Charlie's Blog: Knowing the Unknown


Knowing the Unknown

It is the duty of the human understanding to understand that there are things which it cannot understand.

One of the holy grails of physics is the theory of everything which attempts to explain it all. My personal belief is that the TOE will never be discovered and will always elude the human race. I base this on the simple fact that the universe has a peculiar quality. It becomes stranger and more mysterious as we discover more about it. This quality flies in the face of our expectations. The fundamental assumption behind all of our research and exploration is that the universe will become less mysterious the more we learn about it. But this is not the case. We solve one mystery only to replace it with a bigger mystery. There are simply things we are never going to understand.

People of faith already know this truth. It is there in the Bible. Here was God's reply to Job:
Then the Lord answered Job out of a whirlwind, and said: Who is this that wrappeth up sentences in unskillful words? Gird up thy loins like a man: I will ask thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid up the foundations of the earth? tell me if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? 
God questions Job and asks him how things were made and how the universe operates. Job wondered why he had suffered and questions God, and God answers him with his own questions. God was not being a smart aleck with Job but pointing out a fundamental truth that we all must grasp. We cannot comprehend the wisdom and power of God. These things are unknown to us, and we need to realize that they will always be unknown to us. Even in Heaven, we can never fully grasp or exhaust what God is and what God does.

The atheist lives with a certain epistemological arrogance. He believes that he can know everything, and what he does not presently know will yield to his efforts inevitably. But this arrogance slips to the admission by various atheists and scientists that "the universe is not just stranger than we imagine but stranger than we can imagine." This inability to know everything about the universe is why atheism inexorably leads to pantheism. Atheists deify the created order they cannot understand while confidently asserting that there is no Creator. Yet, common sense has to wonder why an indifferent universe would produce conscious beings such as ourselves.

The agnostic goes to a place where knowledge of anything becomes impossible as he adopts a certain epistemological humility on things. But this is a false humility. We can know things. The universe does yield to our inspection and tells us things. It just doesn't tell us everything. Just because we can't see everything is no reason to close our eyes or gouge them out.

We can know things. We can't know everything. There are things we can understand, and there are things we will never understand. But we can know that God exists, and He is good even if we do not understand everything else. And we will know what God wants us to know and what we need to know. God does not leave us in the dark.

Being in the dark is like being blind. But being in the light can also be blinding. Going immediately from the dark into the light can be blinding. We need time for our eyes to adjust. The light of God is like this. It takes time to see things as we grow. But even the most well adjusted eyes cannot stare into the sun. Our vision cannot survive such intensity.

We have to trust that God shields things from our vision for our own good. God does not hide Himself from us for His sake. He hides Himself from us for our sake. We are incapable of knowing, grasping, comprehending, or even surviving a direct encounter with the Almighty. So, God reveals Himself indirectly through creation, revelation, and personal encounter.

There comes a point in every believer's journey of faith where the desire to know is replaced with the resolution to trust. This is a hard transition to make. Many people stumble at this point. But this is what Abraham did when he was commanded to put Isaac on the altar of sacrifice. This is what Job did when he decided to just shut his mouth and leave it all up to God. This is what Mary did when she consented without reservation to becoming the Mother of God.

This abandonment to God without reservation or understanding is the beginning of what is known as the unitive stage of perfection. Satan in his accusations against Job was making the case that Job being perfect was actually afflicted by earthly attachments. It doesn't take much wisdom to see that Job's trials match the three stages of perfection. His first trial deprived him of all of his wordly goods which represents the purgative stage. The second trial deprived him of bodily health and comfort which represents the illuminative stage. The final trial was when Job began to despair and question God which lead to his abandonment completely to God in all things in the unitive stage. The aim of the Devil was to deprive Job of his faith, but he only succeeded in deepening that faith.

The irony of God is that we end up understanding Him more when we cease striving to understand Him and His ways. We can use two words when it comes to knowing God. One word is "apprehend" which can mean to lay hold of or catch something like a thief but also to know something in part. "Comprehend" is to know something completely. With God, we can apprehend Him, but we can never comprehend Him. This is an important distinction to make.

God comes to us and on His terms. We do not come to God on our terms. When we strive to comprehend God, we come to God on our terms and demand His submission to our understanding. This can never happen. It is an impossibility. So, we come to God on His terms and He allows Himself to be apprehended. He reveals Himself to us to our level of understanding. We can never know what God has not revealed to us.

God increases our understanding when He confounds our understanding. This is precisely what He did with Job. The most important thing we can understand is that there are things we cannot understand. We have a duty to understand the limits of our understanding. And we must humble ourselves to live within those limits. This is knowing the unknown.

The blessing of knowing the unknown is a peace that settles in our hearts and our minds. We do not know how God created the world, but we do know that He created the world and sustains it. We do not know the future, but we do know that all things work towards God's good end for us. We do not understand our present trials and difficulties, but God gives us enough blessings to let us know that He cares for us. We do not always see God in our circumstances, but we know that He is always there. God knows His business. We don't.

It is hard to get to this place of total trust and abandonment. We still like to think that we understand and actually have some sort of power over what happens to us. But this is quite ludicrous. It's like thinking that we can fly a plane without training better than the trained pilot at the controls. That's where our prayers become vital. In prayer, we submit our control and understanding to God's control and understanding. In prayer, we declare that we don't know. This is why so many say that prayer does not change God but changes us. It can be hard at times, and we wonder what is going on with God and His business. It is those times that we submit to His plans whatever they may be trusting that God knows best. At the very least, He knows better than you. Just leave it up to God.