The Certainty of Uncertainty

The way of inescapable doubt and its virtue

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Am I Lost If I Have Doubt?

Doubt is a problem for people of faith.

In fact, for so many people, doubt is the antithesis to faith. Doubt is a weakness, a failing, an inability to be faithful enough. Just look at the way this idea is presented in our popular culture:

Doubt or faith, opposite signs. Two blank opposite signs against blue sky background.
Doubt and faith literally pointing in opposite directions
A man kneeling before a cross with the caption "Faith or Doubt?"
Faith or doubt

I’ve seen this problem manifest itself in a couple of troubling ways. First, are the people who insist that they are certain even when they are not. They live in a state of perpetual cognitive dissonance, clinging to their certain beliefs while attempting to shut out anything that might give them cause for doubt. They close themselves off to new insights, different opinions, and, ultimately, to the world itself in an exhausting effort to maintain their treasured certainty free from doubt.

Second are the people who acknowledge their doubt, but in so doing convince themselves that they are not faithful. And the questions that haunt them become increasingly painful: Why can’t I believe the way others do? What is wrong with me that I have doubt? Am I lost because I have doubt?

A Common Problem

I have seen this kind of painful questioning in the context of ministry. For years, I gave an annual “Faith Questions” sermon—a sermon in which members of the congregation asked me questions about matters of faith, the Bible, and so on. One year, I decided to do an entire sermon series on the most frequently asked questions that had come up in the previous nine years. Among the most commonly encountered questions was one that seemed to get asked in some form every year: “Am I lost if I have doubt?”

In the sermon that I preached as a part of that series, I argued that faith without doubt was impossible, both because doubt and uncertainty were inescapable, but also because true faith doesn’t ignore or shut out doubt, it requires it. The sermon seemed to resonate with a lot of people and when I shared a similar sermon in local congregations, the response was even more positive.

It was clear that I was on to something and that this was a message the people were longing to hear. When given the opportunity to write a book, this was the book that needed to be written.

And so, if you are a person struggling to maintain certainty in the face of encroaching doubt, or if you are the doubter who feels as if you’ve been failing at the enterprise of faith, you are the person I wrote The Certainty of Uncertainty for. The Certainty of Uncertainty is for you.

—Mark Schaefer
Author, The Certainty of Uncertainty

The Certainty of Uncertainty is available at Amazon and at other online retailers.

Our Metaphor Who Art in Metaphor

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray

As I have written throughout the book, religious language is replete with metaphor. But the problem with metaphors is that they quickly lose their metaphorical power and we are quick to literalize them away to the point where we no longer even recognize them as metaphors.

It can be shocking, then, to take a moment to reflect at just how metaphorical our religious language is. To do this, let’s take a look at perhaps the most famous prayer in the world—the Lord’s Prayer or “Our Father”—the prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples and recited by billions of Christians around the world.

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Uncertainty, Metaphor, and Community

Let us imagine two people are having a conversation about love. The first one says, “Love is tumbling headlong through a field of fragrant wildflowers.”

“No it isn’t, you fool!” shouts the second. “Love is being drunk on the sweetest wine!”

Wildflowers in Vermont

To us, this seems a preposterous situation because there is no need to denounce one metaphor in favor of another. Both can be true simultaneously.

In fact, the only way the above conversation makes sense is if neither speaker realized that they were using metaphors. That is, if each believed themselves to be speaking in literal truths.

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1,089 Days

One thousand, eighty-nine days. Two years, eleven months, and twenty-five days. That’s how long it was between the commencement of my work on The Certainty of Uncertainty and the release of the published work this past weekend.

On September 1, 2015, I began my sabbatical leave after thirteen years of campus ministry. The purpose of my sabbatical was to find rest and restoration after nearly a decade and a half in ministry, and after some particularly challenging years. But I have always found great restoration in being creative and so I was looking forward not only to the time away from my work, but also to the opportunity to create something. And that something was the book idea I’d had for a while. Continue reading

Publication Coming Soon!

Image saying: The Book is coming very soon!

The Certainty of Uncertainty available in two weeks!

We have just learned from our wonderful publisher Wipf & Stock that The Certainty of Uncertainty, will be available for purchase in from in two weeks. It’ll be available from Amazon (in both book and Kindle form in 2–4 weeks, and via Ingram after 4 weeks.

Watch this space for details and follow us on Twitter at @CertofUncert, Instagram at @TheCertaintyofUncertainty, and on Facebook for the latest updates!

The Cover is Designed

Late yesterday, my publisher at Wipf and Stock forwarded me the design for the book cover. With the submission of the index this past week and now the cover design, all that remains is a final editorial review and the book will be scheduled for publishing!

The cover design for The Certainty of Uncertainty, with "The Certainty" in red text atop a straight arrow angling upward right, and "of Uncertainty" atop a jagged arrow traveling in a twisted path.

And here is the back cover design:

Back cover design with book summary, author bio, and blurb.

Stay tuned for details on publication date!

Getting Comfortable with Doubt

One of the main purposes of The Certainty of Uncertainty, is to help people to become more comfortable with doubt. This is a message for those who are locked into a mindset of absolute certainty and who feel anxiety about the struggle to maintain that certainty in light of a flood of doubts. And it’s a message for those who aren’t certain, but feel that they’re supposed to be, and thus, that they’re lacking something because they have doubt.

I got to sit down with Stephanie Lecci, the producer at Interfaith Voices, to talk about the importance of doubt as an element of a healthy and meaningful faith. You can listen to the interview on the Interfaith Voices site.

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