Why is I don't know a church distinctive? We don’t know. Why is it then on this list? We’re not sure. What was Jesus’ original last name? No idea. Where is JR? We’re not at liberty to disclose that information. You see, there’s a lot we don’t know, and we just have to be okay with that. What we can know is more than enough, and so much of the antagonism between Christianity and the rest of the world comes from Christians claiming to know things that are beyond all human knowing.
Who, for example, gets the heavenly thumbs up versus the doom and gloom thumbs down? Or why did this bad thing happen to me while that good thing happened to you? Church folks are often asked these kinds of question—Do you think I’m going to hell?Why did your "loving" God allow this calamity? The sad thing is that we often have the pretense to think we know the answers.
What are Your Questions?
A couple of thoughts. First, on a societal level, the truth is that these provocations are most most often raised by the Christians. Maybe not in the moment—they're not the best conversation starters—but they certainly are a gauntlet thrown down by vocal segments of Christianity at the world outside its walls. Christians often seem to think that the final resting place of our disembodied souls, whether heaven or hell, is the primary issue that we each face, and that there are clear criteria for making that determination that Christians know and must declare to the world. Or that bad things that happen to individuals or people groups can be explained by simple deviations from God's rules.
But for many, an interest in Jesus is piqued not by fear of unquenchable fire or worries of misbehavior, but by other apparently more pressing issues. Can Jesus help me think through how to get along better with people? Is there any here-and-now substance to his spiritualness? Can he really make the world a better place? Perhaps you have questions of your own. But whatever they are, we want to focus on the real issues that you are raising, not force you to confront ours. We might not know the answers, but your wonderings about Jesus or faith or spirituality have probably been rattling around in our not-yet-disembodied souls too, and we’ll be happy to wonder with you.
We Can't Know
Second, Jesus says straight out that for many of the big questions, not knowing is the only choice. With ultimate personal outcome, for example, Jesus says that while the quality and substance of our lives will be evaluated—“people will have to give an account (Mat 12:36)”—the evaluator will be God himself, who alone has full access to all the relevant information.
Jesus purposely and repeatedly provokes human would-be judgers through his life and his stories: a father extravagantly loves his reprobate son, workers who show up late get paid just as much as the early birds, a bad guy “gets in” just under the wire. And in a story specifically about the Evaluation, when God puts on his divine sorting hat and says to some nervous farmyard animals either “Slytherin” or “Griffindor”, the primary emotion experienced by all is neither elation nor anger nor horror nor joy, but surprise! I’m in? How did that happen? I’m not in--Impossible! I demand a recount!
The bottom line for this issue and so many others is that in spite of our desperate desire to know, knowledge is withheld. We must be comfortable with ignorance because it’s the only option. By trying to know, we focus valuable effort and energy on the wrong questions, and if we pretend to know, we cause only antagonism and strife. In light of all this, Jesus makes a simple suggestion: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” Sounds like a good deal to us.
There's So Much More
In the end, while Jesus cares deeply and personally for each human, his thoughts and energies are focused beyond us as individuals into eternity. He is after recreating human society as a functional, loving, powerful and united force. He is breathing his life into all of creation, the entire cosmos. He is about justice and love and peace and truth. And he invites us to come along for the ride!