The older I get the more likely the old saying, “There’s no fool like an old fool,” will apply to me. It’s too easy for a lifetime of learning, training, and experience to accumulate a formidable array of answers to the problems of life. We all develop a general idea of what life should be, a sort of matrix to lay over every life situation, but which rarely produces satisfying answers.
Although every life problem exhibits a stereotype of common symptoms, each one is unique. That’s why it’s always easier to solve other people’s problems—at least in theory—than fix our own. In fact, the older I get, it seems I have less answers to life. While I may accrue ideal guidelines for life events, the devil, as they say, is in the intractable details.
Ann and I face a particular irony. As we publish a second edition of our marriage devotional, Happy Together, some family marriages are falling apart. All our knowledge and advice is unlikely to save them. Here Paul’s words reveal some moderating counsel, “We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know,” 1 Corinthians 8:1–2
I’ve always maintained that the man who thinks he knows everything just doesn’t know what he doesn’t know; a sobering thought to an aging, arrogant mind. In fact, the more knowledge we accumulate, the greater the amount we realize we don’t know. This not only instils a deep humility, but our knowledge becomes increasingly deficient. So how can we respond to life?
This infinite unknown is true of life generally, but greatest when it comes to a growing awareness of God’s immensity. We know this instinctively, but it becomes real as we endeavour to learn about Him. The vastness of God himself, together with His attributes of love, mercy and grace, leaves us falling at his feet in speechless wonder and inadequacy.
Paul’s answer to our dilemma is love, on a number of levels. First, as most counsellors agree, we need to listen, not provide answers, even if we think we have them. In this sense a burden shared is halved, whether answers are apparent or not. Second, as long as we are all fallen creatures, we are always one with the other—whether their problems are of their own making or not.
Then we become spiritual comforters to the hurting and spiritual guardians alongside the fallen, not pharisaic advisors above them. The Bible heartily endorses the gaining of knowledge, but abuse of knowledge generates self-righteousness and superiority. Love provides the wisdom for its use.