The Wisdom of Agnosticism

In the Last Days of Socrates he is told by the oracle at Delphi that he is the wisest of all men in Athens. Socrates is baffled by this and sure that it must not be the truth. He sets off into town to find a wise man and so confirm his suspicion. He goes around talking to person after person and questioning them about their area of expertise. He finds many many people that claim to be wise and many that are very smart too. The trouble with these people is that they are all blind to their own foolishness. They do not know what they don't know and cannot acknowledge their own ignorance. After a long search Socrates concludes that he is indeed the wisest man in Athens simply because he knows that he is a fool.
Are we able to have some uncertainty about ourselves, our knowledge and even our faith? Is there wisdom in the ways we are so sure about our faith or would a healthy dose of agnosticism be a little good for us. Can we acknowledge the fact that we do not actually know with any degree of certainty what the answers to our deepest questions are. This acknowledgement may be a source of anxiety for us but it will also be a source of wonder. It is appropriate that we allow our faith to be dynamic and encompass all of our being. It is so much more than intellectual ascent and our doubts are an important element of faith.

Agnostic means not knowing. We get our word knowledge from the greek word gnostic. There was an entire heretical sect known as the gnostics who claimed a secret knowledge which liberated them. The 'a' that comes before the word gnostic in agnostic is a negation. I think it is important to point out that atheist is the position that negates the theist belief in a god. Agnostic on the other hand just negates knowing. It is quite a different thing to hold a position that there is no God and the position that you don't really know.

As a Christian I believe that this world was created. I believe that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. I believe that it is in Him and in His resurrection that we have the possibility of wholeness and restoration. These are not facts that I know but truths that I live by. I also believe, and am betting my life, that Jesus' resurrection was a historical fact. I do not know though, I was not there and I did not see it. I have books from history (The NT) that I believe to be historically reliable that tell the stories of men who ran and hid at Jesus arrest and then freely surrendered their lives for the gospel after His resurrection. I have all of history since then in which men who have lived and died because of this belief have had heroic and world changing impact. I also have the subjective reality of God's living presence in my life. What I do not have is knowledge in any empirical sense.

It seems to me that there is a healthy and wise agnosticism. We can acknowledge that we don't know and therefore be open to explore and learn. It leaves us with an appropriate sense of wonder. I have seen so many debates and arguments that seem to just hurt and divide people while just a little less dogmatism could have made it possible to work and live together.

I actually do think there is Truth and am not just echoing the postmodern relativist position. I think theology is important and I am eager to discover truth through such a journey. What I think is important though, in our pursuit of Jesus, is that we remain humble. I cannot tell you how many times I have become convinced that I was wrong. Its not even surprising anymore! Are you able to allow truth to posses you rather than thinking truth is your possession? Are you able to think to yourself, "I am probably way off?" Hasn't your own experience demonstrated this probability to you? There is real wisdom in the recognition of our own foolishness. There is real foolishness in thinking that we already know.


  1. Re-reading this for about the 10th time. Just sent it to someone else. Still such a good post.

  2. Thank you John for making it OK not to act like we know and understand who God. After 35+ years of being a practicing Christian, I must admit that I know less today than ever. But I do know that God loves me just like I am. Thanks Stan.


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