I have always admired those people who can speak so assuredly about things that I am so uncertain about. I always think, “It must be nice to be so confident, not have to deal with doubt.” Often these non-doubters are men, tall, with a full head of hair and a deeper voice – a voice like the guys who do those movie trailers.
Sometimes the self-assured ones are speaking about God, as if they just had lunch with God. I feel an urge to nod my head and yell out, “Amen brotha!” I am not kidding here. There is something very attractive about the self confident ones. Certainty is their reality.
I am not one of those. I am uncertain – and the older I get, the more uncertain I become. Certainty has not been my friend no matter how much I try to attract it and attach it to myself. Truth be known, I have probably unconsciously spent a great part of my life trying to be certain. I think with certainty comes a sense of control over one’s life and you can share your wisdom with the uncertain ones.
One advantage of certainty is that it provides a foundation for one to articulate their beliefs in such a way that it can be quite persuasive. I had a good friend at work who whenever they spoke the room full of academics would get quiet and listen to what my friend had to say. My friend was brilliant at articulating a point of view on complicated issues. All the uncertain ones would nod their heads when my friend was done and they would give an academic, “Amen, brotha/sista!” However, over several years, I noticed that what my friend often articulated as a solution to a problem, and would be adopted by the group, didn’t work out very well. And, my friend seemed to care less because he/she had moved on to another more “pressing” matter that received new “Amens.” Still, I found my friend’s certainty quite intoxicating.
How can one be certain there is a God? Or, how can one be certain there is not a God? How can one be certain there is ‘life’ after death? How can one be certain that there isn’t? I find those who are certain about God’s existence to be inspiring. I find those who are lost in the maze of uncertainty regarding these kind of questions to be frustrating, inarticulate, and empty of inspiration – or just plain confusing, like my blog posts. But…as I have discovered from my friend and many other examples, an articulate argument does not make one correct, brothas and sistas.
In my Christian tradition, uncertainty seems like it is almost a deadly sin. Thomas, the apostle who did not first believe Jesus was resurrected and was no longer confined in the tomb, picked up the historical nickname “Doubting Thomas.” I am going to come clean. Given all that Thomas had witnessed, I would have been right there with him, “Doubting Gary” but I would have preferred you use my formal name, Saint Gary.
Is it bad to be uncertain? Uncertainty is not the absolute opposite of certainty, is it? You are not saying certainty is wrong. You are simply saying, “I don’t know. I have no knowledge in this area. I have no proof. ” Here is another question, is faith really only available when one lacks certainty? As odd as it sounds, could one be more open to the unknowable when they are uncertain? Does ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ get in the way of a deeper experience? I don’t know. Remember, I’m uncertain. It might be a good spot to be in, although admittedly quite uninspiring. I do think uncertainty can make one a better listener. You are not waiting for the other one to shut up so you can articulate your certainty.
The Good Book said that Moses led “his people” wandering through the desert for 40 years. Again, let me come clean. Probably after 20 years, I would have been the guy in the back saying, “I don’t know, seems like we’ve passed this stupid tree before, maybe even 18 times before!!!” However, maybe wandering in the desert of uncertainty is a requirement for something I don’t understand. Maybe being lost ain’t such a bad thing. Perhaps not being in control, or knowing your future and all the answers is the beginning and end. Maybe uncertainty is actually where life exists in a delicate balance between seemingly opposing forces, facts and faith.
I once taught a leadership class (I know, I know) for college students who were struggling academically. One day I surveyed the class with this question as I was trying to understand their mindsets: You are going on a one week road trip. Your first option is to have the entire week mapped out, knowing exactly what hotels you will be staying at, the towns, the route, the restaurants all are planned before you leave. The second option is to just get in the car and start driving wherever you want with nothing planned. There was about 25 students in the class. Being a child of the 60’s, I was expecting many to choose option 2. Throw on a tie dye shirt and let’s go! Nobody chose option 2. A few said, “I wish I was that type of person, but I couldn’t do it. I need some control.”
Is it possible that uncertainty requires more courage from us than the know-it-alls? Are you really in control anyway? In the last two and a half years, my father died, our house burned down, and I had emergency surgery that required almost three months off from work. All this happened while I was most certain of what our future looked like. I had it all planned out. For sure. Now, I am uncertain.