Certainty Sucks

You’re not really interested in believing THE TRUTH unless you take seriously the possibility that what you presently believe is NOT TRUE.” – Greg Boyd

I ended the last post — which admittedly was so long ago nobody even remembers what I was talking about, so maybe refresh your memory here — by saying “that while small bits of information are enough to allow us to draw a conclusion, even mountains of new information will struggle to convince us to revise these conclusions. We seem to take what little information we have, form theories and connections based on the probability it is correct, and then ignore the possibility we could be wrong and instead take a giant leap to certainty that forcefully fights off further information that may support alternative explanations”.

Why is this?

While there are many possible responses to this question, one way to think about it is the fact that we live in a complicated world where it is literally impossible to learn everything (some might say “anything”) “on our own”. We are limited by time and space and so we need to trust other people’s expertise, opinions and insight. For this reason, our conclusions and/or beliefs are not formed merely by assessing all relevant information; in fact, they are more influenced by our relationships and environments than we can even understand.

We believe in people much more than we believe in information. Our beliefs and conclusions are often “faith once removed” — we trust the source of the information long before we trust the information they provide. And when that trusted source gives us information, we automatically trust it because we trust the person it came from.

Beliefs are relational. The conclusions we draw mirror those of the people we trust because they are shaped by those relationships and the stories shared within that relationship.

And this is why being wrong is so hard on us.

We are relational creatures and great storytellers. We tell stories, both to others and to ourself, in order to relate what we do to others around us and to make meaning of our lives. This is how we make sense of the world. Because of this any beliefs and conclusions are formed within the context of relationships and one’s environment. Any change in belief or conclusion will impact our relationship to ourselves, others and our environment.

This can be drastic in cases where people are shunned for changing their beliefs or simply “minor” when a certain topic of conversation is scratched off the list of topics to discuss during Thanksgiving dinner, but no matter how big or small the change in conclusions is, it has an impact and changes those relationships … and this is scary.

As humans we tend to avoid change at all costs and so we avoid considering the possibility we could be wrong. Instead, we tend to rush toward certainty. We wholeheartedly want to believe there is no possible way we could be wrong, but this is obviously just a mask to keep us from facing the real possibility we could be wrong and may need to change.

Certainty has been described as “being mistaken at the top of one’s voice”. While imagination allows us to consider and enjoy stories that are not our own and empathy allows us to feel the stories of others and to take them seriously, certainty destroys both of those qualities. Since there is no possible way we could be wrong, imagining another story or taking seriously someone else’s story is simply not negotiable …

… it appears our resistance to admitting we could be wrong is a resistance to change; a fear of being left alone with too few certainties and too many emotions. Concern that our comfortable world may be shattered if we allow ourselves to entertain the possibility we might be fallible.

——

What I find interesting about this is that our desire for certainty flies directly in the face of one of the basic calls of the Gospel; to repent!

Now many people have been given a poor definition of what this word means. It seems most people associate this word with confession … to apologize for doing something they shouldn’t have and beg forgiveness. The word is so much more than that.

The word “repent” in the proclamation of the gospel means “to change one’s mind or purpose”. The proclamation “repent for the kingdom of heaven is here” is an invitation to reconsider everything in your life now that the rule of God has come to you.

It is an invitation to look at the upside down ways we act and the twisted ways we think about everything and to flip them over and straighten them out now that love has come.

The truth is in front of us and calling us to something more — are you going to continue in your flawed ways of thinking or open your mind to the possibility that everything you once believed could have been wrong?

This is the invitation Jesus places in front of us … so what does the truth look like?

The answer(s) to that question are many. They depend on situations. They could be different for different people. But one thing is certain — the answer looks like Jesus. And deciding to rethink your life in the light of his life, death and resurrection can be disconcerting, uncomfortable and feel like death.

But there is life on the other side of death.

Transformation is possible.

The first step is admitting, we could be wrong!

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