On this week’s episode Eric told the story about the person who complained to him about always needing to be a “Christian but…” No, not a “Christian butt,” a “Christian but…” It is goes something like this,
I’m a Christian…
- BUT I don’t hate gays
- BUT I accept the theory of evolution
- BUT I don’t think God is in the business of punishing believers of other religions
- BUT I believe that we need to care for the environment
In the current political climate, some of those are pretty big but’s. One persistent perception of Christians today is that we are all unquestioning sheep who then bleat out certainty around everything we believe. No wonder there is a rise of nones (those who choose “none of the above” when asked about religious preference). If membership in the tribe requires relinquishing all questions, and thus the gift of uncertainty, then who can blame them for not wanting to join? The good news is that there are some of us who have long understood the gift of uncertainty and embrace the power of questions.
Certainty can become a sort of logical jail when a premise leads to a sole conclusion that becomes a new premise leading to yet another single conclusion. Anyone painting a floor needs to be aware of the risk of painting oneself into a corner.
Certainty can also create a lens through which we see everything, keeping us from opening to new ideas in new times. In the words of James Russell Lowell in the hymn Once to Every Man and Nation (Dr. Martin Luther King’s favorite)
New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.
Jesus himself faced the need to teach new duties in the time of his own new occasions. He even taught that ancient goods had become uncouth. Think about how the crowds at the Sermon on the Mount would have seen a clear parallel with Moses as Jesus stood on the mountainside delivering a new law. They would also have heard a clear repudiation of ancient and uncouth good that had been delivered from a different mountain by Moses when Jesus said:
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ BUT I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ BUT I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ BUT I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ BUT I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
Jesus taught us the importance of releasing the grip of certainty and the embracing the gift of uncertainty. So don’t be afraid to have a big BUT
Rev. Ian Lynch is pastor of First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Brimfield, MA He blogs about the intersection of spirituality and society at CultureDove.blogspot.com and the intersection of spirituality and ornithology at https://birdparables.blogspot.com