A hermeneutic of uncertainty

A couple of the conversations over the last little while around faith and truth and discernment have got me thinking. It has made me realise that I operate out of what I will call a hermeneutic of uncertainty. (For the non-theologically trained a hermeneutic is an interpretive lens).

I use the word ‘uncertainty’ here in way that is loosely analogous manner to the way it is used in science. So uncertainty is not a synonym for doubt. It is simply an acknowledgement of limitations of system. Within the frame of human consciousness I don’t this we can be sure about what is truth. The best we can ever do is to refine the probability of being in the zone of truth.

I think there is wisdom in the traditions which have been handed down. As a church goer and Roman Catholic, I do think that there is a lot in the tradition which points us in the right direction. But I cannot cast that in any absolute way.

My trust is in my relationship with God even though I am fairly certain that the image I have of God is still a crude approximation of who God really is. I know my discernment needs a healthy dollop of what William Barry SJ once called a hermeneutic of suspicion. And so I subject my judgement to scrutiny by my spiritual director and a few people very close to me. I know I am going to get this wrong from time to time, but I know God will be with me all the way. I know God will throw in opportunities to rethink poor trajectories – I’ve had to correct my course sufficiently often to trust this. And I know that my image of God will be refined from time to time.

I realise how thoroughly I have been shaped by my ministry of spiritual direction. For more than 15 years I’ve been polishing these two lenses. I think they have served me very well. It is hard for me now to see how viewing my world in any other way would be desirable.

8 thoughts on “A hermeneutic of uncertainty

  1. I like this post very much.

    I got triggered and sidetracked however by the expression ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ used by William Barry SJ. Triggered and sidetracked because I first came upon this expression in Elizabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza in her book “In Memory of Her”. So I googled it and found out that Paul Ricoeur coined it… I now need to explore the topic further 🙂

    Coming back to this post, to scrutinize my judgment, to challenge my behavior, choices, etc… is something I could do more often.

    Thank you.

  2. My apologies if I bring down the level of the debate. But, I do feel compelled to comment on the importance of tradition in the perfection of our own beliefs. Tradition offers an acceptable starting ground for enquiry. It points to paths already well travelled and those paths that lead to dead ends. A healthy mind questions the finitude and relativeness of observable facts. Disciplined enquiry provides a location on the time line of the awareness and underscores its evolutionary nature.

  3. Having come to the Roman Catholic expression of the Christian faith in my late 50s, I have questioned tradition quite a bit; however, the deeper I go the more I recognize the validity of tradition and the truth inherent there. I don’t expect I will ever accept tradition unquestioningly as that is certainly not in my nature. I expect my faith journey will take lots of twists and turns before I leave this earth but I know that God will be there with me and it is, indeed, an exciting journey. Thanks for this post.

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