God Only Knows
One of the results of a good education is the recognition of how much one does NOT know. One of the results of growing older is the humble acceptance of one’s limitations, both physical and mental. And one of the results of going through a year like 2020 is the anxious societal consensus that we have scant idea about where we are going. Add to that in American life today, there are few figures to whom we can all turn in trust and look to where they might lead us. No wonder so many among us feel out of sorts.
Here are a few examples of our current unknowing:
- We don’t know who the next president is going to be yet (this being written on 11/6/2020).
- We don’t know when or if an effective COVID-19 vaccine might become available.
- We don’t know what society will look like a year from now, even a month from now.
- I thought last week Sunday (11/1) would be a great finale to our outdoor worship services. Nope. We were driven inside.
- I thought that this Sunday (11/8) we’d start building momentum and capacity for indoor worship. Nope. The forecast is lovely, and we’re heading back outside.
Lest I seem to be complaining about either my personal or our collective ignorance, I believe that it’s actually a blessing to live in a realistic state of unknowing. My lack of knowledge, insight, and problem-solving energy drives me back — again and again — to the one who does have a pantry full of knowledge and insight, a person who has infinite energy to redeem: God. I humbly suggest an additional beatitude for these uncertain times:
“Blessed are the ignorant, for they will be filled with the knowledge of God.”
There’s an anonymous little book from the Middle Ages titled The Cloud of Unknowing to which I return in dark and difficult times. This little prayer book takes the view that God is best experienced NOT through the rational contemplation of his character and attributes, but through the practice of his mysterious, eternal and unfathomable presence. This posture takes the emphasis off our knowing and believing the right stuff as the primary expression of our faith and offers an alternative path: spending time in the presence of One whose essence we cannot yet begin to comprehend. My experience is that the longer one sits in The Cloud of Unknowing, the more freedom God has to impress a better, deeper sort of knowledge — all the way down to blood and bone — that I am held, loved, and safeguarded for a future bright with hope.
It’s a daily temptation for me to present myself as a leader who knows what’s coming next.I don’t know much right now. But I do know enough to take deep comfort in the truth that God knows. God ONLY knows.
May God grace you with just the right amount of Unknowing,