Dan Herford

Receive, juggle, pass

Certain Problems

We like certainty.

We like to know we’re on the right side, that the things we believe are true.

Much of our security – our identity – is found in our certainty about political views, ideas about God, or the superiority of our country.

This tribal inclination, this embracing of ‘isms’, this staunch commitment to a particular church or political party or ideology – this is common.  This need to be right and sure about our affiliations and opinions – this is a normal part of being human.   Certainty is a comfort food for the brain.  But our certainty is often misplaced.  If one thing is certain, it’s that we can’t all be right all the time about all those things we hold so dearly.  And that’s a problem.

Misplaced certainty is a problem because it is those big ticket ideas – the ones we’re so sure about but so surely wrong about (at least some of them!)  – that divide us.  It is on issues of politics and religion and ideology that we take our sides and plant our flags and look squinty-eyed across the gulf at the ‘enemy’.  Our side is sure and right, so we debate and seek superiority and power.  Talk shows flourish, lobbyists prosper, politicians posture, armies mobilize, and productive dialog dries up and rolls out of sight like a tumbleweed before a steady wind.

The problem is you.  And me.  It’s not a ‘them’ problem.  It’s an ‘us’ problem, and that’s a good thing, because it means we can do something about it.

First, we recognize that in a world full of confusing options and contrary opinions, our inclination is to dash madly to the safe and comfortable arms of conclusions.  Then, we stop.  We pause in the awkward expanse of uncertainty and look carefully at those options and opinions, and we realize that we don’t have to figure it out.  We can slow down.  We can weigh and consider.  We can relax our desperate grip on the ideas that have anchored our identity and look at the people that would be our enemies and acknowledge that they are us – human beings with all of the mess and ugliness and beauty.  Then we talk, and we listen.

This is hard, the talking and the listening.  It’s easy to debate.  It’s easy to compete for volume and hammer the talking points.  It’s hard to hold our minds open to the possibility that we could have been wrong and that we have things to learn.  So we talk and listen and consider.  And sometimes, we’ll reach conclusions.

Maybe those conclusions will be the big final answers, or maybe they’ll be smaller markers along the way, slow and deliberate accumulations of understanding.  Regardless, they will be gained through a more respectful consideration of ideas, and we’ll be more likely to see those with other conclusions – or those with no conclusions – as humans rather than enemies.

Take action: What are your certainties?  How did you arrive at them?  Can you articulate the opposing views – not a straw man, but the actual views?  If you were wrong, how would it affect you?  Who have you seen as an enemy that you could try to connect with as a human, with the goal of gaining their perspective?  Where can you look back in your own life and see that your views have radically changed on some issue?

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


  1. Great post Dan!
    I have wanted to voice something similar to this for quite some time, but have not yet found the right venue to do so. Now, having officially join the demographic of middle-aged men, and having finally gained enough life experience to be taken seriously, I find it quite disconcerting that I have less of an ax to grind than I did as a younger man. It seems the more knowledge I gain, the more I realize how little I really know, and how lacking in any real authority most of my opinions are.
    The strange thing is my opinions on most subjects haven’t changed over the past couple decades, only my tolerance for those who have different views. However, while I am less certain about many positions that I have confidently held in the past, I am actually more comfortable with not being in-the-know. Of course, most of this comfort comes from realizing that every other human being on the planet is really not in-the-know either. This, I am certain of! The apostle Paul said, even on the most important virtue of all (love) “we see as through a mirror dimly”. If we find ourselves handicapped on this most pivotal of all issues, how much more the lesser virtues or issues of life?
    I guess what I am less tolerant of these days is those who claim to speak for God, when they don’t even quote Jesus accurately, or flatly contradict truths that are self evident. I won’t get into specifics here, but the fruit of the Spirit is not lying, or manipulation. If I see that anyone, no matter how well established, is using such tactics to make their point I immediately dismiss them, as someone not to be trusted.
    Ultimately, I think integrity and transparency are what is most needed if we are ever, as a church, to reach a higher ground, in knowledge, morality or unity. While I don’t see much hope from the civilizations of this world, as a whole, I am still hopeful that when the church lives up to its potential (as a pure and holy bride adorned for her master), the human race will indeed evolve into a unified, beautiful, and glorious thing.
    My prayer is simply that my life would aide this progression toward God’s glorious design rather than hinder or delay it.

  2. Dan

    November 22, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Thanks Ben. I always appreciate your perspective.

    As I read back through the post, and your comment, I wondered if I drilled down well enough. Why is it so human to seek certainty? Why is it so uncomfortable to not be sure of everything?

    Thinking over the book I read the other day – The 3D Gospel http://www.danherford.com/?p=218 – I realize it’s a manifestation of Fear, Shame, and Guilt. We want to be in a place of power in our world, and power is in certainty. We want to be in a place of honor in our world, and honor is closely tied to ‘having it all together’. We want to be guiltless, which means that we are doing the ‘right’ things.

    The solution, of course, is the GOSPEL. The good news that Jesus has accomplished everything. The good news that in God there is power, honor, and innocence. The good news that we don’t have to have it all figured out – we need to trust our Father. The good news that it is in our humility and weakness that everything is made right, rather than in a strength that we don’t have.

    I appreciate how you model integrity and transparency, Ben. I echo your prayer.

    • Brother Dan,
      I thought you might appreciate knowing that I did understand your line of questioning the first time around. I am sorry I didn’t respond more directly to your point, though. I guess I was too consumed with making my own points.
      Funny, isn’t it, that even when we are trying to be engaged, and aidful to others we find a way to make it about us. Honestly, I don’t think our “certainty problem” needs any greater explanation but that we are inherently prideful, self self-centered souls. No doubt fear, shame and guilt are all part of the equation, but I really think they are all an outflow of the dysfunction of being God players. The world does not work the way we wish and so we, in all of our God given ingenuity, come up with elaborate theories to explain why it is not as it should be. To me this exercise, in itself, is one of the greatest manifestations of our pride.
      No doubt, God wants for us to be like Him in our creativity and persistence and even our intellectual prowess, but in our pride we use these gifts to fight our Maker’s and our neighbor’s aggendas. In reality we are not the peace loving individuals we make ourselves out to be. We want what we want, and if we think its what God wants as well we pursue it at all cost. However, I am not so sure that’s what Christ modeled for us. Even the most spiritually alive of us have yet to learn the kind of sacrificial love that God expresses toward us every minute of everyday, in letting us get away with the bull shit we pull off, and yet still He blesses us and meets all of our needs, and even gives us positions of power and influence in His world.
      We have yet to learn to be humble, as He is humble, and in doing so use all of our intellect and energies to serve, rather than to be served.

  3. Dan

    November 23, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    Ben! Actually, I’m the one to apologize. Your first comment was a great add to the discussion, but when I responded to it I didn’t respond to it; I just went off on my own self-reflective tangent – highjacked my own thread!

    Funny thing when talking about the gospel or the human condition or the what the Bible says about something – there are so many parallel and intertwining thoughts and words that we often go sideways when we try boil it down. Which is to say that I’m with you. We are all recovering God players, full of pride and fear and shame and creativity and intelligence and confusion, so beautiful and so broken, and so in need of the ongoing work of God.

    Thanks for interacting, Ben!

    • Way to bring it back around to a hopeful conclusion, Dan!

      As long as the focus is on us, things remain tainted and adulterated at best; focusing on our Savior and Lord the sky is still the limit! So glad we can have these exchanges, and see together how God is working somehow in it all.

      I would like to respond to your most recent post “One people in Jesus”, but I am still waiting on Him to direct me in how to actually add to the discussion.

      Later bro!

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