Hallelujah! We Know So Little!

If there’s one thing you can say about people, it’s that we like things to be settled. When it comes to uncertainty, ambiguity, mystery, or complexity beyond our grasp, we prefer to have as little as possible in our lives, thank you very much. Doubt and security don’t go hand in hand. And we definitely prefer security. I don’t want to wonder where my next meal is coming from. I don’t want to hope that my loved ones are okay. I don’t want to be pretty darn sure the seam in the back of my pants is going to hold throughout the day. I want to know that stuff.

And the more important something is to me, the more I want to be positive about it.

And what–first, foremost, primarily, instinctually–is the most important thing in the world to me? Me.

And what are the three things about me that, if I want to be comfortable and happy in my life, I must have surety about? The Humongous and Possibly Divine Reality around and inside of me (which is to say God), my relationship to other people (for we are nothing if not social creatures), and what happens to me after I die.

Those are the Three Biggies: What was going on before I got here, what is happening while I’m here, and what will happen to me when I’m no longer here at all.

Full knowledge of the past, present, and future. That’s what I want.

Hey, no one said we weren’t an ambitious collection of … anxiety-ridden snoops.

No, but I will have answers to those three things. No one goes through their lives without arranging for themselves to have answers to those three concerns that they can live (and die) with.

Which is pretty much exactly where religion comes in.

And voila: All three answered, just like that.

Whoo-hoo! Man. Talk about one quality hat trick.

If you’re reading this, chances are good that you’re a Christian. Whoo-hoo again! I’m a Christian, too.

Christianity rocks. As far as I know, Christianity is by far and away the greatest of the Religion Options.

(You know, I can just feel a certain type of Christian out there, waiting for me to blaspheme. Well, whaddaya gonna do.)

Of course, none of us feels like we chose Christianity. We feel, instead, that Christianity—that is to say Christ—chose us.

We’re saved! And amen to that glorious fact of pre-life, this life, and the afterlife.

But here’s something I’d like to suggest. Because, saved or not, we still like to be as neat, clear, and sure about All Things Critical as possible, we have a (natural) inclination to strip God of too much of his impenetrable, ultimately mysterious quality. Thank goodness (wait: is that just a pagan way of saying “Thank God”?!!) we Christians are saved from doing too much of that, since we have at the center of our faith the Holy Trinity, which is as mysterious as mysterious gets. But even there, we so readily break that incomprehensible miracle down into its much more comprehensible components: dealing with God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit separately isn’t nearly as … challenging as dealing with all three at once.

And that’s fine. We do, after all, have to get on with our lives. Spend too much time thinking about the Trinity, and the next thing you know you’ve blocked traffic on the freeway eight miles behind you because you’ve gone into a trance. It’s good to have parts of the whole with which we can more straightforwardly relate.

But here’s my point: We should, sometimes, just acknowledge that we don’t know everything about God—that we can’t know everything about God, that we shouldn’t know everything about God, that God is and must remain for us a mystery we could no sooner grasp than we can flap our arms and fly. So much of (modern) Christianity is about explaining God, about naming God’s purpose, about … well, sort of scaling, gutting, filleting, preparing, and presenting God.

We think we know. We’re so sure that we know.

And we do, of course. We certainly know what we need to know, which is that God came to earth as Jesus and out of love sacrificed himself for our eternal salvation. That we know. That we’re sure of.

Whoo-hoo!

But sometimes, we should just stop and admit that beyond that—beyond the very core facts and truth of our faith—we sort of don’t know diddley.

I mean, look:

We are rightfully proud to be God’s representative on earth. Yet pride, we know, cometh before the fall.

We must be strong, forthright leaders. Yet we must be humble, broken followers.

We must loath those who reduce our religion to rules—we want relationship, not “religion”! Yet we must systemize our faith, so that we can effectively practice it, study it, and teach it the world.

Nature is the ultimate expression of God’s glorious handiwork. Yet the earth is God’s gift to mankind to use for his advantage.

We should delight in our sexual relationship with our spouse. Yet sex is Satan’s weapon of choice against us.

We must evangelize to others. Yet people are saved by grace, and grace alone.

God has a plan and a purpose for our life. Yet God is self-sufficient; nothing can be added or taken from him.

Heaven is ours. Yet God is judging us.

Jesus was fully human. Yet Jesus was absolutely sinless.

I’m not saying that we can’t understand or intuit the truths behind these sorts of dichotomies. I’m just saying that on the face of it our faith demands that we loosen up some of that which keeps us so sure we understand the entirely of God’s nature and will. We don’t understand the entirely of God’s nature and will. We can’t understand that. We’ll never understand that.

I think we should consider modifying our worship services. I think one Sunday a month everyone in church—and especially our pastors, church leaders, and anyone who makes any kind of living talking or writing about God—should come into the pews, take a seat, and, for the duration of the time the service usually lasts, remain perfectly quiet.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter. If you shop at Amazon, help support John by entering the site through this link right here--Amazon will then send John 3-4% of the cost of anything you buy before exiting the site again.

 

  • Ross

    Yes, even in scripture, there is much mystery. I frequently come across passages or verses that are utterly perplexing. Sometimes it's just a case of me not knowing proper context of how people thought or lived 2 to 4 thousand years ago, but there are some that just aren't and won't be clear on this side of eternity. I get irked when a Bible teacher offers an explanation to a particular difficult passage or verse that is clearly a stretch, but because they feel an answer has to be given they offer one up. Why not just say, "I don't know…this is a mystery." He would get more credibility, from me at least.

  • http://blog.360.yahoo.com/skerrib Kerri B.

    Yeah…yeah.

    Rock on, John Shore. Rock on.

  • nisperos

    My first impression on reading this post is… that we sometimes enjoy people for their differences rather than their similarities; that is, we might find them funny either because they resonate with us or because we don't get ourselves into the same pickles they get themselves into…

    My starting point when something is important or even interesting to me is that I want to know more about it in order to understand it rather than to be certain about it or to master it.

    I think that in our relationship with God… or our spouses, or friends, or the people we meet… it's very similar. The message, assuming we continue the dialogue, goes something like this: "I like you. We have some things in common, but I'm also not you, and hence different in some respects. That's OK. In fact, it's part of what makes the relationship tick."

    With God, of course, we are talking about a difference in degree. Have you ever been awed by someone? Maybe because of who they are such as a celebrity, a politician, a church leader, or an eminent scholar in a particular field? When we are younger (and sometimes even when older), it's about all we can do to walk up and shake someone's hand and maybe tell them we like their talk, their performance, or their concert. Then later, we might progress to the stage where we can talk to said person and tell them some specific details which we enjoyed or maybe even ask them a few questions. Later on, we could probably ask them questions or try to make witty conversations with them all day or for as long as we can monopolize their time… Finally, for those we might become close to, there's more give and take, we get a better idea of their personal lives and thoughts rather than perhaps the part which we originally focused on, and a friendship or relationship can finally develop. With our awesome God, he gives us the opportunity to be a co-worker and a friend we can share with and count on even when the stakes are high.

  • Terri Wright

    WOW I never knew that not knowing everything about God would feel so good. I am a relatively new Christian and sometimes feel inadequate for not knowing everything about God as some of my fellow worshipers do. Then I realize that they have been here longer than I so they probably should know a little more than me and in all actuality they don’t know everything about Him I’m just too knew to realize that. Thanks for letting me know and everyone else know that we’re NOT supposed to know everything about God, thats not our place and we should be happy to admit it.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Fantastic. You’ve gotten my point exactly. We SHOULD more readily admit how little we “know” God. We know the important stuff–the crucial, immediate stuff that we NEED to know. But beyond that, we should be careful not to too stridently speculate.

    Hey, you might also “enjoy” (if that’s the right word) a piece I recently wrote dealing with the same sort of theme. It’s here:

    http://johnshore.wordpress.com/2007/07/16/are-we-already-fulfilling-god%e2%80%99s-%e2%80%9cplan%e2%80%9d-for-us/

    Thanks again for writing.

  • Todd Kramer

    I would agree with you if the pastors would sit and listen to the brothers and sisters of the faith but only if the Holy Spirit would be allowed to do what he wants to that day through the people for satan would try to bring confusion into the body that day and he would use that to his own glory and not let the Glory go to the Blessed Father or Blessed Son and Savior Jesus Christ or The Blessed Holy Spirit. For the war is still raging on and we need His direction in what is right and what would be the most blessed event that day for if we Lift up Jesus he will draw all men unto himself and then God himself would be Glorified

  • Pingback: Certainty in Christ: A Blessing — And A Curse « Suddenly Christian

  • Ingrid Asplund

    “I think one Sunday a month everyone in church—and especially our pastors, church leaders, and anyone who makes any kind of living talking or writing about God—should come into the pews, take a seat, and, for the duration of the time the service usually lasts, remain perfectly quiet.”

    Like the Quakers! I love the Quakers! I am myself not Quaker, but I go to meetings associated with a Quaker group and we often do silent worship for 5-10 minutes at the end of the meeting. It is always a powerful spiritual experience for me.


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