By Scott Oglesby
I always thought there would be a point when I would finally know enough that I could speak without doubt. I wanted to rest in some authority of really understanding. I didn’t want to be wrong, I don’t want to mislead people, I didn’t want people to think I was dumb. But I’ve reached a threshold where I have seen me not knowing enough times to realize it is not a big deal, and I’m really the only one judging myself. I am very excited to know that we can speak and write and try to convey. We are always trying, and there is no perfectly successful way of doing something.
The more we learn, the more we can look back and think “Oooh boy, I’m glad I kept my mouth shut before people found out I didn’t know anything at all.” We can always look back and laugh. So why not know that this might be a time to be laughed at in the future? Let’s create content to laugh about later as we grow more and more! It is easy for me to think, “Wow, I have grown deeper in God or I know God so much more now, I must have been so dumb before.” It creates a really convenient story arc for me. But in my experience, stories can steamroll out all the nuance and stuff that doesn’t seem to fit, and then leave me with an inadequate tool to understand God’s love throughout time as well as in the now. I wouldn’t judge anyone else for where they are at with God, and I wouldn’t want to bring that mindset to who I was in the past either.
When I read the Gospels I read the accounts of people who followed Jesus who did not know the whole story. The whole story as written in the New Testament hadn’t finished happening yet. So many people followed Jesus; they did not know about the crucifixion or resurrection but still they followed him. They followed him with what they knew. We don’t have to understand every aspect of God to know, follow, or believe. We don’t know how God has moved in the lives of millions of people over thousands of years whose names we don’t know. We also don’t have a complete knowledge of how he has moved in our lives. There isn’t going to be a point where we ever understand the whole thing. I’ve learned how to think through the ways of thinking accessible to me in my life. As all-encompassing that is for the way I interact with everything, it is not the same thing as all that there is or the Creator who created all there is.
Here’s an example of something I don’t understand. The more we work on something the “better” we get at it. We can learn and have knowledge in new ways that come from our repeated efforts and build off our experiences. The more I practice guitar the more I can use a guitar to do the things I want to do. After practicing I get better at carpentry or guitar or talking to people or writing or flying a plane. We see this happen all the time in our lives no matter what our learning curve is like. So here’s what I don’t understand. Is this the nature of our relationship with God as well?
Even if my relationship with God deepens, his love for me, and indeed all people, remains constant. Even if I understand more tenets of the faith and things feel clearer, we are still totally saved by grace and not in our understanding. I am not loved because I know I am loved; nobody can fathom how much they are loved by God. This is a different way for me to frame goals, to frame progress, to frame self-actualization. No matter how much deeper my relationship with God grows, he loves me so much already. It is a very different endgame than the ones I taught myself. I thought I could find salvation by being better at my job, by learning more, by making great songs. The One who is more beautiful than all songs, who does the best job, who knows more than words can ever suggest, loves us unconditionally. For many it is not hard to understand this. For me, I don’t understand it. But God loves us all the same.
Deuteronomy 6:5 tells us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” This is such an important verse for me and many of my friends. I love the English word “might” because it can mean strength, power, the ability to do something. It also can mean your may be, your I will or I won’t, your uncertainty. I won’t play a word game and pretend that there is ambiguity in this translation as to what “might” means in this context. But as far as my soul, and as far as my mind goes I can love God with all that I am. I’m not perfect, I need God, I need a break from the stories of who I want to be to impress people. I don’t know anything more than I do, but I do pray that in stillness and movement I can dwell more and more with the God who knows us all. With everything you are, love God.
I used to think knowledge would unlock the answers to everything, but really knowing has been more of an improvisation on things I already knew how to know about. When I was a young kid I did not have any questions about God, and I really trusted in his love to protect me always. I continue to grow up, understand more what basic tenets of my faith are, things I couldn’t grasp when I was seven or eight. But seven and eight year olds in Sunday School absolutely do minister to each other and spread their faith with each other. I didn’t really understand things like the Trinity, the difference between the Gospels and the Epistles, the meanings of a lot of the big words in the parables. Even though my understanding of these things has changed, the God I have understood has remained the same. To all people wherever they are in life, we can love with all we know, believe in him with all we know, and follow with everything we know.