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Vine Stylesheet

Limits of Understanding
Invite Trust in God

We long for understanding. We desire to know how to live our lives less painfully. We long to understand our children and to teach them to prepare them for adulthood. Beyond that, we long to understand our world that we might live fruitfully upon it.

Often in our efforts to understand we stretch our intelligence and reason as far as it can go. The ancient sages, however, taught that Wisdom was found through another doorway. "Whoever knows that he does not know is highest; sick of mind is one who pretends to know what he does not know." (Tao Te Ching LXXI)

Searching for the Depth of God

As humans we have been gifted with powers of intelligence and reason. These abilities are important for our human development. So why are the sages showing us the limitations of understanding? I was reminded of a philosopher, Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900), who attempted to develop a system of morality to resolve moral dilemmas rationally. In the end he conceded that it was not possible, stating that, "Where he had looked for Cosmos, he had in fact found only Chaos." Other great thinkers have also recognized that human reason does not provide a worthy foundation. But, it is not only the situation of modern humans. We find the same conversation in Job where a stance of humility is found in response to Job's plight:

Can you find out the deep things of God?
Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?
It is higher than heaven - what can you do?
Deeper than the netherworld - what can you know?
- Job 11.7-8

Wisdom as Gift

It follows naturally that Wisdom texts are not written as theoretical systems or conceptual frameworks but are composed of "intuitive flashes and poetic fragments." It is a different standpoint, from which Wisdom is acknowledged as a gift rather than an accomplishment.

The sages understood that they were not in control. Our desire to control our lives lies behind much of human motivation for knowledge. It is said that real understanding is not achieved through developing conceptual frameworks or holding the right beliefs but in a trusting relationship with things. We must "meet" that which we hope to understand. This stance of learning requires a foundation of trust in God. It makes openness to life, as it is, possible.

These words are certainly addressed to me. I have sought knowledge as though it were the key to understanding and becoming a better person. I have only begun to see the dark side of what this search for knowledge reveals. A year ago, when I initially looked at this topic I thought of this picture. It is a picture of my son when he was about five years old. He loved to shoot hoops although he was only rarely "successful". It was his stance, here, during the second of this photograph that caught my eye. It captured his love in the full engagement of himself in the process and his humility in the openness of his body. He wasn't cringing because the ball wasn't going where he wanted and he wasn't cheering because he was successful. He was simply engaged, alive, learning life's lessons. Undoubtedly, he'll have to learn Wisdom's lesson again as an adult, as I pray I will be able to as well.

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