I have realized that I hide from people who have too much certainty.
This is largely confined to people with a Christian faith, probably because I hang around with them a lot of the time.
But I have learned to dread them. Like Russian battle tanks, they approach, waving their whatsit, ready to turn their turret on anything that departs from the Doctrines of Grace, ‘the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints’. They’re good at it too, and I feel myself shrivel as they gun for my theological loose thinking.
I think I’ve always felt this dread, so it is unlikely to be a virtue. When I was a young Christian I remember the pastor of my then-church say during a sermon, ‘I was reading C S Lewis recently and I’ve found the error in him.’ Given that their relative intellectual attainments were as different from each other as a sideboard is from a lunch-box, I did not feel this was an especially wise thing to say.
Where is the curiosity? Where is the head-in-shower joy in discovering that you are completely wrong? Where is the zest for learning, and growth, and change? Where — we might add– is the humility, the poverty of spirit? It is not that there isn’t certainty in the Christian faith — there is — it is that people can get carried away and have too much of it, in too many areas, and it isn’t pleasant to see; gracelessly and proudly defending grace.
While all the while, shafts of truth can flash from completely outside the Christian space, or from theologically-dubious people within it, and do us the world of good.
I think of Isaac Newton’s famous quote:
I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
That was Isaac Newton. Meanwhile Russian tanks are proving a bit vulnerable, much better parading around the place than seeing real action.