At the ripe old age of 19, I was married and serving as the Senior Pastor of a small church in rural Arkansas. And I knew it all. Perhaps not “all” as in, everything that can be known, but all as in everything I thought I might have a deep question about. I had not yet learned the power of I don’t know.
I knew I was right about the nature of God, life, the Bible, and humanity. And I had proof texts to back up what I knew.
The Power of I Don’t Know (Yet)
I served in that first pastoral assignment for five months. That’s how long it took for me to realize I was still naive about human nature. I didn’t know nearly as much about people as I’d thought.
I learned that people have broken places inside themselves where they store doubt, resentment, and prejudice.
So I didn’t really know people, but at least I was certain about God.
In my mid-twenties, I endured a mental and spiritual wrestling match with God over the issue of Calvinism. I was a die-hard five-pointer at the time, but some books and sermons had knocked me off balance. I deconstructed my Calvinism but continued avoiding the polar opposite, Arminianism.
Having survived the breakdown of some former pillars of my faith system, I was then confident that I knew who God was. I’d settled it.
And then came a pandemic, a modern civil rights moment, a very weird presidential election, and the splintering of my evangelical tribe.
Some of what I was so certain of, at least when it came to the nature and role of the church, was suddenly up for debate again.
There’s a problem in claiming that we know things, for certain, beyond the shadow of a doubt.
We’re all finite. We have limits.
Now, as I write this, I’m forty-four years old. I’ve lived longer as a married adult than I did as a child and teenager. I’ve got a lot of life under my belt.
So now, I know. Now I’m sure. And what I’ve become so sure of is this — I don’t know much of anything at all, relative to how much can possibly be known.
I would never assert that nothing can be truly known. Some things are sure and steady. But my understanding and interpretation of everything around me — the world, God, other people — is always limited by my finite way of seeing things.
And lately, I’m finding my lack of knowledge pretty empowering.
Now, when someone asks me a question about the Bible, or about faith, or about politics, human nature, money, science, or a thousand other subjects, I get to relax and respond with an understanding that I don’t really know yet.
I have good ideas. I have a storehouse of information in my head collected from my experiences, my interactions with others, and of course, the Internet.
When I knew everything, the experiences that caused me to question my knowledge often created an internal crisis. But when I walk into any discussion with an understanding that I simply don’t know it all, I’m free.
I’m free to explore. To listen. To wonder. To experiment and put ideas to the test. I’m free to reach new conclusions but to hold them loosely because experience has taught me that I am just never fully and completely certain about much of anything.
My wife is wise. This, I know for sure. In a recent conversation, I mentioned my lack of certainty about so many little issues. And she said, “That’s what faith is, isn’t it? Believing something without absolute proof or any guarantee of certainty?”
And this is how I know that my faith, in many ways, is actually more robust now than it was when I was nineteen and knew everything.
I don’t know yet. But I can tell you what I think and believe.
And maybe, as a fragile human being, that’s enough.
This article about I don’t know (yet) originally appeared here, and is used by permission.