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Sinful Certainty

Sinful Certainty June 1, 2009

I just had a brief conversation with another church member (he also teaches Sunday school) which managed in a very short time to touch on evolution, the dome in Genesis 1, JEPD and Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, and the perfection and knowledge of Jesus. The individual in question suggested that, if Jesus was mistaken about evolution, then that meant Jesus sinned.

A couple of preliminary points before my main one. First, I have no interest in defending Jesus’ sinlessness, although I decided that raising that point in the conversation I mentioned would probably make the discussion take considerably longer, and so I refrained from doing so. Second, there is no inevitable conflict between evolutionary biology and the statement attributed to Jesus in the Gospels that “in the beginning God made them male and female”, since (contrary to one bizarre creationist misunderstanding of evolution), evolution does not hold that there were originally asexual or androgynous humans. Indeed, the latter is a view that some interpreters of the Bible have come up with.

But the main point for me was this: being wrong should not be considered the same as being sinful. Being mistaken is not only not evil, it is something inherent to the human condition. And to claim that Jesus would always be right about things, and particularly things that no human in his time knew, is to deny his humanity.

The solution to this is simple. Certainty should be defined as a divine attribute (or perhaps it should not even be attributed to God, but I’ll let anyone interested in that philosophical discussion pursue it if they are interested). It should be considered sinful hubris rather than praiseworthy when a human being lays claim to certainty.

“Jesus was uncertain. Jesus didn’t know a great many things. Jesus was wrong about some things.” Such statements should be viewed as part and parcel of affirming Jesus’ humanity, whereas attributing certainty to Jesus makes him out to be full of sinful hubris.

Perhaps if we emphasize that claiming Jesus was always right, always certain, means either denying his humanity or attributing sin to him, then we can persuade more of his followers to abandon their own sinful claims of certainty.

I almost wrote of their sinful quest for certainty. But it is not necessarily the quest for certainty itself that is the problem. It is the belief that one has attained the goal.

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