Slaying the Monster of Uncertainty

The following is reprinted - with permission - from Higher Things Magazine (Fall 2015 Edition).  To obtain a subscription to Higher Things Magazine, CLICK HERE.

Culture and churches are assaulted by inward spirituality. The emphasis is on the soul, while the tangible material world is diminished, if not eliminated altogether. 

Take, for example, Bruce Jenner. In his interview with Diane Sawyer he stated, “My brain is much more female than it is male. It’s hard for people to understand that. But that’s what my soul is.” By Bruce’s own definition of himself, he has a female soul and a biologically male body. However, because the soul is what is most important to Bruce, the material makeup of his body is to be diminished or disregarded; therefore, we should consider Bruce a female. 

This elevation of the soul above the material body is also present in the issue of same-sex marriage. According to same-sex marriage advocates, marriage is no longer defined as the union of a husband and wife in heart, body, and mind, for the procreation of children, but rather, by the union of two people in heart, body, and mind. 

In both of these examples, the biological makeup of a person and the need for biologically and sexually compatible people (i.e., husband and wife) for the procreation of children is disregarded and subjugated to the soul and/or emotions. 

So what’s really happening here? Culture is implementing Platonic thought. That’s right: The ancient ideology of the philosopher Plato seems to be at work. Permit me to explain. 

Plato saw our existence in two different spheres or realms. He held to the transcendental realm of forms and to the material realm. To Plato, the transcendental realm was right, true, and perfect, but the material realm was changing, flawed, and a mere shadow. As a result, Plato taught that it was the goal of mankind to escape their evil and flawed bodies. Simply stated, Plato considered the soul as good and material things as bad. 

This leads us back to our examples. If the soul is good and the body is bad, which one is supreme? Which one is authoritative? Obviously, the soul (e.g., emotions) is! This results in the soul taking precedent, while the body is placed into a secondary role or diminished altogether. Furthermore, if the soul/emotions are authoritative, where does a person impacted by Platonic thought look: inwardor outward? The inner self—that is to say, the inner soul—becomes the command center of the individual impacted by Platonic ideology. 

More specifically, this Platonic ideology impacts the church when it attacks the Word and Sacraments. Otherwise stated, since words, water, bread, and wine are earthly external material things, this Platonic scheme makes them inferior to the inward soul. According to Platonic thought, they do not have power over the soul, for material things are evil. Therefore, they are diminished and the church is forced to conclude that they do not play major role in the Christian faith. How can they? After all, they cannot confer salvation to the soul. At most, they signify the inner workings of salvation in the soul, but that’s about it. 

Tragically, if the Christian does not have the external Word and Sacraments—if the Christian cannot depend on a watery baptism, breaths of preached word, and consecrated bread and wine— he will go digging around in his innards, searching in vain for hope and assurance. 

The problem with such an internal emphasis is that when we need eternal certainty, we will look internally to our own emotions/hearts/souls; however, in doing so, we will never have enough assurance. Otherwise stated, if we have an inward Platonic spirituality, we will focus on our life, take our own spiritual temperature, and become fixated on navel gazing, but to no avail. So why the lack of being certain? We are overtaken by the Monster of UNcertainty. That’s right, looking inward to the soul/ emotions—or we could say the caverns of the heart—is to engage with what Martin Luther called, “The Monster of Uncertainty.” 

Let’s be honest: Everyone is compelled to try to justify himself. We need to feel whole and complete. We need to convince ourselves that we are good. Thus, with inward spirituality, we dig into our souls/hearts/emotions looking for treasures of assurance; however, this does something far more serious: It awakens a beast within. Yes, from the deep caverns of our souls/hearts/emotions, the Monster of Uncertainty is awakened and we are in danger of being devoured by this great beast. The Monster rouses, he attacks assurance, gobbles it up, and leaves us with a bloody mess of doubt, fear, and uncertainty. After the Monster of Uncertainty laughs and devours our assurance, we are left saying, “Am I good enough? Am I smart enough? Have I done enough? Who am I? Do people like me? Does God like me? What must I do to be saved? Am I saved?” This is the fruit of a Platonic ideology. 

So, how is this Monster of Uncertainty confronted and defeated? It is challenged when our eyes are taken off of ourselves and placed upon the certainty of the Cross. Just think about this for a second: The cross is something that is framed in unmovable and unchangeable history. You were not physically present at the crucifixion; therefore, there is nothing that you can presently do that would prevent Jesus from going to the cross. There is nothing that you can do to go back into time and keep Christ in the grave. Jesus died. Jesus rose. Jesus lives today. It is just that certain! On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished.” 

Certainty, my friends, is found in Christ, not self. Certainty is found in Jesus’ life, not yours. Certainty is found in the historic event of Jesus’ atonement, not the events of your life. Certainty is found in the Christ, not the Christian. It is outside of you. 

And unlike Platonism, material stuff matters to God. The Lord has promised to resurrect you at the final judgment—a new body joined with the soul. Furthermore, the Lord God is not a Platonist, for He delivers certainty to you with earthly things...through matter. Using words, water, bread, and wine He delivers to you the benefits of Mt. Calvary and Himself. 

He puts certainty into your ears:“In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He puts certainty on your head: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 

He puts certainty on your lips and on your tongue and in your belly:“Take and eat, this is my body; take and drink, this is my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” 

And so it is that the Lord’s Word and Sacraments slay that the Monster of Uncertainty. Your Lord is no Platonist, which means that your salvation does not lie within the monster’s den, but lies outside of you in words, water, wine, and bread; words spoken to you; water poured on you, Body and Blood given to you. 

Certainty lies outside you, not within you. And that certainty is in Christ—for you. 

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church (LCMS) of Gwinner, North Dakota. He is a graduate of Lutheran Brethren Seminary, Minnesota and Concordia Seminary, Missouri. He can be reached at

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