible.
There we are. Of the three categories of belief, I am, quite frankly, very happy to be in the camp of the believers. I am also grateful to my atheist and agnostic friends for provoking me to think and ponder and pray about the most intriguing questions of human life.
In faith and fellowship,
Patrick McKitrick (more...)