During my early years as a youth minister I didn’t have the maturity to say it, but it wasn’t long before I learned to answer some questions “I don’t know.” In the intervening years I have become more and more comfortable admitting I don’t know everything some people think I should know. No Christian, whether a leader or not, should be embarrassed to honestly say “I don’t know.”
While this kind of honesty is appropriate in general, I especially have in mind biblical and theological questions. I was reminded of this recently when I read a bold statement by Eugene Peterson, “Sometimes the Bible raises more questions than it answers!” That’s true, and it should not surprise us. After all, we believe the Bible is the Word of God. We will never completely understand God. Theologians call it the incomprehensibility of God.
I always smile when I am reminded of the standard graduate theological degree many Christian leaders go to seminary to earn. It’s called a Master of Divinity. If there ever was an example of an oxymoron in terms of graduate degrees, the Master of Divinity is it. To those who think they have mastered God and completely understand Him I recommend an old book by J.B. Phillips first published in 1952 entitled Your God Is too Small.
A couple of verses, one each from the Old and New Testaments, lend support to what I am saying. Deuteronomy 29:29a affirms, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God,” and II Peter 3:16b observes about the Apostle Paul’s writing, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand.”
I am not suggesting there is not a great deal we can and do understand about God and the Bible. Nor am I implying we should not have firm convictions about what is clear in God’s revelation to us. I am simply saying that we don’t know everything we would like to know and it seems obvious to me that we should admit it when that is the case. Not only that, I have always thought that when we admit we don’t know something it adds credibility to the things we say we do know.
A quote attributed to Mark Twain makes a lot of sense to me: “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” We should certainly put into practice those parts of the Bible we do understand and continue wrestling with and thinking about those parts we don’t understand. And we should be willing to say “I don’t know.”
By the way, I not only have a Master of Divinity, I also have a Master of Theology and a Master of Arts in Religion. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask. And don’t be surprised if my response is “I don’t know.”
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