On Not Knowing
Cars kept passing me, on the left and on the right. Yes, I was that driver. You know the one sitting in the middle lane barely going the speed limit. I didn’t mean to be that driver; I tried not to be that driver, but I was. Although I pushed the gas pedal to the floor, my truck struggled. This hill had come out of nowhere, and my truck, which was filled above capacity with my personal belongings, was not prepared. Rather than feeling embarrassed, which my truck often causes me, I felt elated. I was traveling to Princeton Theological Seminary for the first time. Now I was a seminarian, no longer a college graduate. I’m sure many of us experienced that flush of emotions pulling into the seminary driveway our first year; anxious, excited, ready. I had envisioned myself as this scholar, learning all I could about everything the seminary could offer. I was ready to learn, and like many, I was seeking answers, knowledge. I, unlike my truck, wanted to be prepared for what was ahead, I wanted to have the answers. Unfortunately, I myself did not know that many of my questions would be answered with more questions.
I found this story in John most peculiar. It begins with John the Baptist seeing Jesus in the distance and declaring, “Here is the Lamb of God!” Even though, John did not know him, he baptized others so that Jesus might be revealed to Israel. John then testifies that he saw the Spirit descend on Jesus revealing that Jesus would be the one to baptize with the Holy Spirit, and yet, John says again that he did not know him. Strange, is it not? I always imagined that John had an “in” with Jesus, this prenatal bond, so to speak. And yet, John confesses that he did not know him, Jesus. However, this “not knowing” does not stop John in his ministry. It’s not that John had to know everything about Jesus, about faith, about discipleship, about what’s “right,” in order for him to see and testify that Jesus is the Son of God. John does not let his lack of knowledge, his inability disqualify his role in the gospel narrative, his call to ministry. John had courage to witness.
There have been many frustrating moments when I have recognized my own lack of knowledge. It can be paralyzing, especially in a community where many tie their self-value to their academic performance. And now, as I look forward to graduation, not knowing what is ahead, I must confess that, like John, there is much that I do not know about Jesus, about faith, about discipleship, about what’s “right.” It’s not that I slacked off in seminary, and it’s not that the seminary failed to prepare me well. Instead, in seminary I saw and learned the depth of Christ’s love, the scandalous grace of God, and the richness of human community. I learned that I cannot know everything for it is far too overwhelming and impossible. However, this recognition, this confession should not lead me to disqualify myself from my own role as witness in the gospel narrative, nor should it disqualify you. This confession, this recognition, this lack of knowledge is good news. It means that the story is not over yet, the relationship is still unfolding, and there is still more for us to learn. May we, like John, in the face of our not-knowing have courage to witness.
Jason Frey, Seminary Deacon