I don’t need to know everything.
I’ve been wrestling with a research paper for a little while. I keep making small steps forward in the work only to grow intimidated by the vast amount of literature I won’t have time to consult. I struggle to make progress not because I’m uninterested in the topic, but because I don’t want to miss anything. I want to be exhaustive in my research.
This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this tendency. In college, I wanted to be able to speak about the Bible and theology with authority, to provide definitive answers to the questions my friends would ask. I wanted to be known for my vast knowledge of the Word of God.
I see now how arrogant that desire made me, and I recognize now how little I actually know in light of how much there is to know. There is a reason why thesis and dissertation topics are so specific: students simply cannot know everything.
Paul knew a lot about God, yet he spoke of the heights of God’s knowledge and of man’s inability to know his mind in Romans 11:33-36. Job was a wise man, but he was reminded of his place as God questioned him concerning the many things that were beyond the scope of his understanding (Job 38-41). The psalmist spoke of God’s intimate knowledge that arguably goes beyond the writer’s own self-understanding (Psalm 139). The more I study, the more I realize how small I am before the Almighty. The more I embrace this truth, the more comfort I find in God.
When Solomon writes in Proverbs that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10), I believe him to be saying that wisdom and knowledge begin with knowing and embracing our place before the Lord. To make a specific application, I think my academic pursuit must be grounded in the understanding that I am a sinner saved by the grace of God, a saved son adopted by the heavenly Father. Because this is the case, I will never know all that God knows, never reach some unlimited store of knowledge. I am, by nature, limited and dependent. My place is not to know all, but to know the one who knows all. My specific purpose is then worked out from the basis of my relationship with God.
So tonight, as I study a few more sources and write a few more words, I do so peacefully, trusting the God who knows all to guide the me who knows little. I rest in the knowledge that I need not know every answer to every question the world may ask, and I study in the joy of knowing God and being known by him. I recognize and embrace my limits, working hard to grow in wisdom and understanding, yet not making knowledge my god. In all things, especially in my studies, I pray the Lord is pleased.
Joe Waller is a graduate student pursuing a Master of Divinity. Joe also works in the financial aid office on campus. This blog was originally published on "As I Learn to Walk."