“I don’t know” might prove to be the three most honest words ever spoken by humans. Especially when preceded and succeeded by a sigh.
“I don’t know” can also be infuriating. We live in a culture that has a deep belief in right and wrong, black and white, true and false. Given this fact, “I don’t know” has implications of weak-mindedness and a lack of wisdom. If the President were asked whether or not we should send troops to Syria to fight for or against the rebels, and he said, “I don’t know”, we would likely ask for his resignation. If the pastor is asked whether or not women should be allowed to preach on Sunday mornings, and he said, “I don’t know”, we would likely search for a new church in which the pastor was sure of his convictions. If the father is asked if he wanted the doctors to take the life of his unborn child or risk the life of his wife in childbirth, and he said, “I don’t know”, the doctor’s would probably yell at him that its a matter of life and death and he better be sure he’s doing the “right” thing. I would too.
That is, unless “I don’t know” was preceded and succeeded by a sigh.
There’s a sincerity, a deep-knowledge that we don’t have all of the answers, that is communicated by “I don’t know”. My wife was trying today at lunch to explain something that she’s been thinking about concerning homosexuality and the church and she kept pausing, sighing, and saying, “I don’t know.” A more honest phrase has never been spoken about this issue.
My friend Ali, this last week, was talking with us at our house about the very same thing and couldn’t help but sigh and say, “I don’t know”, over and over and over again. It’s as if we know that the conversation is necessary, but we just simply don’t feel like we have the ability to participate fully in it with the information at hand.
I have to think that this is what it was like for the first church council when they were deciding whether or not a person would need to become a Jew in order to follow Jesus. I’m sure James, the brother of Jesus, and the leader of the early church, sounded something like this: “Friends, we know what the Law has required of us since it was given to Moses in the desert, but, I don’t know. If I understand the prophets, they talked a lot about Gentiles coming into the family of God, and I have always believed that to mean that they would become Jews, but, I don’t know. It’s just, I don’t know. I don’t know. You know? It seems that…”
At what point is a collective unknowing about an issue an indicator that there is some real thing happening that God is calling us to move on? Will we be drawn into a new way of thinking? I don’t know, you know?