I should have just said, “I don’t know.”
The Three Words People Need to Hear
I was at a Bible study just a few weeks back. The setting was clean and straightforward, with an entire wall of windows letting crisp winter afternoon light spill into a conference room. During the back and forth of discussion, a college student asked an inconsequential question. The leader wanted to answer the question but didn’t have the information at the forefront of his mind. So he guessed. Why? My guess is that it has to deal with people feeling as though we need to answer every question.
The question wasn’t even an important question. It had zero impact in regards to faith. Yet, the leader felt that he needed to: save face, prove they knew all things, absentmindedly shrugged off a response, or maybe really thought that he had the right bit of info. Take your pick. It’s not essential here.
What’s important, is that he could have just as quickly said, “I don’t know.” He could have even followed that up with, “But I can find out.” Or even, “Hey you’ve got a laptop out, why don’t you Google it for us.”
This minor story reminded me of the countless times that I’ve done the same thing. I too have offered information up as though I was an expert on all things.
Another quick story. This winter, while at my side hustle, a coworker and I started to talk about faith-related topics. He had lots of questions, and I love giving my opinion. As it often does, we stumbled onto the problem of pain and suffering. Namely, how could an all-loving God allow x (insert your favorite deleterious condition for the variable x)? I gave a well-crafted response.
But then the kid, this coworker was quite a bit younger than me, asked a simple follow up question. Outloud, he wondered why God would have him ride his bicycle seven miles to work through a snowstorm. The young man’s car had been in his garage for months as he’d been trying to repair it himself. The consequence of which meant that he’d been cycling to work. This wasn’t a problem when it was warm out. But now in the middle of December, it meant extra layers of clothes and unsafe conditions. It might have also involved feeling ashamed or insignificant as the fancy cars passed him on the road.
I gave a poignant response that wasn’t half bad and took the blame off of God.
But it would have been better had I said nothing.
Even better, I should have said, “I don’t know.”
Because no matter what I said, it didn’t change the fact that several hours later, long after my shift had ended, he would once again be pedaling seven miles home through adverse weather, wind, and snow.
There are times we need to be comfortable knowing that we don’t have the right words. We need to own that fact that there are times were saying anything just makes us look like a jackass. Apologies for the ‘harsh’ language, but it’s true and it’s how we as Christians (or any person claiming to have a particular ideological stance) come across.
So why did God let you have a terrible childhood? I could tell you about the fall. I could tell you that sin in the world allows for there to be ramifications like abuse. I could try to change tactics and make a case for how identifying pain points to the problem of good, and by that I mean we recognize that suffering is something that we see as evil—and this implies that we are hardwired to acknowledge that a good also exists.
But all of those answers ignore the personal element and thusly, dishonors the person asking the question.
Sometimes we have to say, “I don’t know,” and then continue the conversation with what we do know—that there is a better story. We have a truth/perspective where we see a loving God acting to redeem us in this messed up world.