Friday, 26 April 2013

Christians Who Know Best

Those of us who are perhaps more liberal than others theologically find that we become a source of reassurance to other Christians who have been exposed to a particular behaviour on the part of other Christians. I call myself liberal but only insofar as I am not harshly dogmatic. I know my Scripture and take a perspective in my faith that regards that the works and desires of the Lord are constantly unfolding. 

There are those, however, who take a different stand-point. I cannot say that they are wrong, and would never presume to think that they are - but I do wonder about how these levels of certainty are born when found in some of my bothers and sister in faith. 

I am fairly certain about a good many things, but by no means all things. My head and heart is but one place that God speaks and I am not the best listener. I try and I fail, and as a priest, I often worry. Yet, and it happens quite often, that people cross my path or the path of those in my 'care' who walk with absolute convicted certainty. They KNOW God's will, they KNOW God's plan and they KNOW what the right and wrong of that is. And because they KNOW it (as distinct from 'think' it, 'believe' it or maybe even 'suspect' it), will have a clear plan for the world. I am sure it is great if you have that certainty - but so many people do not.

I can't pretend to fully understand the mind of my beloved wife and adored children - what chance do I have with my other best-friend, the God of the Universe and Everything?

The problem with those who are certain of all this stuff is when they meet someone who is less certain and indeed less equipped to fight the advancing conviction that seeks to compel them on. Experience has taught me that people like that come away feeling like they are somehow deficient or indeed insufficient. The spiritual disposition of many Christians is one of willing uncertainty. They probably think that they don't 'do' it right, but proceed in faith and let God do what God does. Some give up and we lose them from our churches forever. 

I speak to many people whose opening gambit is of the order of "where am I going wrong?" or else "how do I do it right?", or else "how do I become a better xyz?". Then I have those who tell me that after a conversation with one who KNOWS, they feel like a failure and very much like giving up. I reach for Psalm 139 very frequently, or else speak of the road to Emmaus. I hope it helps. 

This post serves two purposes really. To the 'certain' Christians I would gently ask you to consider whether you have ever had doubts, how they felt, and whether certainty (often a blind form of that certainty) would have helped you. If you have had no doubts at all, then frankly you trump Jesus himself who did. Then to those Christians who feel that they fall short, or worse have been made to feel that they fall short by other Christians (wittingly or otherwise) - God is bigger than any Christian I have ever met - and I am fairly certain that God can cope with your foibles. To quote Michael Ramsay (badly), if you want to love God - great. If you can only manage to want to want to love God, then God delights in that too. 

Let's face it, if God can love me and put me in a collar, he has both a sense of humour, and the ability to deal with whatever you feel you have in shorter measure. Rejoice and do nothing else but know. 

1                 O Lord, you have searched me out and known me;  
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
     you discern my thoughts from afar.
you know my sitting down and my rising up;     you discern my thoughts from afar. 
2                 You mark out my journeys and my resting place
and are acquainted with all my ways. 
3                 For there is not a word on my tongue,   but you, O Lord, know it altogether. 
4                 You encompass me behind and before
and lay your hand upon me 
5                 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
so high that I cannot attain it. 
6                 Where can I go then from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence? 
7                 If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. 
8                 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 
9                 Even there your hand shall lead me,
your right hand hold me fast. 
10               If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will cover me
and the light around me turn to night,’ 
11               Even darkness is no darkness with you;     the night is as clear as the day;
darkness and light to you are both alike.  
12               For you yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb. 
13               I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;   marvellous are your works, my soul knows well. 
14               My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was made in secret     and woven in the depths of the earth. 
15               Your eyes beheld my form, as yet unfinished;
already in your book were all my members written, 
16               As day by day they were fashioned   when as yet there was none of them. 
17               How deep are your counsels to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them! 
18               If I count them, they are more in number than the sand,
and at the end, I am still in your presence.   
19               O that you would slay the wicked, O God,   that the bloodthirsty might depart from me! 
20               They speak against you with wicked intent;
your enemies take up your name for evil. 
21               Do I not oppose those, O Lord, who oppose you?
Do I not abhor those who rise up against you? 
22               I hate them with a perfect hatred;
they have become my own enemies also.  
23               Search me out, O God, and know my heart;  try me and examine my thoughts. 
24               See if there is any way of wickedness in me  and lead me in the way everlasting.


  1. A lovely post David, and one which echoes many of my own thoughts.
    Full of hope, and at the same time, full of uncertainty, my personal journey (in which you have played a significant part), is just that. A journey!
    People who claim to have travelled all the way and to have arrived at their destination frighten the life out of me.
    If God allows us our uncertainties why can some of our 'enlightened' brothers and sisters not do the same?
    By the way, A Happy Anniversary to you and JO.

  2. Ray, thank you

    ...and apologies for the original format of the Psalm; it got mashed somewhat!

  3. God is bigger than any Christian I have ever met - I shall make sure I remember this always David especially when coming across those who KNOW (yes I have met a few too) x.

  4. Hari OM
    "Search me out, O God, and know my heart; try me and examine my thoughts." A personal favourite of mine! This and variations of it are what have held me in my search...not that I necessarily KNEW I was searching as such until I was faced with a rather interesting intersection!!!

    I would echo Ray's thoughts regarding those who 'know' and would go so far as to mention that here in Vedanta it is made very clear that those who claim such are almost certainly ignorant... in terms of the Truth of God. There MUST be doubt. There MUST be questions. These draw us ever upward.

    Of course, if it feels safer on the plains, then so be it. Personally, I'm a mountain climber. Great post!! Pranaams, YAM

  5. I always think that the only thing I'm certain about is doubt.

    I worry about those who are certain that they have and hold the single truth, because surely they can't have it all. I know that I have very little, and the only things I hold to is Faith, Belief, Hope and Trust and God is one who keeps his promises, Just as he did when he sent Jesus to us.

  6. Oh yes, David! A splendid post and I so agree. These Christians with no apparent doubts frighten me too and I think they often do a lot of harm. When faced with them I cling to the wise saying that the opposite of faith isn't doubt, it's certainty.

  7. I heard someone very wise once say to the uber-certain types: "Be careful of that halo you're wearing. It's only 6 inches from becoming your noose."

  8. What a fantastic sermon from Father David.

    You honestly talk about your doubts.

    But for me, it all comes down to the passion, and his crucifixion, where he said (probably in Aramaic)

    My God why have you forsaken me.

    And then while he was suffering on the Cross, according to the Synoptic gospels, as he was dying in agony he said:

    "Father forgive them, because they do not know what they do."

    He said this while he was dying on the Cross. And he even turned around,, despite his agony to look at the two alleged thieves who were being crucified with him and gave them comfort.



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