By Reverend Mark Hunnemann
18 No one has ever seen God; the only God,[f who is at the Father's side,[g] He has made him known. (John 1:18)
17 Sanctify them[b]in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)
One of the most frequent objections to Christianity is that they are arrogant for making claims for certainty: arrogant for claiming to be right, arrogant for claiming others are wrong, and even arrogant for claiming to know anything with certainty. It seems much more ‘humble’ to tell people that they can believe whatever they want to, and that all roads lead to the top of the mountain, as long as you’re sincere. It seems more humble to say: “I don’t know for sure, but as for me, I believe x,y, and z.”
Folks are naturally drawn to claims that are couched in uncertain terms because it does not demand a verdict or a change of heart-allegiance. From my experience, no matter how kind, gently, or loving one states certainty regarding truth, it will be ridiculed for being, well, arrogant…abusive..mean-spirited.
The US Constitution protects the equal rights of all religions, as it should. However, it is a short, but profoundly misguided step of logic in the mind, to go from equal rights of all religions to equal VALIDITY of all religions. That is a non-sequitor—it does not follow.
In addition, the claim that we can’t know for certain is an absolutely certain claim about uncertainty! Thus, it is a self-destructive belief/assertion.
But more to the point, we need to re-examine how we are defining ‘humility’.
First in the philosophical community, and then trickling down to popular culture, the definition of humility has undergone a profound change. We live in a culture which has been described as being in the death grip of ‘escape from reason.”,(see Francis Schaeffer, Escape from Reason) and this intellectual odyssey away from antithetical reasoning has led to a profound epistemological (the validity, nature, and limits of knowledge) skepticism.
I’m trying to shorten my blogs, so I’m not going to explain how the developments in philosophy (e.g. Hume, Kant, and Hegel) have profoundly impacted how we view the notion of certainty and knowledge acquisition. Maybe next time when I’ll discuss the basic reliability of the sense perceptions, which has been profoundly undermined in our culture.
The bottom line is that today, humility has become synonymous with ‘uncertainty’; to be uncertain is considered humble or open-minded—a virtue. But to be certain, especially about religious matters, is considered arrogant and close-minded—a vice. Whether we like it or not, that is the spirit of the age we live in.
This shift poses real problems for Christians who believe that we can have certain knowledge, not about everything, but certainty regarding God, salvation, who Jesus is and what He did, and how we can go to heaven.
God is the Lord of linguistics, and though human language is fluid, a concept as profound as humility (or arrogance) must be defined by the Living God, and not by a culture in a rebellion against Him (Psalm 2).
Our certainty has nothing to do with Christians themselves or our innate abilities. Rather, it is all grace dependent. And if it’s grace-dependent, then we have nothing to boast about in our certainty, but only humble gratitude before the Lord. Thus, we can be both certain and humble. Let me explain.
God has revealed true truth in His Word. If it were not for God’s purposeful, grace-full intention to reveal true (not exhaustive knowledge but true knowledge) knowledge about Himself via the Scriptures, we would know nothing regarding the main questions of life. General revelation through nature is true, but it lacks specificity regarding the issues mentioned above, and unaided human reason cannot attain accurate saving knowledge of God.
When it comes to crucial questions like: what is God like; how do we get to heaven, what happens after we die, who is Jesus and what He did, Christians have a solid foundation for being certain in our knowledge and claims: God’s gracious and clear revelation to us in the bible. I wonder how often bible believing Christians thank God for the immense treasure we have in the bible, and how lost we’d be without it?
In the Reformation debate between Erasmus and Martin Luther, Erasmus chided Luther for being overly bold in his assertions regarding how we are saved—Luther was insisting with utter certainty that we are saved by faith alone (which means by Christ alone). Luther, in characteristic fashion, replied: “God does not speak out of both sides of His mouth, and the Holy Spirit is not a Skeptic.” What he was saying is that, since God’s Word is clear, then we must be lovingly bold in our assertions, or it will imply that God has not spoken clearly to us, which would reflect poorly on His character and communication skills. One could say that it reflects a lack of humility to NOT speak with certainty because we are putting our fallible, finite minds in judgment above God’s gracious revelation. Or perhaps we fear what people will think of us if we speak the truth boldly. But Paul said that he was ‘not ashamed of the gospel…”, and neither should we. (Romans 1:16)
Jesus was the most humble Man who ever lived and yet He looked at the Sadducees and said: “You are wrong.” (re: their denial of the afterlife).
In John 1:18 Jesus exegeted the Father. Meaning that He explained what God is like because He IS God! Jesus, the Incarnate Word is the Ultimate revelation of what God is like. In John 17:17 notice that it does NOT say that ‘Your Word is true’ (adjective…though it is true), but that IS truth (alatheia, in Greek, noun) This implies that God’s Word does not simply conform to some other external standard of ‘truth’ but that it is Truth itself. It embodies truth and is the standard of truth against which everything else must be compared and tested. In fact, in Jesus, Truth is a Person (John 14:6). Certitude and humility are friends, not foes, due to God’s gracious revelation of Himself in the Incarnate Word and Inscripturated Word.
Christians can be both certain and humble because our knowledge is not based on ourselves, but in the self-revelation of the Living God. It is not arrogant to speak with certainty regarding matters God has spoken clearly on. It is living in humble reliance upon Him, and knowing that we don’t live on bread alone…
God didn’t go to such great lengths to reveal Himself in order to leave us in uncertainty! Unlike paganism/occult in which WE search for hidden knowledge/mysteries, in biblical Christianity it is God Himself who reveals and explains the mysteries to us—things we could not have known otherwise.
When I write a blog and make strong assertions, I do so with a humble reliance upon the God who, in His kindness and love, has revealed Himself through the Inscripturated Word as well as the Incarnate Word. Both are utterly certain! Not all things are equally clear in the bible but many things are crystal clear—sometimes it takes hard work to arrive at certainty. And when the Word is clear, then we are ill-advised to preface our comments with: “In my humble opinion…” There is certainly a place for those prefatory comments, but my thought is: why blog on something which you’re not certain about? Folks don’t care about my opinions, they want to know what GOD says!
So, let us not shrink back from speaking with confident, bold, loving certainty regarding matters the bible itself is clear about. Speak the truth in love, and not fall prey to false, worldly definitions of humility. We can be both humble and certain! Praise God! Humble certainty is what God wants us to have; it’s part of our inheritance as His children. And the world desperately needs us to be valiant for truth--declaring His glory, for His glory!
Mark Hunnemann is the author of Seeing Ghosts Through God's Eyes: A Worldview Analysis of Earthbound Spirits. It's also available in eBook format.