I have known more than a few “know-it-alls” in my life–persons whose lack of humility gives birth to a form of arrogance that reinforces the illusion of their supreme intellect. I have not only known such people but I have engaged them in some friendly, and some not-so-friendly, debates. At times these debates turned into mere foolishness because I discovered that know-it-alls not only have a hard time admitting defeat, they also have enormous difficulty uttering those three words that are like kryptonite to their ego: “I don’t know.”
For know-it-alls, the phrase “I don’t know” is like an admission of weakness or even some form of defeat. It is the proverbial white flag waved on the battlefield of cerebral warfare. But for me, saying, “I don’t know,” has proven to be quite comforting and has alleviated any temptation I have to assume that I know everything. As a pastor, I must admit that there are times when I feel compelled to produce answers; especially when some people presume that being a pastor means I must know everything about God or the Bible. In those moments, when I feel duty-bound to give answers, I have learned that there is honor in not feeling that I must always provide answers. In fact, I am convinced that I have often saved myself from great embarrassment by declaring, “I don’t know.”
Truthfully, admitting any level of ignorance in our culture can be unsettling, especially since we live in a world actively consumed with “knowing,” unwilling to affirm the necessity of ambiguity and mystery. Daily advancements in information technology and the accessibility of a plethora of information at one’s fingertips make it difficult to accept that there are things that are unknowable. In fact, ambiguity and mystery are viewed as intolerable foes for those who place preeminence on certainty and absolutes.
This may be why the idea of God being a mystery is problematic to a culture of know-it-alls. Many believe that God is nothing more than a term to be defined, a concept to be nuanced, or a theory to be tested; but God is none of these things.
The prophet Isaiah declared, “Truly, you are a God who hides himself.” For those who loathe living with complexities and unanswered questions, a hidden God is offensive–it this offensiveness that pushes us to a place where the only peace experienced comes when we feel like we know and understand God. But God cannot be fully known by the mechanisms of our human intellect, nor can God be reduced to words that are the constructions of our limited language. God is a beautiful mystery, a mystery that I am under no compulsion to solve. Instead, I humbly wait for those moments of serene revelation when God is encountered and I am transformed
True joy in life does not come from trying to completely understand or know God; true joy comes in the experience of being known by God. The words of Samir Selmanovic ring true: “We are unable to grasp God, even as we are being transformed by God’s grasp.” No matter how grand our attempts are at trying to get a grip on God, we do not grasp God; God grasps us. Perhaps the best of our energies should be used in experiencing God, rather than trying to put God in a box.