I rarely trust confident people. I rarely trust them because I can’t see traces of myself in them. Most of my suspicion begins and ends with me. I keep company with the self-deprecating, the navel-gazers, the perpetually unsure. I cast my doubts upon the confident.
Except for Bono.
“Some people got way too much confidence, baby,” the U2 frontman sings into a microphone, a little irony dripping from his lips. The Proverbs addressed to the cocky or self-assured might find their way back to him.
And yet, from the leader of a band whose aesthetic is rooted in Psalm 139—creating musical confessions about how God’s presence follows us to the heights and the depths—the statement rings true. Bono sees and knows what confidence can do, where it takes those who lack caution, and he sounds out a warning.
At the end of myself, something feeds the wariness I share with Bono. Confidence, when indelicately handled, projects beyond the margin for error, beyond all the mysteries life holds just out of sight. Unfettered confidence attempts to account for everything.
We apply this omniscient-level confidence to many areas: our support of a political candidate, our preferred means of wellness, the theological hills we’re willing to charge and die defending.
Parents prove the folly of overconfidence daily, at least in our public lives. Often we raise our voices past the point of trembling, to share convictions about school choice, co-sleeping, and discipline. Convictions matter. Judgements matter. Without them, we fail to be human. Without enough confidence to propel us forward we might as well sit in the middle of the trail before us unable to exercise the courage to pick a fork.
But when we talk as if our choices ensure our children’s future or, more likely, that opposite choices damn someone else’s child to mediocrity, we presume to account for forces beyond our control.
Once in a moment of casual confession, I told my friend Derek I’m never more than 80% confident in any parenting decision. Before the thought fully passed my lips, I added a quick “If that.” I fail to understand anyone who feels otherwise. Biology, psychology, influence, mental health, garden-variety sin, our own limitations—all these and more hold the potential to derail our best hopes and intentions.
My absence of confidence finds its good twin in my embrace of mystery. I take comfort in what I don’t know. Even that which I count as certain and steadfast—Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again, for example—I barely understand. At best, I might recognize and reconcile less than 1% of how God accomplished this life, death, and resurrection—or what it means in the here and now.
Strange as it sounds, I experience growing confidence in my lack of resolution. Faith finds its shape in the evidence of things unseen; when life is lived coram Deo, faith and confidence in God prove synonymous. Human confidence in the divine never presumes to account for everything. Instead we embrace his transcendence, believing he attends to all we cannot see or know. If I cling to any confidence, let it be in his mysterious works and ways (yet another place Bono gets it right).
I sensed a rare surge of confidence a few Sundays ago as my church took communion. Completing my pilgrim’s path to the bread and the cup, I planted my feet at the back of the auditorium. I watched as, row by row, my friends dismissed themselves as if heading toward a great wedding feast.
One by one, they sidestepped past the pew and into the aisle. An expectant mother, cradling her belly with the intuition only mothers possess. A young married couple off to early fits and starts, already familiar with the bruises a soul can bare, approached the table together.
Watching them, I asked myself questions that all started with “how.” How could I hope the best for all these dear saints? How can I do them any good—or spare them suffering and doubt? With all the hurt and doubt I’ve known in the church, how can I know they will be OK?
Strains of our communion hymn offered an answer. “The love of God is greater than we dare to hope or dream / The hold of God is stronger than we dare to hope or dream.” My hope and assurance rest upon the presence of someone who loves more and better than I know. Mystery doesn’t detract from my confidence—it supplies my only confidence. Act with conviction, yet move in faith.