Recently I heard a conversation between pastors; an interview that centered around our drive for singular answers to every question imaginable.
We have this concept in our lives that we need specific, provable answers to questions. This is a relatively modern development in terms of human history. We have not always needed to have THE answer.
The point was illustrated with this parable.
There was a man who came to a Rabbi and said, “I’m a student of every type of logic you can imagine. I am a deep theological thinker and want you to test me. Please, Rabbi, test me.”
The Rabbi hesitantly agrees and presents the following scene, “Two men come down a chimney. When they get to the bottom, one man washes himself and the other does not. Tell me: which one washes.”
Proudly the man replies, “Obviously, the one that was covered in soot.”
The Rabbi responds, “No. Don’t be so silly. The man who was not covered in soot sees his friend and decides he himself must be dirty as well.”
The man, unfazed by his incorrect answer, says again to the Rabbi, “Please, Rabbi give me one more chance. I can do this.”
The Rabbi says, “Ok. Different question. Two men come down a chimney. When they get to the bottom, one man washes himself and the other does not. Tell me: which one washes.”
Confidently, the man responds, “Well the first one. He see’s his friend covered in soot and decides he must be dirty as well.”
Chuckling, the Rabbi says, “Stop trying to be so clever. Of course not. The man who is dirty and covered it soot, who feels it on his arms and in his eyes, washes himself.”
Finally, the man says one more time, “Rabbi, please. Just one more test. I know I can pass this one. Ask me another question.”
“Ok” says the Rabbi, “one last question: “Two men come down a chimney. When they get to the bottom, one man washes himself and the other does not. Tell me: which one washes.”
“Is it the first man, but for different reasons?”
“No.” responds the Rabbi. “How can you think that anyone would come down a chimney and think that they’re not dirty. Both men wash themselves.”
The point, of course, is that there is no singular answer. There are infinite answers based on context and circumstance. We try to process the existential realities of life and faith in the realm of a modern quest for facts and figures. Some questions, however, are simply not meant to be answered with clear facts.
It is awesome to me that the universe is perceived to be infinite in proportion. But the minute that someone puts a static, verifiable figure on the volume or weight or age of the universe, it will not be as incredible or hard to believe. Some people might even say, “Is that it? I would have thought it was much bigger.” When we replace the unknown we are removing wonder and awe.
In our curiosity, we look at gods and miracles and faith and try to answer the questions – believing like everything else that we’ve learned that there’s something to figure out. Once we were completely at home in the realm of the unknown. Now, we abandon belief in favor of proof.
Surrounded by a universe filled with wonder, it’s incredibly short-sighted to opt for knowledge.