My philosophy professor during my undergraduate schooling was one of my most-loved mentors and a tremendous professional role model for me. She was kind, fiercely smart, and had an encyclopedic knowledge in her field. Because of her, I pursued philosophy as a minor and took every course our school had to offer, even taking advantage of independent studies with her.
One day, when we were sitting in her office discussing one of my independent studies, she was asking me about my faith. She was not a Christian, herself; she often called herself a “questioner,” and seemed to be open to spiritual conversations and discussions. But I was a bit of a curiosity to her: the rare openly-Christian student who loved philosophy, who wanted to read books (even those written by non-Christians), and who was relatively unperturbed to read and write about philosophers who frequently examined my religion with unflinching skepticism and scrutiny.
“Do you ever wonder or worry?” she asked me. “That there are, or will be, questions you can’t answer? That so much of what you build your life around depends on ‘just have faith’ and you might not have all the answers that you wish you had? It seems hard. It seems difficult.” She was genuinely respectful, and I think I really was something of a mystery to her: an intellectual person who loved thinking and learning, but was somehow paradoxically okay with what it meant to live in faith and to just not be able to explain or logically rationalize certain things.
What I told her then was that I don’t expect to have all the answers, and I never will, and I’m okay with that. I’m not bothered by it.
I still remember how startled she was by that admission. And ever since those days in her office, I’ve had time and again to come to terms with that simple fact: I don’t know everything. I do not have answers to all the questions that curious Christians or skeptical atheists might ask. I’m fine with that. I’m okay with not knowing.
If you’re a Christian, you need to be okay with not-knowing too.
I’m not saying that learning or explanation or apologetics are bad. I’m huge on all of those things! It’s never wrong to seek answers if they’re available. Inasmuch as we can, I think it’s good and helpful to answer the questions that people have about our faith and why this and why that, to fill in the blanks in our knowledge, and to find words and logic that will help us work through arguments – especially with people for whom those arguments and debates are fundamental to understanding. Acts is full of brilliant examples of Paul walking around and expounding on the nature and the identity of God and redemption.
But I also recognize that there are questions that even all the human study on the earth and all the apologetics in the world cannot answer. That is because God is God: the Savior who came to earth, yes, but also the incomprehensible I Am whose nature we as humans cannot fully comprehend. Indeed, the belief that we can comprehend it all is mere hubris on our part.
One of my favorite passages of the Bible is Job 38, where God – having listened to the full litany of Job’s despair and his demands for an answer – emerges from a storm to respond. The beginning of His reply is a wallop:
Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
Job has no real sense of the One he’s talking to, and God knows it. So God – in a monologue for the ages – asserts His nature and His name. You think that I’m accountable to you, a human? Really? Do you even know who I am? And reading through the list of wonders that God describes, we immediately understand: no, Job doesn’t fully grasp it. And we don’t, either.
In the end, like Job, believers either have to accept, or not accept, what we’ve seen, experienced, and witnessed. We choose to walk out in faith, or we don’t. We are never going to “get it” entirely. We are never going to grasp the entirety of God. There are going to be questions and puzzles that we demand answers to – and God’s response to us is going to be the same as it was to Job. Take it or leave it.
This is a tough thing. And I have seen it disturb a lot of believers. I’ve witnessed more than one student flounder over those very same questions and dilemmas my professor referenced in her discussion with me. Confronted with something they didn’t know or couldn’t fully explain, their faith very nearly broke. They felt they should have had all the answers and, lacking them, fell apart.
But the very nature of faith is that we’re going to have unanswered questions, and things we can’t explain, and stuff we don’t know. I can’t logically prove every foundation of my faith true; if I could, I’d be able to invent it myself, and I’d have no need for God. God’s love, God’s providence, God’s promises: I trust those things not because my intellect has determined for me that they are certain, but because I believe that what God has said is true.
And that’s the crux of it. We’re either willing to believe, with all that entails, or we’re not. We either take the step, or we don’t. Faith isn’t something that comes once we’ve satisfied ourselves that everything about God and His promises meets our intellectual or emotional criteria. Faith comes simply from knowing who God is, and trusting that He will always act in accordance with His nature and His word.
I’m fine with what I don’t know because of who I do know. That’s enough for me.