The Pastor Next Door

When Certainty Died

My certainty died but then my faith lived

I was there when he died.

I sat next to him as they turned off all the machines. His wife and daughters had left the hospital and entrusted these moments to me and another friend.

It didn’t take long.

He was ready.

I had met him shortly after we moved into the neighborhood. He had a loud laugh and a sly sense of humor. I had never met anyone quite like him. He was both the life of the party and a loner. Each winter he drove around picking up the neighborhood kids so they didn’t freeze at the bus stop.

His laugh was unmistakable.

During the time we knew one another he taught me about being someone who thought of others before himself.

I taught him about Jesus.

I guess in reality, he taught me about Jesus.

After he died, I didn’t really know what to do. I had done the pastor thing when other people died.

But, this was different.

Our faith community had prayed and prayed. We visited. We cared. We never stopped showing up.

I had taken him to dialysis.

We had good and deep conversations about God, faith, and love.

If anyone should have been healed it was him. Yet, he didn’t get healed. A tiny leak in his bowel, indiscernible until the very end, killed him from the inside out.

I was confused. I was heartbroken. I was angry.

It was there sitting next to my friend when he died that my certainty died too.

As I sit here today years later, I realize that something else was born that day: my faith.

Up until that point my belief was an intellectual certainty. Sure, I wrestled with various theological and doctrinal ideas but these were simply intellectual machinations. They didn’t really mean much. Theology, doctrine, and dogma was an intellectual game. I was constantly testing it and stretching it to figure out what was the most intellectually appealing position. It was fun and life-giving.

Wherever I found myself on any particular day I was certain.

This certainty was something very precious to me. I held on to belief with an iron fist. I protected my certainty like Frodo protected the Ring.

I could tell you affirmatively all the things that I believed and I could argue for them. Likely, I could convince you that I was right.

The day that my certainty died was the day that faith was born.

You see, certainty requires no faith. It simply needs some intellectual ascent and a bit of reasonable evidence and certainty can be attained.

But, faith comes from the mistiness of doubt. Faith is the small light shining in the misty darkness of spiritual pursuit. We stumble and grope and discover bits here and there.

When certainty dies, we can finally find faith.

Faith is hope in the midst of doubt. Doubt is not the adversary of faith. No, it turns out that doubt is the harbinger of faith.

Certainty, is the great adversary.

When we are certain, we don’t have to have faith.

For instance, I don’t have faith that I ate a ham and pepper omelette for breakfast this morning. I know it. I am certain of it.

I have faith that God loves me and cares for me in the midst of all the goods and bads of this world. Why? Because I’ve experienced things in my life that don’t make sense apart from something outside myself. I am confident that Jesus is who the Gospels writers say he is. I am confident that he did what the Gospel writers say he did. This confidence in the self-sacrificing-loving Christ provides me with grounds for faith.

When certainty died, faith came to life.

With certainty dead, I could finally explore all the things of God. What a journey it is! There’s no longer any need for us/them, in/out, there’s only a need for loving well.

Living with faith is freedom because I no longer have to protect my certainty. I can stare into the mist and ask the questions and re-imagine faith and grasp for hope.

I was there when he died.

I was there when he began to truly live and so did I.


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