Honest Agnostics

January 2, 2013

Excerpt from Proverbs 1:1-7

"To have knowledge, you must first have reverence for the Lord."

Reflection by William C. Green

"Knowledge" comes from a Middle English word meaning acknowledgment of a superior, honor, to stand in awe of, to worship. Reverence has meant the same thing.

In The World as I See It, Albert Einstein said knowledge begins in awe. "We cannot help but be in awe when we contemplate the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if we try merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day."

It's natural to want to know more than we do, especially regarding matters of life and death and how God can allow suffering and evil. Can we respect, not just resent, what we can't comprehend—and move ahead?

Rather than straining to understand and believe what’s beyond our capacity, we can become what G.K. Chesterton calls an honest agnostic—one who admits that what we cannot understand "may involve something superior to the mind which does not understand it." Otherwise agnosticism is as dogmatic as the faith it questions.

The mystery of what we don't know hardly seems relevant to problems we need to solve except as incentive to solve them. In science and medicine as in everyday life we want progress and resolution. But when we can no longer step back from it all, pause to wonder at what we do know and stand in awe of what’s unquestionably good, knowledge is never enough, our eyes are closed: we’re not truly alive.

Prayer

God, when I don't understand what's going on or why, may I admit it—and wonder at the love and goodness I do know. Amen.

About the Author
William C. Green is Vice-President for Strategy and Development, Moral Courage Project, NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and the author of 52 Ways to Ignite Your Congregation: Generous Giving.

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