I had a number of defining moments at university, but there is one that I have been reminded of a couple of times recently. It was an insight which felt so profound at the time, but will probably seem blindingly obvious to anyone with a shred more common sense or perhaps simply less arrogance than me. But it can be summed up concisely:
You don’t need to know everything.
In the particular academic establishment I was part of, expressing ignorance, or not having an opinion on a particular subject felt like the unforgiveable sin. There was (or there felt to be for me – which may, to be fair, reveal more about my insecurities than the institution) a crushing pressure to know. And at some point along the journey I discovered the liberating freedom of being able to say “I don’t know” when someone asked a question. What a revelation! (Or, what a fool, you may think!)
This life-lesson, learned in my late teens has stayed with me in different forms. I increasingly value questions and the freedom that comes from not knowing. But I have been challenged today, as I read the very helpful book Sensing Jesus, that this same old foolishness of ‘knowing’ (or rather, needing to know) easily creeps into the Chritian life.
Indeed, when I think back to my second degree – this time at a superb Bible College steeped in solid gospel truth – I realise that even in this grace-infused environment I was infected by a similar disease then. I arrived at College relatively young in my faith – I didn’t have the benefit of growing up in a family surrounded by reformed Bible teaching, I hadn’t come through the training ground of UCCF where all the well-thought-through people seemed to come from. I felt ignorant – and I felt the pressure (once again) to know. To have an answer. To have thought it through. To have systematised it. To be able to quote chapter and verse.
Now in one sense there is nothing wrong with this attitude – indeed there is something profoundly God-honouring about wanting to know Him better and understand Him more. We do want to have our theology straight, inasmuch as a sinful human being can ever achieve that aim.
But what of love, and humility? What of patience and kindness? What about joy? Paul tells us that knowledge puffs up – but we still go after it. Eswine (in Sensing Jesus) argues that it is part of the root sin – Satan’s deceitful claim that we can be like God in our knowing. And there’s something in that.
And there’s something liberating in remembering that we can’t know everything – we don’t need to know everything – but we do worship One who can and does. We can know truly – but only partially. We do well to remember that we are still in ‘through a glass darkly’ territory.
I don’t write this out of any kind of anti-knowledge agenda. But as a reminder to myself, and perhaps to others, that it is ok not to know sometimes. I don’t have to have all the answers. And that growing in my relationship with God isn’t just about knowledge, but about love and all that other wonderful fruit of the Spirit.