“I don’t know,” I whispered under my breath.
I closed my eyes and felt the frustration building. I looked at the problem again and tried to concentrate, but the equation with all its numbers and letters just didn’t make any sense to me. It was like some mystical language my brain simply could not absorb. I was fourteen years old, and this advanced algebra class was driving me crazy. The more I concentrated and tried to figure out the problems, the more confused I became. I studied every day and even got extra help from the teacher twice a week, but I continued to struggle with the concepts, and my head continued to hurt.
At that point it was confirmed that I would never be a mathematical genius. I had hit the limit of my understanding. Nearly forty years later, math still does not come easily to me, and sometimes it doesn’t come at all. We all have areas of life we don’t understand. Even math experts can’t figure out every formula or theorem. Not knowing or understanding is just a part of the human condition. But our culture prizes knowledge to such a degree that although we live in a world of obscurity and ambiguity, we grow nervous when we move beyond the knowable. We feel uncomfortable with the things we can’t explain. If things are too far beyond our comfort zones, we resist them and ignore them and sometimes even lash out against them.
But what if those very things are blessings sent to teach us about our marvelous limitations?
What if they are lessons designed to undermine our pride and arrogance?
What if they are gifts from God to make us humble and draw us closer to him?
I am the first to admit that some things are simply incomprehensible—in part because there is so much I don’t comprehend, from the depths of the ocean to the heights of outer space. In fact, there are times I don’t even seem to know myself. As a psychologist, I realize that a healthy person learns to approach the unknown and make peace with the incomprehensible. To assume that I must avoid things I don’t understand is both shortsighted and ridiculous. I don’t understand how a television works, but that doesn’t stop me from watching it. I don’t know how certain foods are made, but that doesn’t keep me from eating them. I don’t comprehend the ways of God, but that doesn’t cause me to distance myself from him.
Faith is a bold step into the unknown. It is an acknowledgment that our thoughts are too human, too small, too limited to comprehend the ways of God. God is so vast that our thoughts get lost in his immensity. At best we might grasp but a splinter of his splendor or a glimpse of his character. So minuscule is the slice of reality we can see that it can only be compared to a hazy shadow of a distant reflection of his magnificent glory.
God is beyond comprehension and imagination. To reduce him to the level of human understanding is to take away much of what makes him God. For how can a finite mind ever comprehend an infinite God? King David sang out, “Great is the LORD! . . . No one can measure his greatness” (Psalm 145:3). And the prophet Isaiah asked rhetorically, “Who has understood the mind of the LORD?” (Isaiah 40:13, NIV).
One of Job’s tormentors rightly said, “The Almighty is beyond our reach” (Job 37:23, NIV). Even so, we still need to strive to know all we can know, regardless of how limited that knowledge may be. For even the smallest drop of water can be enormously refreshing to a thirsty soul.
I do not need to fully understand God to walk with him. I simply need to relax and let him amaze me with his greatness. Donald Miller wrote in Blue Like Jazz, “It comforts me to think that if we are created beings, the thing that created us would have to be greater than us, so much greater, in fact, that we would not be able to understand it.”
I don’t want an ordinary God any more than I want an ordinary faith. Ordinary might make me feel good, but it will never inspire and astound me. Only an extraordinary God can move me beyond complacency in such a way that I cannot help but be changed.
When I truly consider and contemplate the creator of eternity and infinity, I’m shaken to my very core. If he is comprehensible, I need not change, but if he is incomprehensible, I would be foolish not to change. In the end C. S. Lewis was right: “The best is perhaps what we understand least.” And what I understand least is frequently what moves me most.