From the title of this article, you may presume I’m writing a series of books. After all, the things I don’t know could fill a library. However, this is not an article about the limits of my knowledge, but what it means to admit we don’t know something. As a Christian, and particularly as a pastor, I oftentimes feel an overwhelming pressure to know everything. If someone is hurting, I want to know all the things to help them feel better. If someone has questions about God, Jesus, or the Bible, I want to have information to answer their question. This stems from a belief that having information is the same thing as having security.
A conversation I had with my wife this weekend reminded me of the journey I’ve had where I’ve become more comfortable with my ignorance. Being a hospital chaplain confronted me with my inability to solve things with information. I remarked to my wife that I’ve gotten better at my job ever since I figured out that I don’t know everything. She then proceeded to remind me of a time when we were younger and my conviction that I knew everything resulted in us yelling at each other for a good half an hour over the correct way to put up our tent. This is one of those events she doesn’t let me forget, but it’s good for me not to forget it.
In fact, there’s a good biblical incident that happens where it is confirmed that having limited knowledge really is okay. It comes at the end of Job—but let me set it up before we get there. If you read the book of Job, you have to understand what you’re getting. The book begins with Job’s sufferings—he has everything and loses it. Then it starts a cycle of speeches as Job’s friends try to help him understand what has gone on. They debate the nature of evil and how it is that God operates in condemning evil (and justifying good). Throughout all of this, many opinions are offered while Job maintains his righteousness. So, if you jump in to Job at the middle, you may hear some opinions about life and the nature of God that aren’t necessarily the whole story—you have to get to the end of the book for that. That’s because at the end of Job (chapters 38-42), God finally speaks. As these men have debated His character, God has stood by and let them have their say. But in the end, God does not answer any of their questions. In fact, the only thing God tells them is that they don’t have all the information. God doesn’t give an answer to how evil is punished or how good is rewarded. He merely informs Job and his friends that their constant attempt to find an answer creates more confusion.
Herein I find the solution for my life today (and maybe for yours): admitting that I don’t know everything (and that that’s okay) is step one on the way to being comfortable. It’s also step one on the road to being human. Turns out that when I have answers for everyone is when I’m responding to difficulties in a way that’s very different from how God does. He tells Job that it’s His presence and His involvement in the world that brings security—not having all the answers.