Are We Certain That We Are Certain?

A recent video showed a nun stating that she knows that she’s doing the will of God in her life and that because of her vow of obedience she “doesn’t live with any uncertainty” and that brings her joy.

I’m sure this sister is a great and holy woman and I hesitate to criticize because I’m sure in her heart of hearts she loves being a sister and her commitment to her vows have led her to discern that this exactly where God wants her–just as I’m sure that God wants me to be married to my beautiful wife and to be a lay minister in the church.

But living without ANY uncertainty? C’mon, sister, let’s not overdo it.

As Thomas Merton says:

The fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

I often say that anyone who makes any kind of certainty claims is someone who is probably dead wrong about whatever it is that they are so certain about. It seems to be a bit haughty to claim to know God’s mind and many young people today struggle with living within uncertainty. It’s why they are tied so much to black and white thinking—frankly, it’s easier to live that way and less complicated. But faith is never certain. It’s actually not faith if it is certain. Faith is always risk. It’s even a gamble to choose at all. Our response is: “This may or may not be true, but I’m going to believe in it anyway because of how I have experienced God working in my life.”

Nobody has a stranglehold on certainty. Usually when you think you do, something happens to upset that little applecart and crisis looms large. While I hope this particular Sister never faces a “dark night of the soul” as did almost all of the great saints in our tradition and Jesus himself from the cross, I do hope we can keep each other in our prayers.

Perhaps that’s one certainty we can always count on.

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3 Comments

  1. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn June 9, 2012 at 5:04 am

    I was thinking about the topic of certainty as I took a walk last night. Not because of this post, or because of that video, but due to an exchange that I had with someone via social media.

    Thanks for this post, which shows how important it is to live in the tension that faith invites us to.

  2. Thanks, Fran. I didn’t even post the original video because it drove me batty.

  3. As Anne LaMott says: “The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty.”

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