I found this article about the three scariest words, “I don’t know,” particularly interesting. What got my attention was this story from a surgeon:
“A surgeon tells about the time when, as a new intern, afraid to admit unfamiliarity with a procedure and ask questions, she plunged in confidently — and made an incision four times longer than the patient had been told the scar would be.”
I’m not going to even start to think about all the mistakes that are brushed under the operating table or stitched up, but now I DO know to opt for the middle-aged doctor.
What’s relevant to us is that, perhaps what differentiates those of us who don’t believe from those of us who believe, is that we are comfortable with the answer “I don’t know.” I don’t know how we got here. I don’t know why we are here. I don’t know if anything happens when we die.
It seems at first that those who believe in God confess they don’t know either. We don’t know why God allowed this to happen. It’s not for us to know. It was God’s plan.
But this is not admitting to not knowing. It’s simply stating, “We know the answer is God.” We don’t need the answer, for someone bigger and stronger (albeit unwilling or unable to show this) holds the answer for us.
Believing that God knows all means that we don’t have to discover answers that we might not want to hear: life is not fair; people can be cruel; guardian angels don’t exist; heaven is a myth. There is a certain fear in the realization that, holy sh*t, no one is in control here. It’s just us on this planet, alone, and we’re at each other’s mercy. We are responsible for doing the right thing, even though no one is watching. And sometimes there is no reward in doing what is right–just a salve to our conscience.
By postponing indefinitely the difficult process of thinking through complex and oftentimes painful experiences in life, we avoid more emotional discomfort. Sometimes it’s a lot more comforting to think that God is holding the answers for us because the truth can be painful, because living with the unknown can be uncomfortable.
This is why we need to tell our kids from the time they are young that it’s okay not to know. Think about and focus on questions. They’re oftentimes more interesting than the answers. If we can teach our kids when they are little to be comfortable with not knowing, there won’t be shame in not having the answers. (Until they go to school, of course.) This way, too, they can be open to all possibilities.
Realizing that we don’t know the answers to life’s biggest questions can be a sign of emotional strength, for it is much scarier to walk a tightrope with no safety net. The three scariest words can also give us the most strength.