Whilst I focus here on certainty, faith is superior to certainty. Certainty is always limited (unless you are God), whereas faith is unlimited and dynamic. Faith is like a gaze towards an abyss of truth which draws us in. Certainty is static but faith must keep moving.
However, becoming confident in the way to go – the Way of Jesus Christ – is vital, for the path is hard, and many turn away when suffering begins. Conviction, including confirmation at the rational level (especially for the philosophically minded), is necessary, for discipleship entails self-sacrifice.
The Gospels contain several vignettes demonstrating the interplay of faith and certainty, or faith and reason, at the threshold of personal risk. I draw attention to the stories of:
- Peter’s three denials – how Jesus showed Peter his weakness of faith by giving Peter an extra-ordinary personal prophetic revelation, which revealed to Peter Jesus’ Divine attributes. This had the result of strengthening Peter’s faith for his chosen mission, to lead the Church. (Matthew 26:31–35; 69-75)
- ‘Doubting’ Thomas – how Jesus demonstrated to Thomas, that he knew Thomas’s doubts, and addressed these in a quasi-scientific way, inviting Thomas mystically to observe, probe, inspect the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. (John 20:24-29)
Peter and Thomas had already demonstrated courageous faith. However, at a critical moment involving personal risk, they had each faltered and doubted or denied Jesus. Peter and Thomas were not arch-sceptics, but rather disciples on the path of faith whose doubts took over only when they were confronted with the danger of mission. Personal risk brings certainty and doubt into stark relief.
Peter and Thomas each received a very personal revelation from Christ – Peter in private, Thomas in the company of other disciples. Each personal revelation led to an immediate increase in faith, and the expulsion of doubt. They each realised Christ’s Divinity. In each case a deeper level of certainty resulted, and Peter and Thomas went on to become great martyrs for the faith.
The increase in faith for each of them was immediate, without intervening steps of reasoning. However, it is also true that each revelation had specific content, which could (if one is philosophically minded), be put into a propositional argument.
It may be tempting to think that these extra-ordinary events are fictional, and thus have no importance for the question of certainty of God. However, analogous events occur now, in the life of discipleship, that mirror what happened to Peter and Thomas. That is, something hidden is revealed, in order to confirm faith or boost faith. The Gospel vignettes of Peter’s three denials and Doubting Thomas give us the cognitional template, and help us to understand. Such things are a preparation for mission.
The message I wish to convey is that Christ can reveal His knowledge of us in personal and particular ways that leave no room for doubt concerning the source.
This is an astounding mystery. Such witnesses have existed in the Church ever since She was first formed. These witnesses renew the Church and build Her up. We should all take note and increase out faith.