Sufficient, Not Infallible

I posted this elsewhere in response to a Protestant who had converted to Catholicism but has now begun to question the wisdom of that decision and is casting about looking for answers to some tough questions. The anxiety that leads up to a conversion experience is pretty tough to begin with, but to then move from the glorious feeling of “certainty” one gets after conversion back to anxiety must be even tougher. Perhaps some here may find this post helpful.

I’m under some time pressure right now, but let me just say in passing that a big thing to understand is that as fallible human beings we should not be seeking infallible understanding of truth, but sufficient understanding of truth. Of course there is infallible truth – Holy Scripture is infallible truth simply because it has come from the very mouth of the God who cannot lie.

But it does not follow from the fact that God has given infallible truth in Scripture that we either can have or should be seeking to have infallible comprehension of Scripture. This is a chief error of the Catholic apologetics cultural movement, as reflected in their adoption of a posture of skepticism – “How can we know we have the truth?” Once you start asking this question, you are off on a never-ending, nerve-wracking, emotion-bending, mind-warping quest for “certainty” that will only land you in one of two places: (1) a closed-minded dogmatism based on a very superficial (and likely an overly polemical) grasp of the issues, or (2) despair at ever being able to “know” anything at all. Interestingly, both the Catholic and Protestant apologetics movements generally speaking lead you in these directions. Both seek what we as finite creatures made in God’s image cannot have – infallible intellectual certitude, and both consequently create immense havoc in people’s lives.

My advice as a Protestant is to just accept, as basic starting point for your thinking, that (1) God has given truth, that (2) He has made you to know truth, and accordingly, that (3) as a fallible, finite creature you can know the truth sufficiently for what He expects of you. This is not to say there will not be any difficult times where it seems hard to find the truth. It’s not to say you will not have to do any serious thinking, and perhaps go through periods of doubt. That is just the human condition under God. Look for a sufficient grasp of truth, not an infallible grasp of truth. What is sufficient for you might differ from what is sufficient for me, but the key point is to remain open to being taught by others. You will never arrive at a place where you can truthfully say “Got questions? I’ve got all the answers!”

Lastly, at the end of the day it is also very important to remember that God remembers that we are but dust, like grass here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, and He has mercy and compassion on those who truly seek Him. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living, but at the same time he said that wisdom consists precisely in knowing that you do not know, and from that position, seeking to know. St. James tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him,” and also that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

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One Response to Sufficient, Not Infallible

  1. Jacob says:

    Thank you, Tim. This was very helpful.

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