Updated: Jun 2, 2020
I’m sure you’ve seen that famous cartoon; I think it was Bugs Bunny or maybe Elmer Fudd. You know the one where Elmer or Bugs is challenged by quill throwing porcupine. From a distance the porcupine shoots out quills like spears towards the helpless cartoon character. When I was a kid, I truly believed that porcupines could shoot their quills for long distances. I made a personal vow to always be on the lookout for porcupines. If I saw one, I would stay far far away to avoid the certain pain and possible death from a penetrating harpooned quill.
Now, of course I only believed in the idea that quills could be fired at will by an aggressive porcupine for a few years. In fact, that belief lingered in the back of my mind until as an adult I encountered porcupines occasionally and saw the damage they could do to my dogs. Living in the woods I soon learned a lot about untamed animals and their characteristics. Still I had research the library to completely accept the truth about porcupines. National Geographic finally put my fears to rest,
These quills typically lie flat until a porcupine is threatened, then leap to attention as a persuasive deterrent. Porcupines cannot shoot them at predators as once thought, but the quills do detach easily when touched (2020).
There was a time when I was certain porcupines could actually shoot their quills. I decided that my safety would be assured if I never wondered close enough to be within the porcupine’s quill projectile range. Safety that comes from believing we have certainty is a high value for humans and I was no different.
Safety and certainty can be so important that people will hold false beliefs in order to support there concept of safety. For someone looking from the outside they may see self-destructive behaviors in their friend, relative or loved one. For the person stuck in unsafe beliefs those beliefs which lead to the unsafe behaviors that keep them safely inside their protective certainty facade.
The person may have a life time belief about their own inadequacies or their acceptance by others. The person may hold on to the belief that they are unlovable as tightly as a young child will hold on to the side of a swimming pool for comfort before they learn to swim. As we know, some children will hold on to the side much longer than their siblings before gaining the courage to let go and venture out.
These beliefs shape our world view and can follow us through life as we continually seek safety and certainty. They are so strong and so familiar that we protect them as deeply held truths. Louise L. Hay shapes this concept concisely in Positive Psychology with this thought,
We learn our belief systems as very little children, and then we move through life creating experiences to match our beliefs (Oppland, 2019)
As I stated earlier this desire for safety by holding on to certainty is a high human value. This is true in the original example of the human desire for certainty and safety which comes from the Biblical story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3: 1-24). God’s first created humans encountered this desire and received the consequences of coveting certainty by seeking all knowledge.
It is the awakening of our intellect’s ability to be honest about the reality of our existence as being mostly unknowable and at best only minimally changeable that can set us free. Peter Enns in his book “The Sin of Certainty” reflects from his own life with this passage,
As life got messier and more complicated, I came to see—here and there, now and then, or at times with sudden, crashing clarity—how much my entire existence was actually out of my control, and in fact always had been (2016).
In such unsettling times as we are now in with the uncertainty of the coronavirus and, perhaps even more troubling, the uncertainty of the many responses to the fear of the virus we are shaken by our need for safety and certainty. We look to experts, politicians, reporters and late-night comedians for our safety and certainty.
But even the “experts” contradict themselves and confuse us: Mask, no mask…followed by mask again; surfaces can transmit coronavirus; surfaces probably can’t transmit virus; you can only be infected once, or perhaps more than once…. etc. (Berezow, A. PhD, 2020) (Schumaker, E. 2020).
[It is] better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man (Psalm 118:8)
There may be good news for us as we look for safety and certainty in all of the wrong places, we can grow weary, anxious or even frantic in trying to satisfy our need to feel in control. In our searching, we may find truth during our struggle. Once we learn to accept the reality of our uncertain existence, we are set free to surrender to the certainty of the Lord.
Our desire for safety and certainty leads only to worry and fear. Our worry and fear lead to self-destructive behaviors. C. H. Spurgeon shares a great word on this idea with this statement,
Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.” (Spurgeon, C. H.)
Our best choice for our best life is to choose the Lord for our safety and certainty. If we honestly examine the wisdom and knowledge of experts, politicians, reporters and late-night comedians they will fall short and disappoint. C.H. Spurgeon once again poetically supports this thought with these words,
“Nothing teaches us about the preciousness of the Creator as much as when we learn the emptiness of everything else.” (Spurgeon C. H.)
At one time my irrational beliefs about porcupines throwing their quills seemed real to me. Sometimes we can believe something so strongly that it feels like “truth”. Every day we have the choice to put all of our faith in humans and search for safety and certainty in the wisdom of experts, politicians, reporters and late-night comedians or in the wisdom of God. The more we choose the wisdom of God the more we will enjoy the peace of the safety and certainty in Him.
Berezow, A. PhD (2020). Coronavirus: When the facts change, I change my mind. American Council on Science and Health. https://www.acsh.org/news/2020/02/27/coronavirus-when-facts-change-i-change-my-mind-14599
Enns, P. (2016). The sin of certainty. Harper One. San Francisco CA.
National Geographic, (2020). Animals. Porcupines. Retrieved From: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/group/porcupines/
Oppland, M. (2019). How To Accept The Impermanence Of Life. Positive Psychopathology. https://positivepsychology.com/impermanence/
Schumaker, E. (2020). CDC and WHO offer conflicting advice on masks. An expert tells us why. ABC News online. May 29, 2020. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/cdc-offer-conflicting-advice-masks-expert-tells-us/story?
Spurgeon, C.H. (1991). Morning and evening. Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC. Peabody, Massachusetts.