One of the marks of a learned person is that he knows he doesn’t know very much. Isaac Newton was that kind of a person. He was one of the major scientific minds of the last 300 years, and yet he once described himself as a small child on the sea shore, picking up a few pebbles, all the while surrounded by a vast ocean of the unknown. Albert Einstein was like that, also. In our modern world, his name is a symbol of genius; and yet he said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious, the sense of wonder in the presence of something partly known and partly hidden. The man to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer stand wrapped in awe and wonder, is as good as dead, or a snuffed-out candle.”
St. Paul was like that also. He is the author of thirteen letters which now make up a major portion of the New Testament. His missionary journeys spread the gospel of Jesus across Asia Minor and much of Europe. And yet in his letter to the Romans he wrote, “How deep are the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God. How inscrutable His judgements, how unsearchable His ways? For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? …”
Those are the words of a spiritual and intellectual giant as he kneels in the presence of the eternal mystery of God. St. Paul was wise enough to know and big enough to confess that all of his knowledge and all of his insights were only a tiny fraction of the truth. You and I need that same kind of awareness. One of the greatest truths that we will ever know about God is that we really don’t know very much.
Much of the charms and enthusiasm of living is found in unanswered questions, unsolved problems, and unreached goals. A little girl came home from her first day at school; and her mother asked, “Well, darling, what did you learn today?” “Nothing,” she answered, “I’ve got to go back tomorrow.” That is the wonder and the beauty of life. We must keep going back tomorrow. We never finish the lesson, we never reach the end of anything.
God keeps our souls alive with mystery, lures us on with unanswered questions and undiscovered truth. In this life a thinking, honest person will always have far more questions than answers. We’ll never graduate from the university of life. We’ll always have to go back tomorrow.
Our knowledge of God is fractional. Our maps of life are incomplete. Nevertheless, we have enough truth to teach us what we ought to be and to take us where we ought to go.
St. Paul was deeply committed to the truth that he was privileged to know. For him the revelation of God in Jesus did not clear up all of the mystery or give him a formula for answering all of the questions; but it did enable him to live creatively and triumphantly in the midst of the mystery.
We can do the same. Admittedly, we don’t know very much; but if we will follow the truth that we have found in Jesus, we will discover more truth.