Letting Go of the Idols of Certainty

There is something about a crisis that makes us want to cling onto certainty even tighter. I have heard it said that the two things that people need most in a crisis is certainty and connection. And during the Covid-19 lockdown that separates us (for very good reasons) into our own little bubbles, I guess that leaves all the ‘heavy lifting’ to certainty. 

Perhaps that is why it’s a time ripe for conspiracy theories – that governments are falsifying death certificates to make a mountain out of a mole hill, that US spies planted the military-manufactured virus in China to discredit a rising power, that it’s all a plot to force us to cede our freedoms and privacy to authorities, or that the whole pandemic is a hoax. I have actually seen people seriously promoting each of these ideas on social media.

This week I also came across this reflection, You Know the Way, on Sunday’s lectionary reading: John 14: 1-14. In this blog Debie Thomas describes the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ last supper warning that things wont be the same, that a ‘new normal’ lays ahead for them all. They react against the unknown, hoping to cling to the familiar and the old certainties, or at least they want certainty about what this new future will look like.  How much longer on Alert Level 3? What will Alert Level 2 allow? Should I wear a mask or not? The disciples sound a little like the media scrum at the Prime Minister’s midday briefings.

Even though my own faith has changed and developed over the years, there are times I long for a more black-and-white God. At different times I can certainly identify (at least at a gut level, if not intellectually) with many of what Thomas calls the imposter gods she needs to shed:

“The god who bargains, transacts, and seals the deal: if I do A, then god does B.  If I behave, then I’ll be loved.  If I mess up, I’ll make god angry.  If I work hard, I’ll earn forgiveness.  If I’m the best, I’ll earn a blessing.    

“The god whose omnipotence guarantees my safety:  the god who spares the children, eliminates the virus, stops the rapist, and defuses the bomb.  Who conquers depression, ends anxiety, eliminates terror, and postpones death.  The god who explains satisfactorily when things go wrong.

“The god whose perfect will controls everything: the god who secures parking spots, bank balances, good health, and gentle partings.  Who controls my choices and directs world history.  The god whose desires order all things, such that nothing happens unless this god wants it to.

“The god who makes faith easy, by providing answers, erasing doubts, planting signs, and peddling miracles.  By coming when called, and leaving when dismissed.  By parting all clouds, and enabling me always and everywhere to feel his presence.”   

What is reassuring, however, is that in this wild ocean of disorienting uncertainty, ambiguity and unknowing that is our reality, Jesus offers two strong & beautiful pou (pillars) of security:

  • If you know me, that’s all you need. Don’t worry, I am the way, the truth and the life. “No roadmap.  No master plan.  No PowerPoint presentation.  Just himself.  Just the messy, intimate, ever evolving, and often confusing business of relationship.  Of trust, patience, and vulnerability.”
  • In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. I’ll go and prepare a place for you. “God is roomy.  God is generous.  God is hospitable.  God can handle your doubts, your fears, and your questions.  And God’s offer of belonging … You have a place with me.  You have a place with God.  You have a place.”

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