Uncertain

starrynightPerhaps it is always the way, but it seems that so much is happening in the world at the moment that is dark and horrifying: planes dropping from the sky, a horrible Mid East conflict leaving civilians and innocent children dead on both sides, the possibility of a pandemic.

This being the era of Facebook, the opinions of hundreds of “friends” are available around the clock. As people take sides and debate each other, it can feel that humanity is drowning in its opinionatedness and dogmatism on these and countless other topics.

But what do we, any of us, really know?

In the article Why human vision is a mathematical impossibility, I read recently that even colour does not truly exist. Plants are not green; the sky is not blue.

Colour doesn’t exist in the world. Nothing is coloured. It’s impossible to see the world as it really is. A mathematical impossibility. This problem isn’t just the problem of colour vision, it’s the problem of vision, it’s the problem of the brain. The problem of uncertainty. ~ Dr Beau Lotto, University College London neuroscientist.

The problem of uncertainty.

…we only see a tiny, tiny fragment of the universe. The electromagnetic spectrum is huge. Radio waves can have wavelengths measured in kilometres; gamma rays, at the other end, have wavelengths measured in picometres, trillionths of a metre, smaller than the diameter of an atom. The light we see, the entire familiar rainbow, is only that between 390 and 700 nanometers – billionths of a meter. It is a sliver of a sliver, a fraction of a dot. ~Tom Chivers, Telegraph science writer.

We only see a sliver of a sliver, a fraction of a dot, of even our own world, let alone the universe.

Other researchers have shown that the conscious mind is merely the tip of the iceberg of our experience. The unconscious mind is far larger and though it seems to us to sleep, it is far from dormant.

The “problem of uncertainty” is a universal, overwhelming aspect of the human condition, though you might not know it to look at people’s Facebook rants! But the truth is, to be human is to be uncertain. It’s uncomfortable, and I don’t think anyone can be blamed for trying to anchor to something that feels solid as a way of making it through this life. The trouble happens when we demand that what feels solid to us be solid to others — and tear at what they are standing on when it doesn’t.

Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to religion.

Religion demands certainty, but if we are honest with ourselves, we will see that there is none to be had. Just as perceiving colour is our brain’s way of resolving that which is uncertain and making it useful, so is religion.

Is God just humanity’s way of making sense out of the senseless, but nothing more?

I don’t honestly think so. The more I see that I don’t know and I don’t see, the more I dream about what could be based on the little I see with my eyes.

 For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream. ~ Vincent Van Gogh.

When we stop pretending to know and understand things that we don’t and can’t, it frees us to marvel at the perfection of what is and to dream about its implications. Today’s technology allows us to see both more deeply and further away — both much faster and more slowly —  than possible with the human eye alone and this creates only more awe and a clear sense that these things are far from random or coincidental.

I believe we can never dream too big or hope for too much in relation to the God making himself known to all through the natural world and through each other. Nature and humanity are bursting with messages of hope if we’ll just open our eyes to them. All that we see that is miraculous and boggles our minds is just the beginning of what is there that we can’t see: a universe not dark and empty, but teeming with life and love and energy and goodness that someday I dream we all will see.

It’s alright to be uncertain. It’s good to embrace uncertainty, because admitting what we don’t know opens us up. It makes us more able to catch glimpses of what lies beyond our human vision. It makes us humble, and so kinder and gentler with those around us.

Isn’t this what life is all about?

~ by Jeannine Buntrock

The painting above is of Vincent Van Gogh’s famous Starry Night.

3 comments so far

  1. Karen on

    This reminds me of a quote. I wish I could remember who said it or where I read it. Perhaps someone here will know.
    “The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty.”

  2. John on

    Hi Jeannine
    Thank you for your most excellent write. This may be the quote you are looking for by Dietrich Bonhoeffer Karen,”Faith alone is certainty, everything but faith is subject to doubt”. Jesus Christ alone is the certainty of faith” This is found on the first page of a mind renovating book by Lesslie Newbigin titled “Proper Confidence”

    • Karen on

      Thanks for your response, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t the quote I was thinking of. This one by Bonhoeffer seems to be saying the exact opposite.


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