Wednesday, October 28, 2009

the simple and the complex

the older i get, the less i know.  ever heard that before?  i remember hearing that when i was younger and being totally bewildered by such aa statement.  how can you possibly know less as you get older?  how can that possibly fit with an equally common phrase, "you learn something new everyday"?  i just didn't understand how if you keep learning throughout your life you could possibly know less at some point then you do now.  life, for me, was something of a puzzle in which the pieces came at you one at a time, sort of like a giant game of tetris.  it was very clear and obvious to me that whatever pieces came to you (whether good stuff or bad stuff, circumstances, information, events - anything that makes up your life) could be pieced together in a way that fit nicely and kept the game going. 

but then i got older.  and i learned more.  in fact, everyday i kept learning something new.  and it seemed that the more i learned, the less clear things became.  what was once so clean and clear and smooth, upon further investigation was not nearly so.  instead, things became complicated.  things that were black and white, upon further review, were actually infinitely nuanced by shades of grey.  what was once so simple, was now so complicated.  this was, for a time, disorienting and overwhelming. 

but then i got older.  and i kept learning.  and one of the things i learned is that you can know everything about something, but not really know it at all.  like the teacher of the law who came to Jesus with a full knowledge of the whole law: when he asked Jesus what the greatest part of the Law was, Jesus gave him an answer that had very little to do with his complicated study of the law.  he told him to love God completely and love your neighbor limitlessly.  it was simple.  maybe not so simple to put into practice.  but certainly simple to understand. 

and so i have come full circle.  in terms of certainty, i recognize that life is not the giant game of tetris i once thought it was.  there are things that just don't fit nicely.  there are questions that i simply don't know the answer to.  there are events that just don't make sense.  there are grey areas that i cannot explain away or judge to be right or wrong.  there are huge chunks of life that are beyond my ability to understand completely.  in short, life is very complicated.  but i have also come to see that all that complexity and complication leads us back to a very simple truth: that we are not God.  that God alone is God and that God alone should be trusted to be God, to redeem and reconcile, and to love us.  and my response to that isn't complicated, either.  it is simple: to be loved and to love in return. 

“Permit me, sir, to give you one piece of advice. Be not so positive; especially with regard to things which are neither easy nor necessary to be determined. When I was young I was sure of everything. In a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was not half so sure of most things as I was before. At present, I am hardly sure of anything but what God has revealed to man.” -John Wesley

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