All That I Know Isn’t Much

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:10-13)

Remember lying on your back picking shapes out of the clouds? That’s what I think about every time I read about the “puzzling reflections in a mirror”. Look! A hippopotamus! Fun fact: when I was in med school I always saw body parts in the clouds. Where others saw a dinosaur or a daffodil, I saw the aorta or the large intestine. Medical school does not necessarily produce normal people.

We don’t get too worked up over differences of opinion when it comes to a cumulus cloud… but we surely do over other things. Like race and ethnicity. Or gun control. Or the definition of marriage. Or policemen. Or flags. Or immigration. Or rainbows. These days, referring to someone as “he” rather than “she” is enough to draw the battle lines.

I don’t think we intend to be contentious or mean-spirited… it’s just that these topics seem to hit where it hurts. We seem to be at some sort of turning point in history. Even trying to describe THAT brings about sharp differences of perception: where some people see the dawn, freedom, and a bright future… others see the end of life as we know it.

None of us are objective, much as we’d like to pretend we are. The truth is, each of us brings our own wisdom and knowledge and experience to the table… but it’s colored with our fears and hurts and insecurities. Put it all together, and nearly any sentence uttered can result in the age-old Southern expression:

“Them’s fightin’ words!”

I think we desire certainty more than anything. We want to KNOW… and we want to KNOW THAT WE ARE RIGHT. Unfortunately, much of life doesn’t lend itself to certainty, and matters of faith require… well, faith. That’s uncomfortable. So our response is often to gather together with other people who agree with us. We gather together in clubs, or denominations, or schools of thought, or advocacy groups… often for very good reasons. But another reason may be this: there’s something about a lot of people all saying the same thing that provides confidence. (It’s why I love being in Neyland Stadium in the fall — there’s just something awesome about 100,000 people who all agree with me!)

Into the midst of our desire for certainty… our longing to be right…  and our fierce, chin-lifted, fist-clenched posture… comes Paul’s refreshingly authentic words:

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror…

All that I know now is partial and incomplete…

Wait. What?

Isn’t Paul the guy whose words we so often use to beat each other over the head with? Weren’t his words the deep trench that put our nation at war with ourselves over slavery? That led to the splitting of denominations over the role of women? Aren’t his words the grand canyon separating us over how to define marriage?

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror…

All that I know now is partial and incomplete…

Is it possible that some uncertainty is okay? When faced with really complex things… is it possible that it’s okay to not have all the answers? Is it possible that faith is less about having our theology tied up into a tidy package… and more about trusting in a God who is way bigger than us?

It isn’t as though Paul left us hanging, either. He didn’t just say, “Life is complicated, so do your best… have fun… chill out… hakuna matata.” No, he gave us very specific marching orders in how to conduct ourselves when we are uncertain:


The whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 says, in essence, that everything we generally put our trust in is worthless without love. Knowledge… wisdom… faith that moves mountains… sacrificial giving… the gift of prophecy… eloquent speaking and preaching… all of it adds up to nothing without love.

I wonder, if we were to use this passage as our method of grading all the arguments that occur over “what’s right”… if the score wouldn’t end up being 0-0.

Perhaps it’s time to recognize that if the guy who wrote half of the New Testament can say that everything he knows now is partial and incomplete, maybe we ought to follow suit. Perhaps it’s time to season our demands and our turf battles and our culture wars with humility and gracious uncertainty. Perhaps, in doing so, we would begin to have discussions and relationships that are, in the Bible’s method of scoring, actually worth something.

Perhaps it’s time to stop being divided over our certain beliefs… and instead become unified by our faith in the midst of uncertainty.

Three things will last forever…

Not certainty. Not truth. Not wisdom. Not theology. Not science. Not marriage. Not a specific nation. Not a specific race.

Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.




3 thoughts on “All That I Know Isn’t Much

  1. Wow! Paul did stir up a mess, didn’t he?

    I feel peace knowing that I don’t know and that doesn’t bother God, at all!

    Keep sharing, Joani!

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