Sometimes ‘I Don’t Know’ Is The Right Answer

by Trey Bechtold August 20, 2015

We serve a God who has revealed himself in such a way that constant study is important. As the Psalmist writes, blessed is the man who “delights in the instruction of Yahweh; and on his instruction he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2; see also Joshua 1:8).

God wants to be known, and his people should strive to know him.  It’s right there in the Great Commission—not just baptizing people, but teaching them, as well (Matt. 28:19-20). We teach them a knowledge that comes from revelation. Knowledge that means when it comes to God, Christians have the right answer.

But there’s a catch, one we discover when we study the argument between the long-suffering Job and his friends. Each of them argue with firm assurance in their theological positions. Both sides are sure that they have the right answer. Both sides are wrong. And in that we find an important lesson: sometimes “I don’t know” is the right answer.

“I am innocent (7:20; 9:20-24; 10:7; 13:23; 23:11-12),” Job proclaims. “And God is unjust to let me suffer (24:1-12). If only I could have a fair hearing before God, I would be vindicated (31:35-40).”

 “You are surely not,” his friends counter. “For the innocent do not suffer unjustly. That is not how God works (4:7; 8:3; 15:5; 18:5ff; 32:1-3).”

From the perspective of those five men, sitting on the ground with torn robes and dust-covered heads, both positions sound correct. Surely God would not unjustly punish the innocent; surely everyone is a sinner and therefore Job’s suffering is deserved. Job deserves what he gets because that is how God works.

But we know better, because the author of the book has given us a peek behind the curtain. We understand that Job is not suffering because of any sin—indeed, God himself has declared that “there is no man like him on earth, blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (1:8). So, Job’s friends are wrong.

And when God enters the conversation, we discover that Job is wrong, too:

“Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!’” (Job 38:1–3 NAS95). 

Job wanted a hearing before God, and he got one—but the answer he receives is not what he was expecting. With a stinging line of questioning, God leaves Job practically speechless.

From the whirlwind of His anger, God asks, “Can you do the things I can do? Do you know the things that I know?”

Job’s answer can be no other: “Therefore I have spoken, but I did not understand; things too wonderful for me, but I did not know” (42:3).

 People often look to the book of Job for an answer to theodicy, the so-called “problem of evil.” However, the book of Job does not necessarily answer this question. The question of the book is not, “why did Job suffer,” but rather, “how will Job respond?” What we discover in the fierce debate between Job and his friends is that none of them responded adequately. Each of them appealed to their firm theological convictions, and each of them were wrong. The reader is meant to read the debate and shake his head, to groan at just how wrong each claim is in light of what is really going on.

And that is the point. Like Job and his friends, I am often tempted to explain God’s actions through the lens of my assured theological assumptions. I am afraid of saying “I don’t know” to tough questions. But the book of Job makes me less quick to offer assured answers to every tough question that comes up.

The simple truth is that we cannot always know why. We don’t always know what God is doing, and that has to be okay. We are not God and cannot do what God does. We do not know what God knows. So, there are times when we can know, and there are times when we cannot. We should understand that, and be willing to answer some tough questions with a humble “I don’t know.”

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