For many Christians, the need for certainty has become the focal point of their spiritual lives. But what happens when crises or circumstances come along, shaking that certainty and making them question everything they thought they knew? In his new book, The Sin of Certainty, biblical professor and scholar, Peter Enns posits that this single-minded focus on knowing who God is and how he works can actually become an idol, distracting us from true faith in God. He also explores the concept that believing the "right things" should never be the core of our faith, but instead that it should be our unwavering trust in God regardless of what may be going on around us. Through examples from scripture and his own personal journey, Mr. Enns brings hope to those who may be facing crises of faith by showing us how we can use these challenges as opportunities to deepen our trust in God.
For the last fifteen years or so, I feel like I've been on a spiritual journey. It's been a long road marked with doubts, uncertainties, and struggles surrounding what I believe or perhaps more accurately, what is the "right" way to believe. Through much soul-searching, I've come to the conclusion that there isn't necessarily any such thing as "right" beliefs, not even within my own Christian faith. After all, there are over 40,000 Christian church denominations, and in many cases, some of the denominations branched off of others due to conflicting beliefs. That means that no one denomination has all the answers, and perhaps even my own faith itself doesn't have all the answers either. That's why when The Sin of Certainty was chosen as our latest church book club read, I was eager to check it out. I have to say I wasn't disappointed with its message.
The author of the book, Peter Enns, has been on a spiritual journey not unlike mine and also for a number of years. He's a biblical scholar and a professor of biblical studies who thought he had it all together and knew all the "correct" beliefs until he had what he calls an "uh-oh moment." Then things started to unravel for him. In much the same way as it was for me, suddenly things that used to be clear weren't so clear anymore, which caused him to start looking more deeply at his own beliefs and what some of the authors of the Bible had to say about periods of doubting. All of that, of course, led him to write this book.
Mr. Enns begins by exploring some of the scientific and historical findings that have occurred over the past century or two that have led some people to start doubting the veracity of the Bible as a literal historical document. From there, he delves into portions of the Bible, particularly Ecclesiastes, Job, and many of the Psalms that express heavy doses of doubt in God's love and presence in the authors' lives, but also how these authors still trusted God anyway. Trust is a big part of Mr. Enns' narrative in this book, and he uses the etymology of the words faith, believe, and trust, as well as the context of how they're used in the Bible to explain why trusting God is far more important than beliefs, especially a preoccupation with "correct" beliefs as seems to be the case with many Christians. It's this kind of trust that can help mitigate our uncertainties when we're caught off guard by those "uh-oh moments."
One of the things that I appreciated the most about this book is Mr. Enns' sharing of the results of a survey he took on his blog in which he asked the questions: What are your one or two biggest obstacles to staying Christian? What are those roadblocks you keep running into? What are those issues that won't go away and make you wonder why you keep on believing at all? In the end, most of the answers fell into one of five categories, each of which the author explored in more depth: 1. The Bible portrays God as violent. 2. The Bible and science collide. 3. God seems disinterested. 4. Christianity is the only path to God. And 5. Christians treat each other badly. I can say without a doubt, I've struggled with all of these things myself to some degree, especially 2 & 5, so I could relate to everything he had to say in this chapter very well.
What I loved so much about this book is that I came away with an understanding that doubt is a normal, natural part of the faith experience that should be embraced rather than shunned. It isn't a product of a lack of faith, or not praying enough, or not reading/studying the Bible enough as many ministers and fellow Christians have told me in the past. If anything, there's much to be learned from these periods in our lives, however long they may last. There's nothing wrong with seeking to understand the things of God, but don't make it your sole preoccupation in life. God can't be put into a box, and things don't always have to line up in a neat little row. There's meant to be some mystery to faith. After all, without it, how can we cultivate trust? These are the primary messages I took away from reading The Sin of Certainty, and I also take much comfort in knowing that I'm not alone on this spiritual pilgrimage. I think anyone else who might be feeling the same things I and the author are could find solace in his words too.
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