1 John 3:2
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
As we go through our lives, we go through different stages of knowledge and incite. When we are young children everything is new and exciting. We are like sponges absorbing all of this new information. For us, life is very black and white. What is, is. Then we hit adolescence and life becomes full of gray. Certainty is replaced by doubt. Acceptance is replaced by questioning. At some point in our adolescent journey we think we have it all figured out. We enter into a sophomoric state. The word sophomore literally means wise fool. To be sophomoric means to be conceited and overconfident of knowledge but poorly informed and immature. Unfortunately, some people never quite graduate from this stage of life. But for those who intentionally continue on to maturity, we enter the stage where we begin to know what we do not know. We come to grips with the reality that the mysteries of life are beyond our total comprehension. It is not that we know nothing. On the contrary, we realize that what we know has only scratched the surface of what there is to know. The mature person doesn’t stop learning and exploring, but they are comfortable with open-ended questions and unresolved issues.
Just as it is in our normal intellectual development, so it is in our spiritual development. When I was a child growing up in church, I received what I was being taught as the truth. Everything was very black and white for me. When I hit my early teens, I began to struggle with doubts and questions. In one way my faith became more real, yet it also became cloudier. My first year at college, I was challenged to really examine my faith and make it my own, which I did. At that point I thought I had arrived at a mature faith. I was being sophomoric. When I entered Seminary, I discovered how far I really was from a truly mature faith. At that point I began a journey of discovering and exploring what I don’t know. Even now after almost 40 years of ministry, I still am amazed at how much I do not know.
At the end of what has been dubbed the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, Paul introduces us to an image of a truly maturing faith.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:8-12
We can all fall into the trap of thinking that we have it all together spiritually. That was the problem with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. It wasn’t that they were ungodly or unspiritual. It was that they were spiritually sophomoric. They thought that they had it all figured out. I know how they felt, because I have been there.
Jesus challenged the rigid, “we have it all figured out”, attitude of the Pharisees. He does the same to us. When we become convinced that we have the final word on some issue, Jesus steps in to unset our apple cart. It is not that He doesn’t want us to have confidence in what we believe. It is that He doesn’t want us to have confidence in our confidence about what we believe.
We all begin our spiritual journey as little children. Our faith is real but unexamined. As we mature in our faith, we have to struggle with the questions that inevitably arise. If we believe that we have to have all of the answers nailed down, we will stymie our spiritual growth. We need to come to grips with the reality that there are mysteries that we will not figure out until we stand face to face with Jesus. Until that time, we need to be okay with knowing what we don’t know.
When Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi, he shared with them his desire to know Christ to the fullest. He stated that there was nothing more important than reaching that goal. Then in verse 12, he acknowledged that he did not yet know all that he needed to know.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippians 3:12-16)
Paul assures us that we all have a great deal of learning to do. Instead of being held back by what we don’t know, it should be a catalyst for us to press on toward the goal. On my spiritual journey I have learned many things about many things, but I have not learned everything about everything. How about you?