Saturday, November 16, 2013

We don't know what we don't know

"no one can find out"
Ecclesiastes 3:11

I got myself into a fit of rumination last weekend.

I love it when that happens... chewing my cud on a verse or a concept in the Bible, trying to get all the nutrition I can out of it.

The verse in question is Ecclesiastes 3:11, which I came across in my Bible Study lesson.   The complete sentence is "He has put eternity into man's hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end."  That's the New King James Version.  But in our lesson, it in the English Standard Version, and it says, "He has put eternity into man's hearts, yet so that he cannot find out... etc."

I thought the wording was interesting, grammatically speaking.  "Yet so".  That was my focus.  And I wondered, does that verse mean:

1)  that God put the concept of eternity into our hearts, but we're so dense we cannot understand the work that God has done


2) that God put the concept of eternity into our hearts, but in such a way that we would not find out the work that He has done

The writers of the lesson I was doing had some supporting Scriptures, that pointed to Option 1.  But I kept thinking it seemed like Option 2.  So I looked at several versions of the line.  A lot of them echo one way or the other; the notable word differences are:

"He has placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover..." (CEB)
"He has given them awareness of eternity, but in such a way that they can't fully comprehend..." (CJB)
"He gave us the ability to think about His world, but we can never completely understand..." (ERV)
"He has put a sense of eternity in people's minds, yet mortals still can't grasp..." (GW)
"He has given us a desire to know... but never gives us the satisfaction of fully understanding..." (GNT)

And I also was intrigued by NET which says "He has placed ignorance in the human heart, so that people cannot discover..."

There are verses to support both interpretations.  Isaiah 55:9 says "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."  That one sounds like we simply cannot understand all that He is and does.  Which is true.

But there's also Deuteronomy 29:29, which says "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever," which tells us that there are things He chooses not to tell us.  Which is true.

It doesn't really matter, of course, which way this verse is intended.  Both meanings convey truths about God.  But I do love the wondering.  And I love the reminder that I don't know near as much about life as I think I do. 

When my kids were little, and they thought they'd gotten away with something until I called them on it, they would want to know how I knew they had done something wrong.  I would just tell that that because I'm their mother, God gives me what I need to know.  No more, no less.  Sometimes our knowledge seems like not enough, but we have what we need. 

It's as if God has said:  "I taught them everything they know.  But I did not teach them everything I know."

~ "By wisdom the Lord laid the earth's foundations;
by understanding He set the heavens in place;
by His knowledge the deeps were divided,
and the clouds let drop the dew" ~
Proverbs 3:19-20

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