by Kate Kooyman
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1
We bought a cooler this week. It was stressful for me. I felt this deep need to read every review that was ever written about this cooler and its competitors. I felt a bit paralyzed by all the information that I had access to — and a strong need to be sure before I made my commitment to the cooler official. I had like seventeen cooler-related tabs open in my browser by the time my husband finally rolled his eyes and went to bed.
I remember seeing a vintage-looking cooler for sale during my research — and I felt a ping of nostalgia for a time before Amazon.com when I might simply ask my friend at the park if she liked her cooler. Maybe pick up a Consumer Reports if I was really serious. But that would be as far as my need to be sure could drive me. No part of the process would have involved spending three hours watching youtube videos which tracked the rate of melting ice in the Alabama sun between five coolers at varying price points.
Sometimes being sure isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
I feel like we live in an era that demands we be sure. During the election, I was sure of who I was going to vote for. But I also felt pressure to defend my candidate at all costs — even the positions I wasn’t nuts about. This election felt like choosing a brand, and then defending it no matter what. That’s what it meant to be sure.
On the other hand, being sure seems to also paralyze me from action. I hear often from folks who are stunned to learn about the complexity of the immigration system. But when I encourage them to pick up the phone and ask Congress for a more logical and humane system, they’re hesitant. “How can we be sure of how to fix this?” they wonder. I get that. I, too, feel pressure to be sure about all sides of an issue before I can have an opinion. I have to be ready to defend it with dogged determination before I can take a stand.
It’s exhausting, truth be told. Which is why I think I was so moved when I witnessed an exchange on Facebook this week. Someone made an assertion about his beliefs. He got blasted for it by some strangers who disagreed. And then it got interesting: instead of digging in his heels, he asked some questions of those who were angry with him. A few explained their perspectives a bit more fully. Someone linked out to a recommended article on the topic. And the guy ended up changing his mind. He thanked the people who had argued with him for helping him see something differently.
And I’ll confess: my first thought was, “This guy is definitely not a Christian.”
When it comes to faith, I think we might be teaching that what it feels like to believe is the same thing it feels like to pick a candidate. A “certainty of what we hope for” has gotten tangled up with the dogged partisanship that has characterized our present era. Once we have come to belief, our understanding of God must be frozen there. There’s no going back on it. In fact, it is unfaithful to consider God in a new way.
I wonder if this way of “being sure of our faith” has translated into a culture where Christians refuse to admit to doubts or questions. A culture where new ideas are dangerous, where dialogue is impossible. A culture where faithfulness looks like being strident and belligerent — refusing to really listen to those who challenge us, whether it’s on a theory of the atonement or the role of women in the church or Colin Kaepernick. It all feels tied up in the same place, vulnerable in the same way. We must be certain. That’s what it means to be faithful.
And, maybe somewhere along the line I learned that being unsure means that I’m being unfaithful.
I’ve been reading a book called Waking Up White, which tells the story of a woman who was sure of the way the world was — until she wasn’t. Over and over again, she narrates the story of being sure — about work or wealth or America or race or her place in the world — and then discovering she was wrong. Her assuredness, over and over again, gets chewed up and spit out by her quest to understand how her whiteness had shaped her worldview, and how very different her experience would be if she had not been born with white skin. And it’s also a story about how losing her assuredness, and changing her mind, gave her new life.
I put down the book with a nagging question: I wonder if my faith makes it harder, not easier, for me to heed the Spirit’s call to grow and change and become something new. I wonder if my need to be sure is actually keeping me from new life.
During Lent this year, I’m finding a lot of hope through remembering that it is not my faithfulness — my being sure, my certainty, my dogged clinging to truth — that saves me. I can be wrong. I can change my mind. I can feel freedom to consider a new ways to believe. Because it is not my faithfulness that saves me; it is the faithfulness of Christ that promises salvation. Of this, we can all be sure. Thanks be to God.