Embracing Our Intellectual Limitations
A few months ago I saw someone post a clip from The Office US on Twitter. Rarely has anything ever resonated with me so deeply! In the clip, one character asks another whether they have read a certain book, to which the reply comes, ‘Read it? I own it! But no, I have not read it.’ I expect many of us can relate. There are so many books we want to read and which we feel we ought to read, we may even therefore buy them, but it’s a lot harder to actually get around to reading them.
This situation can leave us with a quiet sense of shame about the things we haven’t read and the topics about which we don’t really know. And so I was encouraged recently to hear a couple of interviews with Peter Williams in which he talks about embracing our intellectual limits. Here’s an abridged transcript of some of the wisdom he shared.
On recognising our intellectual limits
‘There’s a tendency if you’re quite good academically to focus on gaining new knowledge, trying to become a Brainiac and know everything. I think it’s good for us to celebrate the feats that our brains can do, because God gave them to us, and that’s great. But I also want to celebrate what my brain cannot do. The fact is, I’m a creature, and I am therefore meant to have limited knowledge. God’s got all knowledge. I’m pleased about the fact that there are all sorts of things I’m not good at.
‘People should know what they’re good at, what their calling is, and celebrate that they can use their brains to learn more about God’s word, but also not get depressed by the fact that there are people who know more, or that there are limits to what they can learn. We’re not meant to be unlimited; we’re God’s creatures, and we can celebrate that and celebrate the fact that we have an all-powerful, all-knowing saviour.’
On the well-educated in churches
‘There is a tendency for Christian pop-culture to put people who have some sort of high level of education on a particular pedestal as if they are then supposed to know everything; they then become the answer person for everything. That’s ridiculous. No one’s supposed to know everything. We’re actually not supposed to know everything. Can’t we celebrate that?’
On unread books
‘Celebrate the way we’ve been made. Recognise the way that God’s made us complete beings. We do need to use our brains. We’re meant to love God with all our mind. What mind have you been given? Make sure you’re stretching that and studying, but don’t get depressed about all the books that you haven’t read.
‘Know who you are. God has made us all frail and finite, and we are not called to try to be omniscient. Know that you don’t know things, be prepared to say, ‘I haven’t read that’, actually develop the habit of saying ‘I haven’t read that’, if you haven’t. Admit who you are and what you know, and then be fruitful with that.’