It’s not what you know

Yes, that’s Megamind. And no, this isn’t going to be a post about evil genius or megalomaniacs who want to take over the world. I just needed a picture of someone with a really, really big brain.

I have spent nearly my entire professional life in an academic environment, where knowledge and expertise are highly prized. Faculty must constantly be adding to the fund of knowledge through their own scholarship and research, or passing such knowledge on to others. Students, in turn, must master multiple complex concepts and skills. They have to demonstrate their intellectual understanding on exams and in papers, and their skills in the pulpit or clinic.

Most of my students are studying to be marriage and family therapists. They discover quickly that there’s a vast difference between getting an A in a therapy class and being able to work well with an actual client. Head knowledge is good; we have to begin somewhere. But head knowledge is not enough. What we know has to be integrated with who we are, with our way of walking through the world and relating to others.

That’s not just for therapists, by the way. It’s for all those who consider themselves followers of Christ.

For many, being in a place that emphasizes head knowledge can breed a sense of inadequacy: I don’t know what I’m doing. I need to learn more, cram my brain with more and more knowledge. But this stuff is so hard to understand sometimes! 

It can breed anxiety: I’m never going to be able to learn all this stuff!  

And it can breed arrogance: I may not know everything, but at least I know more than you.

Again, I wouldn’t be doing what I do if I didn’t think head knowledge was important. But I’d like to offer an alternative to the inadequacy, anxiety, and arrogance.

When I first started this blog almost nine years ago, I was casting about for a name. I wanted something that would convey the tentativeness of the enterprise. I might feel strongly about my opinions, but they are still my opinions, and I am as fallible as the next person. I had to trust that if I spoke truth, it was up to the Holy Spirit to put it to good use.

It was then that I stumbled across Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:12 in the Message: “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist.”

That was the image I wanted: all of us, from the most learned to the least, are squinting through a fog. Here’s the rest of what Paul says, this time in the New Revised Standard:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13:11-13, NRSV

Paul the pastor was wrestling with a church that saw all of spirituality in present terms; they wanted it all, and they wanted it now. In their pursuit of knowledge, some had become arrogant in a way that violated the commandment to love one another.

Thus Paul had to broaden their view: You can have a PhD in everything esoteric, but what does it matter if you don’t have love? What we know now can only be partial. Full knowledge is not for this lifetime, but the next. So here’s what truly matters: even though you can’t fully know everything now, you are already fully known.

We serve a God who knows us completely, to the marrow of our soul. He knows us better than we know ourselves, for he knows us without distortion or denial. And despite the fact that he knows even the things we hide from ourselves and others, he loves us.

He. Loves. Us. You and me. Fully and completely. Despite what he knows.

He wants us to get an A in life, but still loves us when keeping up a C- seems the best we can do. He wants us to grow in both knowledge and wisdom, but loves us in our ignorance and foolishness.

That’s what loving fathers do. Knowledge is important, but ultimately, it’s not what you know that matters most. It’s Who knows you.