On Not Knowing
To be faced with something we don’t know can feel quite shameful. For a lot of us, especially in some circles, not knowing can feel like a crime. Rather than risk it, we nod knowingly.
Philip ran up and heard the Ethiopian court official reading the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The official replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” – Acts 8:30-31 (NRSV)
Whenever I read the story of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, I find myself nearly breathless with awe. Not at the quick conversion and speedy baptism. Not at the easy camaraderie across differences of race, sexual identity, nationality, and religion. At how readily the Ethiopian admits to not knowing. He asks so many questions. “How can I, unless someone guides me?” “About whom does this speak?”
It hasn’t escaped me that I said, “admits to not knowing,” like not knowing is some kind of crime. For a lot of us, especially in certain circles, it almost is. To be faced with someone knowing something we don’t can feel quite shameful. What if this is something every educated person knows, and I don’t? What if I ask, “What’s that?” and suddenly the party’s all record-scratches and crickets and so so much staring? Rather than risk it, I furrow my brow and nod knowingly. I hope to brazen it out without embarrassment, and then google it later.
Whether the Ethiopian’s freely asked questions imply humility or good ego strength or both, I don’t know. What I do know is how much he would have missed if he’d just said, “Duh, of course I understand what I’m reading. Do I look like an idiot?” No new relationship. No revelation. No conversion. No baptism. Not to mention missing the messenger that God sent especially to him, of all the people in the world.
Everybody knows that nobody knows everything, God. Never let me get so smart—or so good at faking it—that I miss the messengers you send me. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is a father, husband, homesteader and preacher living in rural upstate New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.