Walking on Water: Faith Vs. Certainty

I got to speak at Allen’s church this past week over the story in Matthew 14, so here are some thoughts based on that talk and what I learned from the wonderful people I got to discuss this passage with.

My son starts Kindergarten next week.

And I am a wreck.

He did the half day Pre-K at this school last year so not a lot is new to him, but for my wife and I this is now a whole new stage of life. We are entering into a world where we do not have complete control of our little boys’ life, where he has to engage new relationships and therefore we as parents have to help him navigate new waters and engage in new relationships ourselves. Not only that, but he is going to school in a world much different and much more complex than the one I went to Kindergarten in.

As the world moves forward and as we age and mature, the world becomes increasingly more complex. The progression of life tends to be more and more complexity, no matter how much we may long for a simpler time.

So when we talk about faith, we need to talk about faith in a way that helps us deal with the complexity. Yet many Christians live with a very small and immature view of faith. This kind of faith often misplaces our trust or keeps our heads buried in the sand rather than helps us engage in an increasingly complex world.

I think this is why Christians hold so tightly to belief and certainty. In the midst of chaos, we want anything we can hold on to, anything which can help us feel safe. So we try to cling to certainty. But when we do this, we are placing our trust in certainty and right beliefs. And certainty and right beliefs are unable to handle that kind of weight.

jesus-walks-on-waterThe story in Matthew gives us a deeper look at the nature of true faith.

I think sometimes we are too hard on Peter because of Jesus question: Why did you doubt?

This question often makes us think doubt is the enemy of faith, and is to be avoided at all costs. This line of thinking usually leads us back to certainty.

But if Peter has “little faith” – what does it mean about the disciples left in the boat?

When Jesus gets into the boat, they all affirm that Jesus is the Son of God. But Peter is the only one who exhibits real faith, because he is the only one who gets out of the boat.

Peter’s act is one which shocks us. Why in the world would someone get OUT of the boat in the midst of all the chaos and storms and uncertain conditions?

The answer: Because that’s where Jesus is. Peter exhibits faith because he trusts Jesus in the midst of uncertainty, and moves toward him. His doubt here is not the presence of uncertainty, it is about taking his eyes off of Jesus in the midst of a chaotic time.

Faith is not about having the right beliefs or about certainty. Faith is about trust in a person and acting on that trust, even when we are unsure of the outcome. Faith moves us toward Jesus. The desire for certainty keeps us in the boat.

If this is true, then we need to think differently about doubt as well. Doubt (in the sense of not being sure and asking difficult questions and pushing back on things most people hold as “certain”) is no longer the enemy of faith. It is a part of faith. When we doubt and question and test our faith, we often find it deepen.

In fact, I now think this is the nature of Jesus’ question. He wants Peter to think about what happened. What took your eyes off me, when did you lose your way? It is an invitation.

Most people are unwilling to ask hard questions about faith, because they are worried what they will find. These people walk through life with a very immature view of faith and this kind of faith does not help a person deal with the real world. The world with chaos and uncertainty and complexity and confusion.

But real faith moves towards Jesus in the midst of all of that. Real faith does not need to be certain. Real faith trusts Jesus is who he says he is. Because Jesus can handle the weight. Jesus is the one thing we can put our faith in which won’t crumple no matter how difficult life gets, or how hard the question, or even how far we walk away. Jesus can handle it.

In this story, Peter asks Jesus to prove that he is who he says he is. Peter tests Jesus’ claim. This is faith. We trust, we move, and we allow Jesus the chance to show us that his way is truly the way to life.




A good resource on this topic (which inspired some of this talk) is “Benefit of the Doubt” by Greg Boyd.

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