Excerpt from – John Frame – “Certainty”
The question also arises in the religious context: can we know God with certainty? The Bible often tells us that Christians can, should, and do know God and the truths of revelation (Matt. 9:6, 11:27, 13:11, John 7:17, 8:32, 10:4-5, 14:17, 17:3, many other passages). Such passages present this knowledge, not as something tentative, but as a firm basis for life and hope.
Scripture uses the language of certainty more sparingly, but that is also present. Luke wants his correspondent Theophilus to know the ‘certainty’ (asphaleia) of the things he has been taught (Luke 1:4) and the ‘proofs’ (tekmeria) by which Jesus showed himself alive after his death (Acts 1:3). The centurion at the cross says ‘Certainly (ontos) this man was innocent’ (Luke 23:47, ESV).
The letter to the Hebrews says that God made a promise to Abraham, swearing by himself, for there was no one greater (6:13). So God both made a promise and confirmed it with an oath, ‘two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie’ (verse 18). This is ‘a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul’ (verse 19). Similarly Paul (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and Peter (2 Pet. 1:19-21) speak of Scripture as God’s own words, which provide sure guidance in a world where false teaching abounds. God’s special revelation is certain, and we ought to be certain about it.
On the other hand, the Bible presents doubt largely negatively. It is a spiritual impediment, an obstacle to doing God’s work (Matt. 14:31, 21:21, 28:17, Acts 10:20, 11:12, Rom. 14:23, 1 Tim. 2:8, Jas. 1:6). In Matt. 14:31 and Rom. 14:23, it is the opposite of faith and therefore a sin. Of course, this sin, like other sins, may remain with us through our earthly life. But we should not be complacent about it. Just as the ideal for the Christian life is perfect holiness, the ideal for the Christian mind is absolute certainty about God’s revelation.
We should not conclude that doubt is always sinful. Matt. 14:31 and Rom. 14:23 (and indeed the others I have listed) speak of doubt in the face of clear special revelation. To doubt what God has clearly spoken to us is wrong. But in other situations, it is not wrong to doubt. In many cases, in fact, it is wrong for us to claim knowledge, much less certainty. Indeed, often the best course is to admit our ignorance (Deut. 29:29, Rom. 11:33-36). Paul is not wrong to express uncertainty about the number of people he baptized (1 Cor. 1:16). Indeed, James tells us, we are always ignorant of the future to some extent and we ought not to pretend we know more about it than we do (James 4:13-16). Job’s friends were wrong to think that they knew the reasons for his torment, and Job himself had to be humbled as God reminded him of his ignorance (Job 38-42).
In Christian epistemology, God’s word is the ultimate criterion of certainty. What God says must be true, for, as the letter to the Hebrews says, it is impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18, compare Tit. 1:2, 1 John 2:27). His Word is Truth (John 17:17, compare Ps. 33:4, 119:160). So God’s word is the criterion by which we can measure all other sources of knowledge.