Faith Without Certainty

I’ve attempted to write about this before. My junior year of high school, I lost the innocent certainty in my faith I had had since childhood. At first I thought that loss of certainty was a loss of faith, but I now see that it wasn’t that. Or at least not quite so. Doubt became a constant companion of mine. I spent the next ten years trying to assuage that doubt by throwing myself headlong into the evangelical Christian practice of apologetics. Apologetics is the practice of presenting evidence or defenses of one’s faith or beliefs. I read books, listened to podcasts, took courses and more in an effort for what I thought was going to be presenting to unbelievers convincing proofs, but was actually me trying to regain the certainty I had lost in high school. Sometimes that effort was fairly benign and innocent and at other times to the point of being obnoxious towards others. I think it is likely that I felt if I could convince others that Christianity was true, then maybe that would aide in regaining my own certainty. Ten years ago, I looked back on all those years of effort, only to realize that my doubts were the same as they had been, if not more so.

In thinking through what it would mean to be certain, one can imagine two different states of mind. One is an emotional feeling of certainty that one is in the right. The other is the logical process of coming to a conclusion that cannot be doubted. Although the two can overlap, after all if something logically cannot be doubted, then a feeling of certainty should come along with that, I think most people seek to have the feeling of certainty, without the logical deduction that should rightly be a prerequisite to feeling certain. The fact is that I had the feeling of certainty growing up. Sure, I could imagine being wrong, but I saw no particular reason to think I was. It was all I knew after all. Still, I’ve never been sure what cause me to so readily doubt, but it happened anyways.

Many years after were spent trying to line up the logical end so as to regain that feeling of certainty that would rest on being able to reason to a conclusion beyond reasonable doubt. However, the ability to reason through evidence and deduction to a point of certainty would seem to defy the point of faith. After all, as the book of Hebrews says in the Christian Scriptures, faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. It is the project of the enlightenment and modernism to use the scientific method and reason to arrive at knowledge. The Christian faith comes down to us from premodern times, and while historical claims can and should be subject to scientific procedures, we are speaking of metaphysical claims that are reasoned through logical arguments that simply go beyond where science is able to go. Science may inform those arguments and discussions, but it cannot give final say. However, this means that faith and certainty are in a certain sense at odds with each other. The strength of one’s faith is not the ability to believe without having any doubts, but the ability to be faithful to God. I’m sure I will spend much more time on this in the future, but this is a broad overview on some of my thinking.

Daniel Jeskey @danieljeskey