Certainty is the goalpost

“Beware of false teachers” is a biblical warning I’ve heard a lot this election season. “For many are wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

But this is a warning I heard many times before the presidential nominees were chosen. It’s a warning that’s tossed around whenever someone claims to speak for God in a way that defies the norm: “Do not listen to him, he will lead you astray.” People who do this, I’ve been told – those who preach ‘false teachings’ – will be held responsible for all the souls they mislead when they meet God on Judgment Day.

Not surprisingly, I’m more than a little uncomfortable with claiming that my beliefs, my interpretations (based on all the resources at my disposal), my convictions, are all capital-T True. Even if my understanding of ancient Hebrew and Greek was perfect (it’s not), I’m still a human being, tasked with understanding a collection of writings that God himself supposedly dictated.

As far as I’m concerned, if fallible men transcribed the words of a perfect God, and those writings were later copied (and copied and copied and copied) by other fallible men, we’re all looking at Truth through a clouded mirror.

I’m told that the truth is out there to be known; that God himself can be known. But with thousands of Christian denominations in existence, all claiming to possess the truth, who do you trust? How do you trust your own flawed reasoning that this truth is the only Truth, when our hearts are deceitful and God’s ways are “higher than our ways”?

Is gay marriage okay?

Can women preach?

Is hell a literal place?

Was the world actually created in six literal days?

I have no idea.

The limited amount of wisdom I’ve acquired in this journey tells me that agnosticism feels like the only safe stance to take. For me it means I’m not sure if it’s possible to know The Truth (or more than just a sample of it), but I will not stop trying to find it. An alarm sounds off in my head whenever I hear someone say, “The Bible clearly says…” when even a brief look at Christian history says otherwise.

It was my own monopoly on Truth that set me up for the dilemma I face now: not knowing which parts of faith are intentional paradoxes, and which parts are a result of reading my own cultural values into another culture’s values, which were perhaps meant for another people in another place and time.

Again, I have no idea.

I’ve used up many journal pages praying for my faith to return with the same vigor it once had, but what I really miss, if I’m honest, is a feeling: the feeling of certainty. What I should be praying for is more curiosity, more hunger for wisdom. I pray I never lose the verve and passion for reading, studying, and discussing all things theology, all with an expectation of learning new things about God, about people, and being challenged in healthy ways.

As long as that hunger remains, I believe I’m still on track in the direction I wish to go. But if certainty once again becomes the goalpost, I’ll have a list of memorized facts with no real knowledge. What good is that?

Skeptic teaser



6 thoughts on “Certainty is the goalpost

  1. Hi

    Answers to your questions :

    Is gay marriage okay?
    Yes. I’m about to enter a civil partnership with my bashert

    Can women preach?
    We do, anyways (:

    Is hell a literal place?

    Was the world actually created in six literal days?

    I have no idea
    That’s ok.

    “Eilu v’eilu divrei elokim chaim hen”
    [these and those are the words of the living God]

    This phrase from the sages of the Talmud means both sides of an argument are legitimate interpretations. While only one of them may in fact be true, at the time of the dispute it is not possible to prove one side wrong because “Lo B’shamayim He” (The Torah is no longer in heaven, Deuteronomy 30:12). Since we cannot prove which side is right, a person can learn both sides without worrying that one of them is wrong.Absolute truth exists, but in certain areas of dispute it is not possible to find it. So both sides are considered the word of God.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thankyou for sharing that. I think that coziness that comes from certainty, that in some/many/all cases was misplaced, is something we all miss, but would never really want to go back to, if it meant a return to blinkered thinking. Maybe the flipside to awareness is uncertainty, which can spur us on to have an adventurer’s heart.

    I think saying, ‘I just don’t know…’ may look weak to someone who is at that ‘assured-come-what-may’ stage and it may not win an argument, but I like to think that God welcomes such honesty, that it is a good starting point, and that it is rewarded.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Certainty is the goalpost — Sarahbeth Caplin | Reluctant Mysticism

  4. Pingback: Certainty is the goalpost — Sarahbeth Caplin – The Ignorant Christian

  5. Doubts, questions, unbelief … these are the things that brought people to Jesus as he walked Galilee, Samaria, Judea, the Decapolis, Tyre and Sidon. It’s what we should all be doing, going to Jesus with out doubts and questions and unbeliefs. I think you’re on the right track.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. “What I should be praying for is more curiosity, more hunger for wisdom…”
    Amen to that! Preach it; take an offering. My latest look into theology is to look at it from a cross-cultural viewpoint: I’m reading The Next Evangelicalism, about taking Evangelicalism out of its Western, American, [white] cultural captivity. The author is Korean-American. I think the book is called From Every Tribe and Tongue; a number of scholars from around the world give their thoughts on Revelation(I’ve been looking for other interpretations outside the futurist/Dispensationalist ones popular in Evangelical/Fundamentalist circles.

    Liked by 1 person

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