Speaking to a group of Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith once said that if he had the lungs for it, he would preach a sermon that would make all of them shut their mouths and go home until they knew something about deity. He then asked the following question: “Why be so certain that you comprehend the things of God, when all things with you are so uncertain?” (TPJS, p. 320)
Why, indeed? Latter-day Saints are well known for declaring their beliefs with the preface, “I know…” It’s simply not enough to say, “I believe….” In fact, the “I know” phraseology is so common, that in order to add emphasis, some will go further, with statements like, “I know with every fibre of my being….” In the LDS community, this emphatic certainty is looked upon as a desireable thing, so much so that those who are less emphatic in their affirmations can be looked upon as a bit defective. This “knowledge” is often, in fact, presented as one of the great offerings of the LDS church. Hugh Nibley, in many of his works, referred to what he considered the “terrible questions.” “Where did I come from?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?” To Nibley, these were universal questions faced by all mankind, and not being certain about the answers made a person unbearably anxious.
I’ve been certain before. I was so certain that I spent thousands of dollars and hours, scouring everything I possibly could about the doctrine and history surrounding the object of my certainty. In fact, I was so certain, that I compared my level of certainty with that of other LDS church members, and felt I came out ahead of most. One might say I made a certain ass of myself.
Then the unimagineable happened. I became uncertain. That uncertainty may have come in bits and pieces over time, but there was actually one particular moment, when my certainty was irretrievably lost. I don’t know that I was prepared for it. I physically felt as if someone had knocked the wind out of me. It was a traumatic experience. I frankly had no idea at that time what to do about my uncertainty, and what it would mean for my life. Having become uncertain, the world was suddenly supposed to come crashing down around me. Yet it didn’t.
I do not consider myself an atheist by any means, but at the same time, I no longer personally feel comfortable with the idea of an individual, personified deity. I’ve spent time examining other faiths, such as paganism and buddhism, and gleaned some useful insights, but I remain uncertain concerning many things about how this universe works.
Much to my own surprise, I have found a level of peace and joy in my uncertainty. In fact, it’s fair to say that I am happier at this point in my life, than I ever remember being. My uncertainty allows me to appreciate the world around me in a way I never did when I “knew” that I had the answers. I’m more open to others. I don’t mentally flog myself when I make mistakes. At least for now, uncertainty works for me.
I find myself wondering about certainty now. What was it that I found so intoxicating about certainty before? How did certainty affect my interactions with others, and with the world around me? Was it even possible to be certain, without being prideful? Why do those who are certain have such a fear of uncertainty, and why do those who are uncertain recoil when faced with the certainty of others?
I don’t know. After all, as I said, I’m uncertain.