Ignorance = Bliss?
Peter BeckPeter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
- 2009 Mar 25
There’s something about aging. I am officially, statistically middle-aged. Over half of my life is now behind me. To make myself feel better, I remind myself that the better half is yet ahead.
All these years of experience have taught me some things:
The older I get the better I was.
I now work smarter not harder.
Given enough time, even the bad old days will one day seem like the good old days.
Everyone will one day talk about “back in my day.”
I have become my parents, just as I had feared.
Even anti-traditionalists like myself have traditions.
The more I learn the more I realize I don’t know.
That last one was one of the hardest lessons to learn. I went through my early life, like all teenagers, thinking I knew everything. I struggled through the early years of adulthood thinking that I knew nothing. I labored through 9 ½ years of higher education trying to learn something. Yet, the more I studied, the dumber I felt.
As Christians we go through that same process. When we first become believers, we want to do and learn everything about the faith. Then, as we mature, we learn that there is still much to be learned. Some, motivated by the barriers in their quest for knowledge, dig deeper and deeper, seeking the core, trying to explain the inexplicable. There’s no conundrum that cannot be solved, no dilemma too large. Then, they, too, one day discover that while we can and should leave no biblical stones unturned, there are often just more stones beneath the first. Some issues can’t be resolved because the more we learn, the harder our questions get.
If we’re not careful there are difficult issues, sticky questions that can ultimately quench our desire for knowledge rather than fuel our quest for the truth. There are questions that the church has struggled with for 2000 years: when is Christ coming again? how can you reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility? why did God permit the fall? While many answers have been offered to these questions and a host of others just like them, very often the answers produce only more questions.
It is the frustrating discovery that not all questions can be answered satisfactorily that leads some to ultimately quit asking questions. As a pastor and now as a professor, it breaks my heart to see erstwhile learners throw in the towel, sensing that the truth is beyond them, convinced that they cannot learn. They quit trying, broken and dejected.
There is one more important lesson that I’ve learned that I share with Christians caught in the depths of the sea of theological despair. God has not and will not answer all of our questions.
How is that comforting? In what way does that bring hope to the frustrated? Simply this, our failure to find an answer is no failure at all. The unanswered questions, if we seek the positive in the disappointment, only lead us to search deeper. The more that we study the impenetrable the more discover the unimaginable, the grace and majesty of God. After all, would we really want a God that we mere humans can fully understand? What God of God would he be, if a middle-aged man living in a TV-saturated culture could understand all that there is about God? Many of us can’t explain the mysteries of the combustion engine. Can we realistically expect to understand the mysteries of the Creator God who is both wholly loving and fully holy? If God were that easy to understand, he would have to be a pretty small God.
Befitting a God so gracious and all-knowing, God gives us the answer to the ignorance/bliss equation in his word. All Christians, especially those on a quest for greater knowledge, would do well to learn from the Master himself. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may do all the worlds of this law.”
God has not told us everything. He has held some things back. He is keeping secrets. But, he has revealed to us all that we need to know that we might please him by doing that which he has commanded.
Thank God for the mysteries and thank God for the revelation and thank God when you're able to please him with your obedience.