I am a blessed man. I have a wonderful wife of 10 years, and together we have been blessed with two beautiful daughters. I have been blessed with many other things, but I see my family as the grandest, most beautiful thing that God has granted me.
I am constantly amazed by the lessons that God teaches me through being a father. Mainly these lessons come through just how frail and small I realize I can be. As a father, there are moments that I can’t understand how I could be so frustrated or angry at a person who is so innocent, so naïve, so utterly dependent on me, like my child.
Just a few nights ago, at midnight, my 3-year-old daughter came bursting into our bedroom crying because she had a dream there were “biting fish” in her bed. I had been fast asleep, and in my sleepy stupor, I did not quite understand what she was saying. I went into her room and shined a flashlight on her bed hoping she could see there was no danger and that it would resolve the problem. It did, but the anger I felt – briefly – in that moment was terrifying. Any parent who has unsuccessfully attempted to calm down a crying infant at 3:00am can attest to the depth of depravity you can often feel in those moments – a depravity you did not know was there.
This brings me to an important point. None of us can fully comprehend even our own selves. You may think you know yourself, but if we are honest, there are moments where someone else knows you better, at least in a certain area. One time when I was in college, my father told me I would make a good teacher. I did not believe him, and now I am a teacher (maybe the jury is still out as to how good).
If you can’t even fully understand yourself, how could we make any claim to a full understanding of God? Theologians, ironically, in an attempt to understand God better, have made a list of things we can’t possibly fully understand about God. These are called his incommunicable attributes – those things which humans cannot imitate in the character of God, though we might try.
God is omniscient (knowing all), omnipresent (in all places at all times), and omnipotent (possessing all power). He is impeccable (unable to do wrong) and self-existent (uncreated – his being is sheer existence – he just is). There are others, but the one I would like to focus on is his incomprehensibility. The only one who can fully understand God is God himself.
While God has revealed himself to us, it is in a way that we can understand. He “condescends” to us so that we can experience him, the most obvious example of this being the incarnation. In Jesus, God took on human form so that we could behold his glory (John 1:14-18).
However, we must understand that what God has revealed of himself through Scripture and through nature is merely a drop in the ocean of all there is to know about him. (Romans 11:33-36; Isaiah 40:13). Not even Jesus himself claimed to have all the knowledge the Father has. (Mark 13:32)
You can probably guess where I am going with this. There is great mystery in God, despite all that he has indeed revealed to us. Furthermore, God is sovereign. He can act in whatever way he chooses to act as long as it is consistent with the Truth of his character. In fact, God’s eternality (his outside-of-time-ness) renders our understanding of his “acting” chronologically in the world somewhat obsolete. If God sees the past and future perfectly at all times, in what way does he “act” now? He does, but our minds have trouble wrapping around that idea.
This should produce in us a great sense of humility. We should probably say, “I don’t know” far more often than we do, especially as it pertains to God.
In the book of Job, the title character is subjected to extreme suffering at the hands of ha satan (the Hebrew term ha satan means “the accuser”). God allows (encourages?) this so that Job’s faith can be proven true. For about 35 chapters of dense Hebrew poetry, Job laments the day of his birth, argues with his “friends”, and is generally on a roller coaster ride of intense emotion, including anger and doubt at God. His friends give him simple pat answers for why he is suffering that just aren’t acceptable (they relied merely on what they had read in ancient philosophy), and Job is utterly confused.
Finally, after all of this, “the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind” (Job 38:1). Job’s experience of God ends up being a tour of the whole cosmos. God low-key mocks Job’s smallness and inability to comprehend the way God runs the universe, right down to the odd mating habits of mountain goats and ostriches, telling him to “dress for action like a man” as God dresses him down and exposes the limits of Job’s perspective.
While we may not have experienced all the suffering of Job, Job’s response to God’s litany should be telling for all of us.
“Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; Therefore I despise myself, And repent in dust and ashes.”
Job 42:3, 5-6
It is difficult for us to say “I don’t know.” But we can rest in the fact that there is something that is far more important than knowledge – and that something is love. Paul, in his famous explanation of love found in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, explains it this way:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove all mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Later, in verses 8-13, he says, “As for the prophets, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
When we are willing to say, “I don’t know,” the beauty of that is that we get to ask a loving Father about the things we do not know. And God’s response will give us what we need to love and serve those around us.
Bernard of Clairvaux, a medieval Benedictine abbot who focused on contemplative practice, once wrote, “There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity. There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love.”
My children need me to love them. When they ask me questions, I give them answers that I believe will equip them well. I do this imperfectly, but I have a Father who does it perfectly. May we come to him in silence with open, humble hands, and with a sense of awe at mysteries of God. May we be people who seek knowledge in order to serve. God will bless us so that we can be a blessing. This is God’s mission for us.