We live in an uncertain world, and in it, we do our best to live with certainty.
“Will you be there?” someone asks.
“You bet—the Lord willing and the rivers don’t rise.”
And there’s the crux.
We’re not always sure if the Lord is willing or how high the river will rise. A young mother runs to and fro, tending to everyone’s needs but is unsure if she’s doing right in it all and asks, “Can we slow it down?”
Change is always around us, and every change brings its own uncertainty. Yet forty-three times in the little letter of 1 John, the word know or to know is used to describe our experience with God. This we know: God loves us. Jesus died for us.
We have eternal life in his name. These we can count on. But some uncertainty is not a bad thing. When defined as mystery, uncertainty is next to holiness. Moses stood before the burning bush, not knowing, and called out, “Mystery, tell me your name.”
Tennyson echoed the same in his poem, “Flower in the Crannied Wall.” Flower in the crannied wall I pluck thee out of the crannies. I hold thee in my hand, root and all, little flower and if I could understand What you are, root and all, and all in all, I would know what God and man is. We can’t know it all.
All our questions aren’t answered. We are confined to a realm of awe and wonder—and I am glad of it. It’s that touch of mystery that feels so good when worship is real. But there is a different kind of uncertainty that is neither good nor holy. There is uncertainty that is really lack of faith, and this uncertainty yields utter confusion. That’s what we don’t need.
In the church to which John wrote, there existed a complicated and confusing deviation of the faith, a heresy rightly condemned in the early Church, called Gnosticism. It taught that God is good but separated from the world, that in each person there exists a “spark” of God that can find its way back to God if we have the right “knowledge,” and only a few special people will discover it. Because the world was evil, Jesus wasn’t human. And because he really wasn’t human, he didn’t really die.
Sound confusing? It is.
All this confusion, John said, is counterproductive. Listen to the witness that has been given to you. Don’t be fooled by the smooth talk of others. Uncertainty spills over into Christian belief. But enough of uncertainty. John wrote that we would know. Jesus said that he knew where he came from and where he was going. Now that’s the kind of certainty that matters! When matters like that are settled, we can relax—and perhaps not until then.
The text looks something like a trial. There is talk of testimony given and witnesses received. “You believe the witness of men.” OK, you should.
Hebrew law suggested that two witnesses were required before a claim could be verified. John says there are three witnesses: Spirit, Blood, and Water. Here is the witness of John’s gospel: Jesus was a real person, born of water like all of us, thus the witness of water.
He was God’s atonement, thus the witness of blood; and the Spirit reveals both. God is the witness, and God is the testimony. You can bet your life on it. Of what are we certain? Of God’s unconditioned love for all people. I don’t know how God does it, but I believe it.
I believe in Christ’s full sacrifice for all. I don’t understand the theories of atonement, how Jesus’ death opens up access to heaven, but I know that what Jesus did was of everlasting consequence and that he is the centre piece of all faith and of history. Of the assurance of life eternal, that eternal life begins now (“I have come that you may have life— and have it abundantly” [John 10:10]) and that eternal life never ends (“In my father’s house are many mansions or rooms . . .” [John 14:4]).
Of these, we are sure. In addition, we have the certainty to accomplish God-sized tasks. Today’s text says, “We have confidence that if we ask anything in his will, he hears us—and more, we have already obtained the requests even in the asking.” Does that mean that we can have anything we desire? No.
Can we manipulate God to do our will for us? No.
If we pray and don’t get what we want, are we to blame? No.
It does mean, though, that we are confident in God’s presence with us and that as we align our wills with his, we find the answer to our prayers. I was speaking to a young lady the other day Who said even if God says no to our request He is still with us to comfort and help us. Of that we are confident.
Christian certainty declares, in proper humility, that God is in control, that God is our authority, our creator, saviour, judge—and that in his care we find solace. God is love, Jesus is our saviour, and heaven is our home. Those things we are sure of. Between here and there, between earth and heaven, we may discover much we can’t understand.
But the sure knowledge of Christ is enough.