The 3 Words Christians Aren’t Allowed To Say

tape over mouth

(H/T Rebecca Barray, Flickr)

I’m a huge baseball fan.

Have been for as long as I can remember.

I’m the guy that spends $130 a year to stream his favorite team’s games online – and watches every single one of them. I’m the guy that drives 6 hours each way on a weeknight for a do-or-die playoff game – and then gets up the next morning and goes to work. I’m the guy that’s been overly emotionally invested in sports since I was a kid. So much so that I remember missing school the day after the Braves were robbed lost the 1991 World Series because I was so distraught.

But one thing I don’t love so much about baseball are the so-called unwritten rules.

They’re annoying. And all over the place. And usually make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

I get the unwritten rule that says you shouldn’t bunt late in the game just to try and break up a no-hitter. That’s pretty cheap. At least during the regular season.

But don’t steal third base with two outs? And don’t step on the pitcher’s mound? And don’t admire your own home run?

That stuff is just dumb.

Of course, baseball isn’t the only institution with unwritten rules.

We’ve got plenty of unwritten rules in the church too.

Like, if someone sits in the same place every Sunday morning, then that’s their reserved seat. Don’t sit there. Ever.

The correct order of worship music goes like this: super upbeat song, upbeat song, slightly less upbeat song, and then a slow song to set the mood, I mean “usher in the Spirit.”

And if the pastor says something you don’t like during their sermon, you’re obligated as a good Christian soldier to send them a passive aggressive email correcting their error first thing Monday morning.

But my least favorite unwritten church rule of all time?

Never say, “I don’t know.”

This rule applies everywhere from the pulpit to the internet and anywhere in between.

I mean, think about it for a second: When’s the last time you heard a pastor or Christian celebrity or religious talking head simply say, “I don’t know.”?

It almost never happens.

We expect our pastors to use their sermons as a 30 minute answer session for our weekly questions about the Bible, life, and those infamous, but terribly named “hot topics.” Formal organizations exist to provide answers in Genesis to every theological answer under the sun – while often denouncing anyone with the “wrong” answers. And leave it to social media to provide definitive answers to every question and controversy in the world whether you asked for those answers of not.

In the midst of this tornado of truth, any acknowledgement of “I don’t know” is treated as weakness, ignorance, or laziness. It’s often assumed that if someone doesn’t know the answer to a difficult question, it’s simply because they didn’t do the necessary research or take the requisite time to think about the situation at hand.

Often, however, the opposite is true.

To be fair, our insatiable need for answers really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. After all, with our smartphones, we carry the totality of human knowledge around in our pockets and so we have become conditioned to provide or at least have access to answers for every question imaginable.

But there are echoes of Eden in our need for answers to everything.

Like Adam and Eve, we snatch at the tree of knowledge because ultimately we want to be like God.

We want to be in total control and lack for nothing.

That’s what our quixotic quest for answers is really all about. For some of us, answers simply serve as a warm blank we mistakingly think will shield us from the cold and often confusing complexity of real life. But for many more of us, answers are the things that give us power and with that power comes the ability to control and manipulate the world around us and, more importantly, the people within it.

And so we gleefully delude ourselves into thinking we’ve got it all figured out, providing reasons for everything and Bible verses to back it up.

But in doing so we expose our own misunderstanding, not only of faith, but what the Bible is and how it functions. We believe and often need it to be an answer book. But it’s not. It does, of course, offer some answers for how to respond in some situations, but taken as a whole the Bible seems to raise far more questions than it does provide answers.

Am I my brother’s keeper?

Who do you say that I am?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

The Bible is absolutely there to guide us and we should unquestionably make an effort to know and understand what we can, but we need to remember that the same Paul who said we need to be ready in season and out, also acknowledged that we see but through a mirror dimly.

In other words, we don’t and can’t have it all figured out.

Which is why “I don’t know” is such an important component of faith.

It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re not “ready in season and out” or that we haven’t given any thought to the matter at hand. The opposite should be true. It’s ok to say “I don’t know” when we haven’t actually given it much thought or don’t have the proper training, but the best “I don’t know” comes about through wrestling long, hard, and honestly over difficult matters.

Now, don’t hear me wrong. There is certainly space and even a need for some answers, but when we feel obligated to always offer answers to everything in life, the inevitable result is unnecessary pain.

When life gets messy and hearts break, one of the worst things we can offer are answers or reasons why God wanted or allowed a tragedy to happen.

What we need to do instead is learn to make space for sacred silence, the kind of silence that acknowledges the gravity of the situation, honors the pain of those who suffer, and recognizes that some questions simply don’t have answers, or at least not easy ones that can be proof-texted with cherry picked Bible verses.

Making space for sacred silence requires a level of humility that’s largely missing in the church today, but it’s humility we can and must rediscover if we’re to remain relevant in the world and not be dismissed as arrogant know-it-alls who only preach, never listen.

Only correct, never embrace.

Only control, never serve.

Only denounce, never love.

Saying “I don’t know” isn’t about laziness or weakness or stupidity or not being prepared.

It’s about taking posture of humility when the moment calls for such.

And those moments come about far more often than most of us are willing to admit.