I self-identify as a Christian. And I more or less work at it. But when it comes down to it, if I die tonight before my head hits the pillow, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. I don’t know because faith is different than knowledge. Faith is daring. Faith is taking a chance. Faith is, to some degree, uncertain. God may or may not be there. And he may or may not reward me for whatever it is he judges by.
But sometimes, faith is better than knowledge.
Put another way. There are certain things I know I can do. I know I can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I know I can mow the lawn. I know I can walk to the curb and get the mail. Doing those things adds very little meaning to my life.
Conversely, it’s when I’m certain that I can’t do something that I lose my mind over it. I can’t do this, but I should, therefore I must totally suck. By believing I can’t do it, I’m robbing myself of the chance to be creative and find a way to do it. And I’m robbing other people of my potential solution.
When I do Tough Mudder every year, I don’t know I can do that. I’m pretty sure I can. But I don’t know it. Not for sure. It’s the uncertainty that makes it exciting and worthwhile.
Certainty is boring. If you’re certain–100% certain–that you can do something, where’s the challenge in that? How do you avoid complacency? And if you’re 100% certain that you can’t do something, why bother? You will fail, if for no other reason, because you believe you will fail.
It’s the in-between that can make life great. It’s the possibility of failure that marks the greatest achievements. Tough Mudder is one of my proudest achievements precisely because I don’t know I’ll be successful each year. It challenges me. It makes me reach beyond my comfort zone.
Certainty can damage people. In this age of boutique news sources, we’ve become more and more certain that certain beliefs are the only right way. That certainty makes us brittle and inflexible. That inflexibility is increasingly common in public discourse, be it political, religious, or the ever-increasing list of items that are offensive and must therefore be eliminated.
If I am 100% certain that I am right and you differ, then you are wrong. And if you differ a lot, you are way wrong. And since my certainty in what is right is complete, what I believe is super-right, maybe even morally right. If you disagree with me, you’re not only wrong, you’re corrupt.
It is certain, because I am certain.
Certainty is a relatively recent part of the human experience. When I run out of food, I know I can drive to Publix and get more. I know I can turn on the heat when it’s cold and the AC when it’s hot. I know I have a job to go to tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that. I know if I break my leg, I can get it fixed and I won’t be left behind because I’m slowing down the tribe. I know I have a family that loves me.
Yet, for a culture that has more certainty than ever before, we seem thirstier than ever to banish what remaining uncertainty exists.
With respect, Westley had it wrong in The Princess Bride. Life isn’t pain. Life is uncertain. Anyone who says differently is selling something.