Certainty

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Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.
– Will Rogers

The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.
G. K. Chesterton

In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Silence actor Andrew Garfield said, “Certainty about anything is the most terrifying thing to me.”

Colbert responded, “If you knew there was an afterlife, would that be comforting, or terrifying?”

“How would I ever know?” Garfield retorted. “I think it’s healthy – you think about Thomas Merton, the great Trappist monk, and philosopher really, his doubt was his greatest ally, and he was always constantly doubting, and I think a life of faith is not a life of certainty. I think a life of faith is a life of doubt, and I think it is so healthy to doubt, it is so healthy to doubt oneself, it is so healthy to doubt any assumption we make about how to live, and I think what I mean when I say certainty scares me – certainty starts wars on behalf of ideology; certainty – the ‘I know, you don’t’, that’s the scariest thing to me.”

Really, Garfield? Au contraire, I hold that doubt is scarier (and less reasonable) than certainty. Christian certainty comes with humility, the humility of submission to the Truth which is greater than you. The humility of placing yourself completely at the disposal of that great mystery which is God, certain that He will be constant throughout the vicissitudes of life.

Two of my friends are terrifying drivers. However, one is more terrifying than the other. The latter drives too fast – he has accumulated countless speeding fines. One evening, in exiting a carpark, he had three near-misses with two cars and a bus. But I still feel safer as his passenger than with the former friend, who drives too slowly. She is a very hesitant driver, prone to stopping in the middle of oncoming traffic while making a turn. “GO!!!” I once yelled, not wanting to meet an untimely demise. My speeding friend is at least pretty certain about his directions and in control of his car, although not altogether observant of road rules.

It is certainly healthy to examine our assumptions about how to live, but one must come to a conclusion and stick to it. How would your boss like it if you were uncertain about turning up for work? Or how would your spouse like it if you were uncertain about your commitment to one another? It was the Benedictine vow of stability that enabled monastery towns to flourish, developing agricultural technology, education, and ultimately the civilization of Western Europe. When you plant a seed, it is not advisable to keep re-potting it. It needs a definite place to grow. Without certainty, we remain immature, vacillating between competing rules of life. This ultimately results in a fragmented, incoherent mess.

“Certainty starts wars on behalf of ideology” – that is such a cop-out statement. Just because some people have been very certain about erroneous ideas doesn’t mean you should remain uncertain about excellent ideas. Some people are brought up badly, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t even try to inculcate some standards of behavior in your own children. If someone is dead certain about taking the wrong path, should you therefore be deadly uncertain about taking any path?

It is not arrogance to claim certainty when you have good reasons. Would you like your surgeon to be uncertain about where to place his scalpel? Or your dentist to be in two minds about which tooth to pull?

Should we be like Adam and Eve, or Cain, who doubted God’s loving providence?

A life of faith is not a life of doubt. There will be tough times, yes; there will be times of doubt and darkness, yes – but a life of faith transcends the times of doubt, because it is a life of faithfulness and radical trust in the One Who loves us so much that He died for us. Christ’s death and resurrection – that’s a Certainty. Let us imitate Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and say with complete sincerity: “Lord, not my will, but Your will be done.” For we know that is the Way of everlasting life.

All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
– Matthew 5:37

I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.
– Philippians 4:13

If, then, you are looking for the way by which you should go, take Christ, because He Himself is the way.
St. Thomas Aquinas

Etymology: faith (n.)
mid-13c., faith, feith, fei, fai “faithfulness to a trust or promise; loyalty to a person; honesty, truthfulness,” from Anglo-French and Old French feid, foi “faith, belief, trust, confidence; pledge” (11c.), from Latin fides “trust, faith, confidence, reliance, credence, belief,” from root of fidere “to trust,” from PIE root *bheidh– “to trust”.

Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to Him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and He gives you everything. When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.
Pope Benedict XVI

Images: “Fork in the road“/PD-US; CatholicGag; Signum-Crucis

Jean Elizabeth Seah

Jean Elizabeth Seah

Jean Elizabeth Seah is a law and liberal arts graduate. She has had several adventures with Our Lord and Our Lady, including running away to join a convent after law school. The journey is tough and the path ahead is foggy, but she knows that as long as you hold firmly onto Our Lady’s hand, you’ll make it through! She also writes at https://aleteia.org/author/jean-elizabeth-seah/

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2 thoughts on “Certainty”

  1. Augustine found the old testament veiled prophecies of Christ to be the best because they strengthened certainty. The ark of Noah was to be 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits. Augustine said that those are the proportions of a man’s body. He was being too quick. Only a very slender man has a height that is 10 times his chest depth and 6 times his torso width. Jean, try it on your dad and it will be close or exact. Augustine also missed that the rain would last 40 days and nights as did Christ’s fast in the desert last 40 days and nights which fast made him so slender. And the ark had a hole in its side as did Christ from the Roman’s spear…as did Adam out of which Eve came just as the Church came out of Christ’s side as water and blood…His bride. So if someone asks you….are the early parts of the Bible true? You can say…” you have no idea how true and in what deep ways”.

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