Ponderings: Not Certainty, but Hope

A few weeks ago, I watched a fascinating interview with Christopher Hitchens on The Atlantic Monthly website.  Hitchens is dying of cancer—that’s what he says himself.  The interview was in relation to that fact.  As one who has become well-known among the New Atheists, Hitchens comments were intriguing.

By his own admission, he said that all he could come up with at this time is “the principle of uncertainty,”and he admitted that’s all you can come up with through the intellect.  Hitchens is right.  When all you have to bring to life is intellect, the only result is uncertainty—mixed data.  Taking intellect alone, you have as much reason to doubt as you do to believe. 

And that’s why the Bible never asks us to have “certainty.”  It asks us to have “faith.”  The writer of Hebrews wrote that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for…”  Hitchens admits he is not hopeful, but then he goes on to say that through intellect alone, he cannot be.  And again, he’s right. 

But here’s the point of this week’s pondering:  the universe sends us conflicting data, but it sends us enough data on both sides of life (good and bad) for us to “have faith” if we choose to do so.  Faith is not looking at the evidence and then denying what you see; it is looking at the evidence and concluding there is enough that speaks for the possibility of God to make belief in God credible.  Faith is “reasonable,” but never “certain.”  

The “fork in the road” of life comes when we realize we have a choice to make regarding God—belief or unbelief.  The evidence alone can lead us in either direction.  Intellect can only yield “the principle of uncertainty.”  Faith looks at the same evidence and says, I have reasons to hope that what I am seeing is a glimpse of Reality.  I believe.”  

A well-known story about Mother Teresa illustrates today’s blog.  A person traveled to India, and when he had his time with her, he said, “I’ve come here to ask how you can live with such certainty.”  Mother shot back, “I do not live with certainty; I have never had certainty.  I have faith.”  The opposite of uncertainty is not certainty; the opposite of uncertainty is faith.

I worry about Christians who believe that Christianity must be “proved.”  In one sense, it can never be proved.  It must be believed, and through faith we have hope that what we have seen in and through Christ is true.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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