What 40 years as a pastor has taught me: It’s OK to not know everything (Part II)
As a young pastor/scholar who was fresh off of years of studying theology in seminary, and then philosophy in the University’s PhD program, the goal toward which I was driven was to be the person who could answer every question – mine and anyone else’s. I might not have had the gall to articulate it like that then, but I can see it clearly now. I was also a fairly intuitive counselor, and kept up a bit on the newest popular theories of counseling. I also had a fairly avid interest in the relationship between science and the Bible. So what else was there to know?
Besides all of that, we had just started an exciting new church, and it grew to more than 300 people in a very short time. The seminary I graduated from offered to pay my way to any PhD program in theology in the world if I would promise to come teach for them – and I turned them down because starting New Covenant was even more exciting. Being one who seemed “to know” seemed to be paying off.
As I look back, my personal arrogance is frightening. I am delighted that God was merciful and patient. Over the years, it took a lot of growth on my part, and much grace and mercy on God’s part, for me to learn to be able to say, “I really do not know,” without hedging or feeling like a failure. Perhaps it is a stretch to say that now I am completely comfortable not knowing the answers — to what God’s next step might be, why things happen, how to understand the relationship between Biblical history and the current historical and scientific claims, or what we (and I) should do next — but I certainly have come a long way down that road.
This new attitude is not the result of knowing less – I actually know quite a lot more than I did 40 years ago, about many things. It is not due to losing the desire to learn — I love learning new things, and I love being stretched into new and better paradigms of reality. At least to this point, at 72 years of age, I never find it tempting to avoid being challenged to wrestle with new possibilities or different intellectual perspectives.
Rather, this new peace with not knowing all the answers stems from coming to peace with how big God is, how big the creation is, how big history is, how big each human being is, how big the experience of the church is, how big the range of possible good choices and possible bad choices is, how big the future is, and how big….
Psalm 8 has become a favorite of mine through these passing years, since it so clearly celebrates all that we do not know while relying on the promises of God to be enough to secure the present and the future.
1 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. 2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; 4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? 5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. 6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,
Although the old Gospel songs have their obvious weaknesses, they sometimes capture reality with great power. So with the song writer of the last century, I now celebrate:
“Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand. But I know who holds tomorrow. And I know who holds my hand.” And, to reapply another song by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville that captured another part of reality for me with great power: I know God has loved me; “And, that may be all I need to know.”
As always, if you have any thoughts, comments, or questions about this post, or if there is another topic you would like me to explore in a future post, please leave a comment. I always enjoy your questions and thoughts. / Ron