Not All Certainties Were Created Equal
Doubt is not something I’ve struggled with in my faith or in my relationship with God. I’ve struggled mightily with it, however, when it comes to my experience growing up in Christian Science, a religious tradition that claimed to be Christian when it was actually more of a cult. Even though it’s nearly 25 years since I began to leave that tradition, the discernment continues between my baptismal promise (at the age of 45) to “continue in the Apostles’ teaching, the breaking of bread and the prayers” and the convoluted mixed messages and un-Christian teaching that I received as a child and young adult. In that context, I have been giving some thought to two mindsets that to me seem completely opposite: doubt and certainty. I’ve also recently been reading materials about deconstructing faith and religion as I continue to reflect on my own experience growing up in a high demand religion of a type that does not encourage questions or doubt but for some reason does foster certainty. And while doubt led me to seek God and Christ more deeply, my certainty in what I believed I knew about following Jesus was my Achilles heel.
As a visual learner, my method of problem-solving and decision-making through visualization has become integrated into my prayers, especially when my prayers are centered on discerning God’s will. Doubt and certainty in tandem bring up an image of a scale for me. My focus lately has been visualizing that scale of doubt on one hand and certainty on the other. At the very least, I pray to keep that scale in balance, and it has become a spiritual discipline to strive for that. At this point in my life, a quarter century after leaving my former religion, I think I’ve understood the process of leaving something that wasn’t working and of finding my way home to a place of real spirituality, genuine common sense, meaningful liturgy, and of course the three-legged stool of scripture, tradition, and reason. One of my first discoveries was that I didn’t doubt for a minute that this change process had been brought about by God, although I did, at times, wish I had a map. But the process taught me something that I value highly: God let me know in many different ways (some of them humorous) that it was ok for me to be on a “need to know” basis. When I needed to know something, I would know it, if I was faithful to prayerful discernment and was paying attention. Worrying and ruminating were not going to bring about the changes. That message came through again and again.
More simply, I found that God really had made a covenant with me and that it resided safely in my heart. The paradox of doubt and certainty did not change the relationship—in fact, it enriched it. I had a resource—really more of a reservoir—for my questions. When I began to differentiate between the insights that came to me in prayer, and in studying the Bible, and their sharp contrast with what I’d been taught as a child about prayer and how to understand the Bible, it became clearer to me that what I really doubted was my upbringing in a tradition that was cultish rather than authentically Christian. I learned instead to follow the founder of the religion—and when I could really see and understand that, I felt reassured that I was on the right path. Doubt served a purpose then, because my response to the process of leaving Christian Science was to put my hand in God’s and trust that I was in God’s care.
One of the things that I struggled with was to overcome a tendency to be certain of the direction my life was taking. In this, certainty did not serve me well. I was used to (and proud of) making decisions and sticking to them; and I was certain and prideful of my own goodness and faithfulness—and not because I felt that they came from God, but because of the religion I’d been raised in. It used to seem so important to me to be certain of the veracity of what I’d grown up with. As it turned out, though, even when I thought I was certain about spiritual truth, I was really only certain of my own sense of certainty. I had a lot to unlearn. Spiritual arrogance and certainty were traits that I’d acquired and while it is embarrassing to admit that—in writing no less—I am grateful to those companions on the way who were not afraid to question me and challenge me and push back on my assumptions.
What I did not doubt was my relationship with God in Christ. In fact, it was the steadfast love and faithfulness of God and the companionship and advocacy of the Holy Spirit and the saving love of Jesus that revealed this relationship to me. It gave me the strength and courage to “… hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.” [Hebrews 10:23] Of the many Bible verses I collected during my pilgrimage from a cultish religion to the day I was baptized, I think this verse sums it up best. And I’m grateful for every step of that journey and the support I received along the way.