Difference between Faith and Certainty

I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while but couldn’t quite put my thoughts organized. One of the 3 words I picked for the year 2017 was Faith. I didn’t mean it in a religious way—I don’t subscribe to any one religion— but having faith in things and people.

Recently, I went through a real rough time. I was so stressed out I couldn’t sleep for days. But in the end, an amazing friend helped me, and long story short, crisis was averted. Everything was OK. Nobody died.

When I go through a rough patch, I always remember the saying;

“Everything will be OK in the end; if it’s not OK, it’s not the end”

And this is right. Things have always turned out to be OK; maybe not 100% perfect outcome every time, but we’ve all survived. The fact we are still here and alive proves that.

Then, why do we have to go through the sheer agony every time life gets rough?

I know the end everything will be OK, but sometimes, it is so hard to have the faith.

Why don’t I just skip the agony in the middle if I knew it’s going to be OK in the end?

There is this movie I’ve been wanting to see.

Silence” by Martin Scorsese. It’s a cinematization of a novel by Japanese author Shusaku Endo. He’s written a lot about Christianity and faith. It’s about two Catholic missionaries who go to Japan looking for their mentor who disappeared during the 17th century. At the time, Japan was persecuting Christians, so they were captured by Japanese and go through a traumatic experience. I actually haven’t read the original novel in Japanese, but the subject matter is faith, so I find it fascinating. Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield star as the jesuits.

Last week, I happened to catch a video clip of Andrew Garfield on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert promoting the film. In the video, he said he had studied with Father James Martin (whom I love) for a year preparing for the role and talks about the silence retreat he participated in. Overall it’s a normal, lighthearted promo interview. But then Garfield says this: “Certainty about anything is the most terrifying thing to me.” and I almost did a double take. He says, how can we be so sure about anything? “Certainty starts war.”he said. If you think about what is going on around us right now, it makes so much sense and it truly resonated with me. I admit I have been pretty indifferent about Andrew Garfield until now, but suddenly I have great deal of respect for him.

I’ve been thinking a lot about it ever since I saw the clip. And it also made me think of this:

Last couple weeks, we have been watching American Crime on Netflix. The premise, just like the title suggests, is each season the story revolves around a crime and the people who are involved. Family, suspects, authorities, etc etc. It is a really well written show. First season was about a home invasion and a murder of a veteran and assault to his wife. Felicity Huffman plays a mother of the murdered veteran. He seemed like this perfect kid, with a beautiful wife, but the investigation reveals that he was a drug dealer. Huffman plays this mother who is a bigot and also full of racial prejudice. She finds out that her son was a drug dealer but she is unwilling and unable to face the fact. She accuses the black suspect and calls it a hate crime against white people. It is really hard to like this character, but it just proves what a talented actor Felicity Huffman is. The show is actually full of people who are certain they are right, and overall it is really a hard show to watch. I have never seen a show where I could not relate to any of the characters, even feel contempt towards them, yet unable to stop watching.

What Andrew Garfield said in the video reminded me of the show, and I very much agree with him. Certainty is the most terrifying thing, isn’t it?

Do I want Certainty?

I think I used to, but not any more. I can live with uncertainty.

Then why do I want to have Faith?

Is it because the Faith will help me guide through the rough patches of life?

What is the difference between Faith and Certainty?

I was raised in a pretty secular environment (As you know, Japan has a very multi-religious culture – we spend New Years in Shinto shrine, celebrate Christmas, and go to buddhist temple when we die), so this isn’t really about God.

Then it dawned on me; why do I feel I need Faith? I need Faith because I am scared.

In researching on this topic, I have come across this brilliant blog post by Andy. He articulates it much more eloquently than I do; but reading his post now it makes sense. Faith and Certainty are not similar things. They are actually opposite.

Certainty and faith are not only different things, they are mutually exclusive.  If you are certain of something, you don’t need faith.  To have faith is to acknowledge uncertainty, and choose to believe something regardless.  In this way faith is a choice, and it can encourage engagement in the mystery of life.  Certainty is a refusal to accept that an alternative can even exist.  To be certain is not to make a choice, but to assume that there is no choice to be made.

I find it interesting right after I decide to make Faith my focus this year, I ran into the video talking about Certainty and resonate with it.

Of course I do, because these two are closely related, although at the opposite end of the spectrum.

For me, Faith is an act of courage. We are all scared, we all crave Certainty, knowing for sure, but Faith is choosing to believe it anyway, even though you might be wrong. As Andy says in the post;

If the chaos and unpredictability of life is a roulette wheel, faith is not about knowing whether the ball will land on black or red.  And it doesn’t need to be about deluding yourself into believing you know.  Faith is about walking up to the table and placing a bet.  Faith is a perspective that the reward is worth the risk.  And maybe faith is a belief that playing the game is more important than winning or losing.

This is why Faith is important to me. As I value the courage of walking up to the table even though I know I might lose. Because yes, playing the game, participating and engaging is more important to me than winning or losing.