The Growing Uncertainty of Middle-Age (or Why I’m Growing More Content with Knowing Less)

The more you see, the less you know
The less you find out as you go
I knew much more then
Than I do now

U2, “City of Blinding Lights,” How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004)

Sometimes I very much feel the truth of the above words from U2’s song. I find myself aware of just how much I don’t understand, how much knowledge I do not have, and of how limited my intellectual abilities are. It feels like it’s a function of growing older, a fact which is relative I know, but being in middle age seems to come with a certain recognition that I’m definitely not as smart as I perhaps once thought I was. And most definitely not as smart as some others seem to think I am. Though maybe I’m just fooling myself on that last point.

In addition, I find myself content with knowing less. I’m ok with more uncertainty about a number of things. Like everyone, I receive data and information from the world around me and I try and process it to the best of my ability. Sometimes I really think I am right in my opinion. Though there are surely times–whether I ever realize it or not–when I am very much wrong. I also make choices based on how I have processed this information. But can I be certain that I’ve made the right choice? Not always. Maybe sometimes I can be. Sometimes I may never know for sure.

What do I really need to know, anyway? My place or role in this world is relatively limited. I am a husband, a father of three kids, and a pastor of a small, but loving congregation. Much of what I need to know consists in how to live wisely and well in these relationships. Truthfully, I don’t even always do that. Hopefully, however, I am at least making incremental improvements. Of course, living well and wisely in our relationships doesn’t mean always knowing what to do or what to say or how to respond to others. At the risk of sounding trite, I at least try to do my best.

Besides, I do feel as though I am more certain about the core, fundamental, elemental matters. As a person of faith, the roots of my beliefs are quite deep down at this point. I am convinced, for example, in the truths encapsulated in historic statements of Christian doctrine like the Apostles’ Creed and in the Nicene Creed. I am convinced that Jesus is the Son of God, the Word made flesh, the one who calls us to and who gives us eternal and abundant life.

But even when it comes to my Christian faith, there are other aspects that I am less certain about or about which I am fine having less certainty about. There are areas of theological debate amongst Christians that I find interesting but which are not hills I am prepared to die on. For instance, I really don’t care about the end-times timeline. I don’t believe that the Scriptures teach a rapture which precedes Christ’s final Second Coming. I don’t know for sure whether the 1,000 reign of Christ is literal or metaphorical. Yet I do believe Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead, that we will be judged on the basis of whether we have trusted in him and in his good news, and that God will usher in a new heavens and new earth where he will dwell forever with the redeemed. And isn’t that the most important part?

I also don’t know for sure whether the young earth creationists or the old earth creationists are correct. Now, I have my thoughts. I also understand that there are those for whom these issues are near or at the center of the gospel. I’m simply not persuaded that they are right in thinking this. What I do know is that God created the heavens and the earth and that the creation declares the glory of God through its design and beauty. That, I believe, is the salient point.

Maybe age brings with it a greater willingness to let some things go, while holding on to what for me are the most important things with an even firmer grip. I’m not going to say age brings humility; it’s not up to me to decide whether that is a quality I have. Perhaps additional years will help me. Honestly, there are moments when accepting that I will not understand for sure about specific things is frustrating or disappointing–especially when I feel like I have to make choices based on what I know about those things. We all make choices with limited information. However, I also find that realizing my limits in this respect can be freeing at times. I am not responsible for everything. I don’t have to have everything figured out to live or make decisions. That is, in part, where faith comes in. Because God knows. He understands completely. He is, after all, omniscient. What I don’t and won’t understand I can leave in his hands. Though there are moments, I confess, when I try to snatch those things back. As time continues to pass, I hope and pray this happens less and less.

2 thoughts on “The Growing Uncertainty of Middle-Age (or Why I’m Growing More Content with Knowing Less)

  1. Elaine Kenney

    I agree with you that the scripture does not teach that there is going to be a rapture. The most important thing is that the redeemed will live with God on the new earth and heavens for eternity. Amen

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