We have a sacred choice. We can remain addicted to certainty because it seems to serve as an anchor in our often-troubling world. Or we can begin to discover the plenty that lies within the mystery as we loosen our grip on certainty. – Christena Cleveland
One day several months ago, my husband and I were exploring a new trail when we came to a fork in the path. We hesitated, unsure of which direction to turn.
It was a hot day, we were not carrying water, and we wanted to do a short, easy run. We had done a long, difficult run the day before.
This was a trail I was slightly familiar with. Years ago, when we had two dogs, I used to walk the dogs in these woods.
I was sure we wanted to take the path on the right. Bill thought the left-hand trail was the one we wanted to follow.
Because I seemed more certain, we took the path I advocated. After looping around in the woods for over a mile, we finally came out to the point where we would have been if we had followed the trail Bill originally wanted to take.
Undaunted, we continued.
I was certain we would find a trail that switchbacked through the woods, leading us back to our car in the parking lot.
We could not find the trail.
After running several extra miles unsuccessfully searching for the connecting trail, we bushwacked up a long, steep hill along a power line clear-cut, getting scratched by blackberry bushes and sidestepping poison ivy.
We finally made it back to our car, hot, thirsty, bleeding, and tired.
It was not the first time I was proven wrong after being sure I was right. (My husband is rolling his eyes as he reads this!)
There is so much certainty in the world these days. Much of it can be found on social media.
I get it. These are uncertain times.
In the U.S. we have just come through a bruising presidential election and its vitriolic aftermath. We are in the eleventh month of a pandemic. People are weary. Even though a vaccine is on the horizon, actually procuring one is chancy at best.
Fear, anxiety, and doubt are common. In the face of this, we need something we can be sure of, something we can count on.
We are, however, losing sight of the differences between fact and belief.
Inherent in the debate is the assumption that somehow facts are not only different from beliefs, they are also superior to beliefs.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
A fact is something that can be proven true or false by objective data. Facts are important, but a belief is something deeper. A belief does not require proof. Beliefs are beyond the realm of human proof.
If we could prove our beliefs to be true, they would cease to be beliefs.
We have beliefs about ourselves, some positive and some negative. We may believe we are a good, compassionate, brave person. We may believe we don’t have time for exercise. We may believe we are unworthy of receiving love.
We have beliefs about others. We may believe people are generally trustworthy. We may believe others are out to get us.
Many times our beliefs are self-fulfilling.
We also have spiritual beliefs. Faith.
When Christians recite the Apostles’ Creed, we say “I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ…I believe in the Holy Spirit… and the life everlasting. Amen.“
We say we believe these things. We don’t say these things are proven facts. If they were, there would be no need for faith.
Faith is different from facts. It is more personal, profound, and sublime.
Faith does not require us to believe the unbelievable. It does require we put our trust in a Power bigger than ourselves.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That which we have faith in cannot be proved or disproved. It is beyond proof.
Or, as Madeleine L’Engle says, “Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.“
When Bill and I took the wrong trail on our trail run last summer, my facts were incorrect. I was proven wrong. As unbelievable as it may seem (to me), I am not infallible.
It was another step down the path to being more comfortable with uncertainty. Another instance where I learn to accept doubt as both necessary and powerful.
And that is the right path to take.
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