Sunday, April 27, 2008

I don't know anything

At the risk of sounding a little bit like Donald Rumsfeld, I want to tell you about the things I knew that I don't know, the things I thought I knew but I don't know, and how I don't know anything.

There's a lot of things that I definitely don't know. I don't know what grades I'm going to get this semester. I don't know what I'm going to do with my life. I don't know who I'm going to marry, and that assumes that I will. But worse than all those things, I don't know how to make myself do what's right, and that assumes I know what the right thing to do is.

When I was a child, I would not eat red fruit, whether or not I had actually ever tried them. A few weeks ago, I had some strawberries, and they were pretty good. I used to be confident that I was really smart, and really good at Computer Science on top of that. I have a GPA of 3.28, which, while not bad, is less than I used to have, I assure you, and I rarely get As in CompSci classes anymore. It's hard for me to admit, but I thought that I had a lot of things all figured out, that I knew what to do, when to do things, and all about myself and the people around me. When I am alone, walking to and from various places, or on the toilet, or in the shower, I will frequently imagine future conversations I might have with my friends, even predicting what they will say and coming up with responses, so that I can come across as eloquent and clever when we do talk. Sometimes I'm right about what they'll say, I won't deny it, but I'm never all right and my predictions are pretty weak to begin with, never mind that it says some pretty weird and potentially bad things about myself that I do this. I like to think that I have my closest friends all figured out, and I put the people I don't know as well into neat little categories, stereotypes, which strongly affect how I think about them and how I treat them. Not only do I suspect that this is morally wrong, but it doesn't work. I don't know everything about the people I think I've got all figured out, and they constantly surprise me with revelations about themselves, and I am surprised even more so with the process of opening my eyes to the people that I've filed away into stereotypes. I went for a long time not realizing this, and that's the way it goes with lots of the things I do that are wrong, and even some of the things I think are right; I don't know that they're wrong. I don't know all of what is right or wrong, all of what is good or bad, or anything even close to that. I thought I knew, but I've become convinced that, when you get down to it, I don't know anything.

I have, for better or for worse, in my mind, an idea of what is my ideal future. In my ideal future, I am married to some beautiful woman with whom I make several babies, and I suppose this is all well and good in the eyes of the Noahic covenant. Most importantly, however, is that I own a farm, most likely a potato farm. A discerning mind will guess that my ideal future is me in the idealized world of my ancestors, the old Ireland which is apparently after we've gotten potatoes from America, but before there was a Pototao Famine, and definitely not the Ireland that existed with high infant mortality rates and low life expectancy. I'm sure it's not entirely Ireland, I really like Maryland, but that's the image that I've got in my head. I also have ideas about other ideal versions of things. I think that if the history of the Church had gone how it should have, there would have been no Catholic-Protestant schism in the 1500s, and there would have been no East-West schism in 1054, and we would have a parish system with bishops and all, with a whole bunch of patriarchs, and every Sunday I would go for a liturgy that had a time for prayer where everyone in the church prayed all at once, out loud, for awhile. But why stop there, with church history? Why not just dictate how the entirety of history should have gone? If I had my way, sin would have never entered the world.

Can I say that that's wrong? Sin is wrong, and the cause of many evils. Wishing that it had never happened, how can that be wrong? But on the other hand, God is sovereign over everything, not just over the here and the now, but He has been sovereign since before there was time. He allowed sin to happen, and none of his deeds are ever wrong. A paradox? Maybe. I don't really understand why God allows bad things to happen, though I've heard some people say that it's so that he can fully demonstrate his love through the death and resurrection of Christ, and that starts to make some sense, sometimes.

I am not going to own a farm in the future, or at least it is not looking likely. We Christians talk a lot about what God is calling us to do, even if some of us are really terrible at listening. Terrible at listening though I may be, I don't think God is calling me to own a farm and all the rest of that idyllic, agrarian fantasy. I do not know what he is calling me to do with my life, though I wish he would tell me, but I don't think I'm called to own a farm. Now, I could go off on my desires and do all the right things that would result in me owning a farm, but that's not the point. People in the Church did what they wanted and look where we've ended up. Adam did what he wanted, and look where that's gotten all of us. My desires, though sometimes rooted in good motivations, do not always yield good results. Wanting to provide food for others is good, but that doesn't necessarily imply that I should go own a farm. I hope you don't think I'm saying that all my desires are good, that all my motivations are good. I'm only realizing that even the good motivations don't always yield good actions.

This has gotten way too long, so I'm going to wrap it up. What I've been trying to get across is this: I do not always know what is the right thing to do. I am fully capable of tricking myself into using good reasons and intentions to support wrong actions. I don't like this, because I still want to do the right thing, but this implies that someone has got to tell me what to do, and I don't want that at all. This is where those bad motivations start becoming really apparent. I don't want to listen to God, because I want to do whatever the heck I want to do. It's my life, who is He to tell me how to live it? This is starting to sound awfully familiar, like one of those sermons where they talk about why Adam and Eve ate the fruit, or like C.S. Lewis's Perelandra, which is the same thing. I think that doing what is right is really important, and not doing what is wrong equally so, so the idea that I don't know how to do that is frightening. If I don't even know how to do that, I don't know anything! Thanks be to God, then, that He is willing to tell me. The next trick is remember to ask Him, and then listen, but that is not something I am prepared to write about yet.

3 comments:

Alex said...

Dude, that's completely existential. I like the part about eating red fruit. Strawberries are awesome!

I don't have anything smart to say in response. Maybe read some Kierkegaard?

Also, I predict that we will have more awkward conversations in the bathroom, and that we will talk about awesome beards and handshakes.

You should buy a pipe.

zianchoy said...

How is this existential?

It reads more like a 1-sided dialogue with God. Or maybe that's just because I've been catching up on sermons these last few days. :)

Cynthia said...

Good post.