Okay, I finally pulled the trigger and spent my $150 Amazon.com gift card. The first purchase was Bethge’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I have to say, upon opening the package, I feel the need to retract my earlier griping about the book’s cost. I had no idea it was over 1000 pages long. It’s like buying two books and the price now seems appropriate. I’m obviously glad to have the book in hand… 45 pages in and am already completely enthralled.
Bethge was explaining what he thought DB’s reasons were for studying theology in the first place. Bethge believed that DB would have never wanted to come to a full conclusion on the matter because he “sensed that the curiosity to make oneself sure of something was self-destructive. So we must accept a certain amount of uncertainty…” I’ve been quite struck by this phrase and the recognition of the danger of “making oneself sure of something.”
One of my favorite quotes of all time was given by David Burrell when he was speaking at NTS years ago. He said, “There are two kinds of people in the world: people who need certitude, and those who search for truth.” I think he’s onto the same thing as Bonhoeffer. Both are insisting not upon some radical postmodern incredulity toward the existence of absolute truth, but upon the kind of self-deception which always accompanies certitude.
Certitude is deadly.
- First, it severely limits the ability to grow because certitude refuses to entertain the idea that it could be wrong. Why continue to search for the truth when we’ve already arrived?
- Second, it creates a posture of defensiveness. Any challenge to certitude must be met with resistance, even violence – I see this in people like John Piper and other self-proclaimed protectors of “orthodoxy.” Certitude requires us to expend an inordinate amount of energy defending our version of reality.
- Third, it follows from the first two reasons certitude is deadly, that our certitude actually adversely impacts the spiritual journey of other seekers. When we traffic in certitudes, requiring others to do the same, attacking those who do not, then we limit the ability of those who are still in progress to continue their journey unabated. In undermines our confidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of everyone who seeks after God. Certitude erases the space people require in order to work things out for themselves in community with us.