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Doubt, questions, certainty

With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught…” (Luke 1:3-4, NIV)

Evangelical churches – churches like ours and several others in Cambridge – are sometimes accused of an almost arrogant certainty in our beliefs, where there is no safe space for the questioner, and where you just have to follow the party line.  Is that true?  Six things come to mind.

  1. There is a joyful sense of certainty at the heart of Christianity.  This stems directly from God’s self-disclosure in Jesus.  No-one has ever seen God, says the Apostle John, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:18)  If the first half of this verse was all there was to be said, there could be no certainty in our faith.  But Jesus has made God known, in a wonderfully comprehensive way.  To keep saying “We cannot know” is to deny that Jesus has made God known.  In the introduction to his gospel, Luke (quoted at the top of this post) explicitly says his aim is to give his reader Theophilus certainty.  All through the book of Acts, which we’re studying this term in student Focus, there is a burning sense of news which needs to be told to the world. That implies certainty, too: there are facts – great facts – which must be made known.  People are willing to die rather than deny them. In His love for us, God has made them clear.  So no apologies for wanting to be as clear as we can about them.
  2. At the same time, in the Bible, we find real believers struggling with doubts and questions.  Abraham, called to trust God’s promises as he goes to a new land, clearly wobbles as he finds his experience seems to call those promises into question.  In the Psalms, we often hear the writers asking “Why?” as they wonder why God allows bad things to happen.  Far from pretending that such struggles don’t exist, the Bible reports them and shows we can expect them in Christian experience.  A Biblical faith has room for this – and so does a Biblical church!
  3. Strong, lasting faith comes from investigation and the asking of questions.  Only as we do that will we build convictions that last.  In Luke, we hear lots of people asking questions: Mary, the boy Jesus, John the Baptist, the disciples, Martha, people in the crowd and more.  One of the most encouraging things for me after preaching a sermon is when someone comes over and asks a question about it.  I wish more would: for I know that that way, truth is arrived at, and real conviction built.
  4. The Bible is the place for the answers – and has fuller, richer, deeper answers than we might think.  To take one example, the letter to the Romans is principally written to show us why Jesus’ substitutionary, wrath-bearing death was essential if we are to know God.  Paul shows this by answering many questions and objections.  Over the years, I have found that careful Bible study has cleared up so many questions in my own mind.  So as we focus on careful Bible exposition, this should also help answer our questions.
  5. Some people actually prefer uncertainty.  I got talking to a student while I was helping at a mission over in Oxford.  He told me he liked to think of God as a bit of a mystery.  “What if He’d made Himself clear?”, I asked.  “Actually, I’d rather He stayed a mystery”, came the reply.  At least his answer was honest!  But was it because he found the realities of Christianity too uncomfortable?
  6. Finally, is certainty actually arrogant?  If God really has spoken, it is not arrogant to trust Him in that.  In fact, that is proper humility.  These are the ones I look on with favour: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word. (Isaiah 65:2)

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