There is one thing we can be absolutely certain of — that we will have times of uncertainty.
I like to think of myself as a person of faith. I’ve been a follower of Jesus for 24 years this month. I can say that I have had seasons of listlessness, frustrations, and yes, doubts. Not in the overall premise of the tenants of the faith, but more so in its practices, platitudes, and politics. But I would be amiss if I did not also confess that sometimes when I am laying in bed at night, that an alien though enters my mind that whispers, “Is this for real?” Maybe not those exact words, they might be much lengthier. Or it might not be words, it’s more like feelings, or just the unformed words of an idea. To have these thoughts, in whatever manifestation, are quite unsettling.
Our brains hate uncertainty. The unknown triggers a threat response in us, causing fight or flight instincts. Meaning that in order to avoid uncertainty, we sometimes shut down our more cognitive functions and use baser elements of our repertoire of responses. As a result, faith traditions have sometimes, well, more than sometimes, shamed the premise of doubt when it rears it’s “ugly” head. If you have doubt then you are not a true believer. Or, as an alternative, for the gatekeepers and vanguards of the faith who secretly have doubts, they inverse the symptom. They seek out those who believe differently. And if you believe differently, then YOU are uncertain, there is conflict. You are painted a certain color or labeled in hushed tones as a heretic. Conflict abounds when uncertainty surfaces.
Maybe we should fully embrace uncertainty and doubts, not only in faith traditions, but also in society as a whole. The whole idea of exploration and living on the frontier is bathed in the idea of uncertainty. I, for one, do not believe science and faith have to conflict. (I am not speaking about creation science, which, in my opinion, bastardizes both faith tradition and science.) Science is all about embracing the unknown, and the curiosity that embraces it. Faith, too, can be about embracing the unknown, and simultaneously embracing faith and doubt while penetrating the cloud of uncertainty. This is when these faith traditions evolve and mature. It’s reasonable to say that the faith and understanding of most modern persons who hold to religious traditions, both of conservative and progressive stripes, is considerably more evolved and educated than tribesmen who sat around the fires listening to the elders recount the oral traditions of Moses, Abraham or other religious patriarchs.
I think a big fear that we have about doubt and uncertainty is that we think if one acknowledges it, then one thinks their faith will be shattered or rendered nonexistent. But I think that is an unwarranted fear if an individual has the courage to explore the doubt from different angles. To be curious about its origin or its source of influence. To determine what questions are arising and trying to explore them in their proper contexts. A question begins with a quest, and a quest involves exploration.
Certainty seems to be a bit more unstable than uncertainty. At one time inhabitants of this globe were certain it was flat. To believe otherwise invited shame, scorn, accusation, and sometimes, death. So much for stability. And the “faith” that sometimes influenced these responses, although imperfect in its practice, did over time survive and transform into something much more viable due to its adherents who dared to questione it. The doubts and uncertainties of those brave enough to explore the other angles led the world and the church and other faith traditions into a new era. And I believe we are all the better for it.