Certainty in Christ: A Blessing–And A Curse

How can being absolutely certain of Christ’s reality and sovereignty be a curse? Because the one thing that will unfailingly close your mind to the great spontaneous freedom of life—the one thing, in other words, sure to kill the vibrant, open-ended vitality of the Holy Spirit—is being confident that you know and understand everything.

And why, if you’re a Christian, are you at least as likely as anyone else to feel that you know and understand everything? Because you think and feel that you know God, that’s why.

We Christians believe that we know God. We pride ourselves on how well we know God, how intimately we relate to him, how constantly we are with him. We’re sure that we know God’s will, thought, purpose, desire, “plan” for our lives. We’re sure we know how God wants us to think, pray, behave, talk, dress, vote.

We have the Bible. The Bible is in black and white. The mind of God is right there on the page.

Read the Bible; know God’s mind.

Know God’s mind; know the world.

Know the world; be above the world.

Be above the world; wouldn’t know God from a used car salesman.

“I tell you the truth,” said Jesus, “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Jesus isn’t explicitly clear about a whole lot of things, but on this point he leaves no room for misunderstanding: Without the mind of a child, you can’t come into heaven.

And if there’s one thing you can say about children, it’s that they operate in the world wide open to the knowledge that, when push comes to shove, they don’t know diddly about squat.

We should never, ever forget that, as adults, we barely know more. And as adults we probably know less about God than we did when we were kids.

My personal opinion and experience is that once you’re sure you’ve grasped God—as so many, many Christians are so sure they have–it’s a guarantee you’ve lost him.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter. If you shop at Amazon, help support John by entering the site through this link right here--Amazon will then send John 3-4% of the cost of anything you buy before exiting the site again.

 

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Ah, you're so nice. Thank you! Very kind.

  • http://floatingaxhead.com michael

    every form of refuge has its price…

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Everyone who talks in fortune cookes makes no actual sense…

    • DR

      …in bed.

    • Susan

      This comment. Hysterical.

  • http://www.youtube.com/morsec0de Morse

    This is why you’re one of my favorite Christians, John.

    Intellectually honest almost to a fault. Brilliant.

  • http://untried.blogspot.com/ Mark

    I have found it extremely liberating to approach God realizing my complete inadequacy and idiocy. It sure helps to let him lead you when you realize you don't know everything about him and haven't got him all figured out.

  • arlywn

    seee……. only a christian could say what all us heathens say and have people think its a good thing. If I said that same thing, which I have in lesser, not so nice words, then I would be a heathen…. lol

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Mark: Nice. Well said.

    Arlywn: What, exactly, is it that all you heathens say? Not following you…

  • http://apocketfullofhope.blogspot.com Stephanie

    John, very nicely put and so very true.

    "And as adults we probably know less about God than we did when we were kids."

    Amen!

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com skerrib

    That's the bummer about confidence. It breeds arrogance. Except not in me–I never get arrogant. You poor saps…

  • Candace

    Hi, John —

    A new Christian at 50 (now 51), who just found your blog. Subscribed yesterday, after reading an earlier post in which you expressed questions/concerns/thoughts regarding Christianity vis a vis homosexuality. There was some great debate/commentary generated on that one.

    It's a topic I've done a lot of thinking and praying about, since — as an agnostic who got whalloped — I struggled greatly with the shift from my previous tolerant stance (which I highly valued), to the biblical view (previously anathema to me) that was starting to make sense on several levels. What it ultimately came down to, for me, was that I would continue to love my gay friends as I always had (even more meaningfully, actually, thanks to my newfound faith), and leave the rest of it up to God.

    Underlying this decision, I believe, was an implicit understanding of the paradigm you have so eloquently articulated HERE.

    One of the advantages of being so new at this is that I know I am but a child, with plenty to think about in just learning to walk my own walk in a way that is pleasing to my Father. I haven't (yet, anyway!) the hubris to claim I know all there is to know about what God says to us in the Bible, nor to try and do the Lord's job for him in governing or cleaning up the lives of others. While I am happy to express my own personal thoughts, feelings, experiences and insights to anyone interested, I realize that they are only MY thoughts, feelings, experiences and insights.

    Anyway, it was interesting to me the ways in which this post today illuminated the discussion of, and my own position relative to, the post I read yesterday.

    I feel as if I am not expressing it well at all, but hope you see what I'm saying.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Candace: I certainly do see what you're saying; you've expressed it perfectly. I LOVE what you've said here; you're the kind of Christian we need more of, frankly.

    Skerrib: Funny as always!

    Stephanie: Thank you so much.

  • FreetoBe

    I've wondered if "I don't know" is an appropriate response to a question from my Sunday-schoolers. But I think the kids KNOW when a teacher doesn't know and tries to make up an answer to suit the doctrine. I like not knowing, I like the discovery of new things about God that come up every day.

    My favorite verse today is Psalm 34:8–Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good;

    Isn't that lovely? To savor the sweetness of God and to relish His goodness. To become a connoisseur of Him, to continually find delight in His newness.

    I'm happy today!

    Thanks for your post, John. As always, thought-provoking. And funny, for which I'm thankful.

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com skerrib

    FreetoBe, I totally agree that the kids know when a teacher is trying to cover up for not knowing. Grownups get really good at convincing themselves they know things they don't know, and for some reason lots of other grownups are willing to play along. I think because helps them perpetuate their own illusions of knowing it all…as long as they believe the same things. But kids know. Thank you, thank you for being honest with your Sunday School kids!

  • arlywn

    that no one knows everything about anything. But I feel that when we point this out, especially to some christians, suddenly we are the bad guys, or against god…… excetra.

  • Dan Harrell

    John,

    Isn't it always the pride thing. Even if we don't know, we have to pretend like we do, because we've been doing it for so many years.

    Personally, I have so many questions that I fail to see how anyone can know much for sure, except they don't know much at all.

    Children have that whole love thing down too, where they trust and hug and accept everyone and everything.

    I've been so hung up on actually seeing a burning bush that I've failed to feel God nudging me to where he wants me. Most of the time it isn't a thunderclap, but a murmur.

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com ric booth

    Well said John. I like to think of my relationship with God as always growing… I am getting to know him more over time. My son's wrestling coach had a sign on the mat-room wall: "If you think you're green, you're ripening. If you think you're ripe, you're rotting." (I hope he didn't get that from a fortune cookie;)

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Burns

    Certainty is an interesting emotion (neurologists classify it as an primary emotion and can be evoked through targeted electrical brain stimulation). There is a sensation or feeling of knowing of when we are faced with something. Later in any given day, you may think back and know, confidently, that you had scrambled eggs for breakfast. There is a definite sensation…that “feeling of knowing”. More apparent to most of us is when we are are presented with information that is in conflict with that “feeling of knowing”.

    It has always been fascinating for me to observe professions of knowledge…absolute certainty even…where, seemingly, none can be had. It was this interest that had me snatch up this book: “On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not” by Robert Burton M.D. ( http://tinyurl.com/5luo3y ) In it, we see stunning examples of how certainty is easily and often associated with ANYTHING regardless of it accuracy or truth.

    Keep in mind that certainty and the “feeling of knowing” are not necessarily reliable guideposts. As Mark Twain said: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so”

    You can also read my full review of the book at http://fvthinker.blogspot.com/2008/03/book-review-on-being-certain-believing.html

  • Peter

    John, here’s my two cents. You’ve got to go through the whole intellectual thing; trying to conceptually understand God/Jesus through the mind. But it always comes up short, so you keep on building with the assumption that you’ll get it just right one day. Some day you’ll have the ANSWER and when you speak it out people will slap themselves on the forehead and say, of course! But then, one fine day, you realize that you don’t know squat about anything, let alone God. And you can allow the true Mystery of his Presence to simply be; to hold you in silent prayer. Awesome, huge, amazing. So far beyond the mind’s capacity to conceptualize. Your intellect becomes like Elmer Fud before that Majesty.

  • Peter

    John, here’s my two cents. You’ve got to go through the whole intellectual thing; trying to conceptually understand God/Jesus through the mind. But it always comes up short, so you keep on building with the assumption that you’ll get it just right one day. Some day you’ll have the ANSWER and when you speak it out people will slap themselves on the forehead and say, of course! But then, one fine day, you realize that you don’t know squat about anything, let alone God. And you can allow the true Mystery of his Presence to simply be; to hold you in silent prayer. Awesome, huge, amazing. So far beyond the mind’s capacity to conceptualize. Your intellect becomes like Elmer Fud before that Majesty.

  • http://johnshore.com Christine Conti

    I read somewhere–can't remember, sorry–that the metaphor about the little children is not that they are ignorant but that they are the most socially powerless among us. I believe Jesus's words come directly after the apostles' squabbling about who will be the greatest among them? And that was his answer–whoever is the least powerful. I wish I could give credit to whoever came up with this very nice interpretation.

  • http://johnshore.com Christine Conti

    I read somewhere–can't remember, sorry–that the metaphor about the little children is not that they are ignorant but that they are the most socially powerless among us. I believe Jesus's words come directly after the apostles' squabbling about who will be the greatest among them? And that was his answer–whoever is the least powerful. I wish I could give credit to whoever came up with this very nice interpretation.

  • Marsha Conroy

    I agree completely that that we don't know it all. A person commented earlier that confidence breeds arrogance, and it's true. Subtle, seductive and true.

    Our confidence should come from the fact that God is good and He is correct. The fact that He stooped down to offer Himself to us speaks of His greatness and mercy and kindness rather than our worthiness and intelligence. I know who I was before He called me, and that woman no longer exists; He has changed me and continues to do so. I am who I am now because of what He has done. He is amazing and so kind.

    So I don't have to worry about gays and thieves and murderers, etc – I still have my own issues to wrestle through. I don't have a simple solution for every situation. But I am confident of one thing: that God is good and He knows what He is doing. I hang on to that with all I have.

  • Marsha Conroy

    I agree completely that that we don't know it all. A person commented earlier that confidence breeds arrogance, and it's true. Subtle, seductive and true.

    Our confidence should come from the fact that God is good and He is correct. The fact that He stooped down to offer Himself to us speaks of His greatness and mercy and kindness rather than our worthiness and intelligence. I know who I was before He called me, and that woman no longer exists; He has changed me and continues to do so. I am who I am now because of what He has done. He is amazing and so kind.

    So I don't have to worry about gays and thieves and murderers, etc – I still have my own issues to wrestle through. I don't have a simple solution for every situation. But I am confident of one thing: that God is good and He knows what He is doing. I hang on to that with all I have.

  • Robert Schwab

    God? The Creator? Hey, I'm still having trouble with the Black Hole thingys!

  • Robert Schwab

    God? The Creator? Hey, I'm still having trouble with the Black Hole thingys!

  • Kathryn Waycaster

    Such an insightful article. As a child, I’d get into bed to say my prayers and pretend to call Jesus on the phone. I envisioned a beaufiful waist high rock fence—and I’d wait patiently for Jesus to come to the fence and talk with me. Those were amazingly warm, unfiltered, loving conversations. Then we grow older and life gets complicated. Thank you, John for bringing us back to the truth.

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  • http://ramblingsofaspiritualidiot.wordpress.com ~Julia~

    “We have the Bible. The Bible is in black and white. The mind of God is right there on the page.

    Read the Bible; know God’s mind.

    Know God’s mind; know the world.

    Know the world; be above the world.

    Be above the world; wouldn’t know God from a used car salesman.”

    Interesting, John.

    I posted this on another post, but I think it goes well here, too:

    It seems this communication can happen is only if they have a bible present. Jesus/God/HS seems to only speak biblese, using the bible as a secret decoder ring or something, or as a diviation tool like tarot cards or runes.

    I mean, cannot Jesus/God/HS speak nothing else but biblese….?

    Awhile back on a multi-faithed site I challenged the Christians there to put down their bibles for a year and a day to see how Jesus/God/HS would communicate with them if they did not scripture to run to all the time. For one year and a day do not read or listen or quote scripture, just Jesus/God/HS directly. Should be easy since all claimed to have the Jesus/God/HS within them, yes? Having a direct line like and knowing the mind of Jesus/God/HS and all it should be a peice of cake. For one year and a day. Simple.

    Needless to say, they balked, (several called me names to make thier point) and not a single Christen never took up the challenge.

    Oddly, no one would explain to me why they wouldnt do it.

    Wonder why…..

  • DR

    …in bed.

  • Susan

    This comment. Hysterical.


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