Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Older I am, the Less I Know...But I Know One Thing

I don't know when I've felt that I knew so little. I've always been pretty fine with how much I knew, how much I could figure out, whatever the subject I needed or was interested in at the time. I suppose I was cocky at times, having an over-confidence that may have been obnoxious, not too fitting with the reality of my finite understanding of this whole big world, the heavens beyond, or even my own little life and community. These days, though, I'm not sure what got it started, I'm getting a little overwhelmed. By now I should have most things figured out; though maybe in my own life, and at least for the sake of just getting through a day, I know what I need to know.
As I study my Bible lately, I end up with more questions than answers, because I'm paying attention to details that I passed off before, and instead of feeling just satisfied, I feel more perplexed and unsettled. I find that many things I've been taught over the years have carried a slant and a misapplication that makes it all feel about as sturdy and safe as quicksand. I teach Tim in homeschooling and in the process learn some basic things that I never learned in school. I go to the church to hear a missionary, and she turns my vague notion of Israel's current political state upside-down. So my ignorance is showing lately, sometimes to others and sometimes just to me, but it makes me realize how little I know of the world around me, what is here now and what has happened in the past.
Tim has often asked how smart any particular animal is who catches his attention. That question always strikes me in a certain way, and he always gets the same response--that the animal is not stupid because he doesn't know what Tim knows, but he's smart because he knows everything that God designed him to know, everything he needs for this life. A spider may not know how to tie a shoe, but he knows how to make a web, so he's a smart enough spider. A cheetah doesn't know how to turn on the radio, but he knows how to run fast enough to catch a gazelle (maybe a slower gazelle) he's a smart enough cheetah.
So maybe I ought to be content with what I know, when it is enough. God also promises that He is happy to give us wisdom when we lack it, so even what I don't know and I need to know, God will gladly give it to me when I ask it. We live in a culture that values education, and knowledge even of the most trivial items, though it sometimes doesn't value wisdom all too highly. I need to value wisdom above these other things, and put aside the desire to seem knowledgeable, the fear of my own ignorance. Even saying this, I mentally protest and reach out to other lands and the cultures of which I am so ignorant. I reach to know the math I don't know, the history I was never taught or I forgot, and yet it is not the most necessary thing in and of itself. I need not to bemoan being misinformed by sources that were unreliable, or the enormous gaps in my knowledge in general. I just need to follow the leading that God gives me, the Word that gives me a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.
It brings to mind a tiny poem by Emily Dickinson. Though she says she never talked with God (and I read that her life was full of doubt in matters of faith, so maybe the poem is all the more questionable) and so it leaves the rest of the poem in question for me, the poem does otherwise aptly capture the mode I'm in. I don't know so much, but I do know the vital thing:
I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a wave must be.

I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in heaven;
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the chart were given.

It reminds me that God has given me everything pertaining to life and godliness, and all I need to do is be trusting Him, following His leading, and not leaning on my own understanding. Not trying to increase my own secular understanding of this mortal world for the sake of my own perception of adequacy; it's sort of like when Paul speaks of knowing "Christ and Him crucified." He had put aside all the learning that he had received that had been so admirable as secondary, unnecessary, and rubbish; all his years of learning were not so useful in reaching out to the lost, or in knowing his own security. I need to follow that example, and seek understanding of Jesus and His ways, first and foremost, not bemoan what unnecessary things I don't know, and rest in the fact that my future course is already charted, that I can find comfort in knowing that Jesus will lead me there.

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