Free To Be Average

3 Sep


In years past, I considered myself an intellectual. That’s why I originally ‘loved’ the sciences, and eventually studied philosophy. And it is one of the reasons why I enjoy discussing controversial issues, be they political or theological. In fact, I remember well one instance as a teenager where I infuriated my best friend to the point of temporarily rupturing our relationship. I knew he was right about the issue at hand, but I wanted to assert my intellectual dominance. I ended up looking smarter than my friend, yet I sacrificed our friendship for it. We soon carried on as before, but when finally separated by the years and miles of university life, I learned that he despised me and felt that he had lived much of that time in my shadow and under my thumb.

However, I am increasingly aware of my limitations. For reasons which I don’t understand, and much to my chagrin, God did not gift me with anything more than an average intelligence. And this fact has become increasingly clear in recent years. The effect of this realization has been fairly devastating. I’m a bit reticent to speak about things which I know nothing about, and I find it difficult to speak with real authority on any subject. Not being exceptional of mind can be paralyzing. Here are a few reasons why:

1) I’m lazy. Almost everything in life has come to me fairly easily, but I’ve never achieved greatness in anything. I was a gifted athlete, but not exceptionally so. I’m a good guitar player, but not great. I can think and write better than most (or I could in the past, at least), but not well enough for any sort of recognition. Often, I say that I am good at everything, yet great at nothing. But my mediocrity does have a root–laziness. I have never worked hard enough at any of these things to reach my full potential. Discipline does not come easily for me.

2) I have an appearance idol. This idol stems from my childhood. I learned early on from my parents that what is important in life is being entertained and making sure people think you are a good person. So, when I argued with my friend, I was more concerned with looking intelligent than actually being intelligent. Arguing, if done well, gives the appearance of intelligence. And I love looking smart.  Speaking in a certain tone, or asking certain questions, or using a particularly academic vocabulary can easily mask my ignorance and hide the fact that I don’t really know what I’m talking about.

3) I have nothing new to offer the world. Anything I can add to a discussion I have borrowed from someone else. So, why just repeat what others have already said? Even this blog post is probably patched together from my conversations with people and books. And, since I am increasingly conscious of my weakness, I assume that all those other voices have already spoken more clearly than I ever could. That being the case, why should my voice be added to the existing cacophony?

4) In general, I will look and feel better if I make no attempt at positing answers to life’s hard questionsThis last one is really a synthesis of the others, or at least it is the inevitable product of the previous three reasons. Each of the previous points build on one another. Why bother putting in the hard work of understanding difficult issues if you can just look like you understand them? And why bother finding new and interesting ways to describe things, even if it might help others better understand an issue, if you can point them to books that they will never read? After all, you will look smart and will avoid taxing your mind. Sounds good to me.

Earlier this year I ran across these verses in Ecclesiastes:

I said in my heart, ‘I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.’ And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. 

       For in much wisdom is much vexation, 

       and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.“—Ecclesiastes 1.16-18

Acquiring great amounts of knowledge, or even practical wisdom, will not guarantee a perfect and manageable life. In fact, the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know or understand about life. That is what really scares me, that no matter how much I will ever learn, it will never be enough to fully grasp all that comprises our tiny, insignificant lives (at least, when compared to all of history, the entire universe, etc.!). But, I think what the Preacher is getting at in Ecclesiastes is just that—we will never really know or understand the universe, but we can know The One who does.

At first glance, these verses seem to sap us of all ambition to know anything. That was definitely my initial reaction. But, without going into great detail, there are some amazing benefits to this realization. First, we learn that we are ultimately dependent on God for everything, even in our pursuit of knowledge. Second, many idols are exposed when we acknowledge our I sufficiency before God. My laziness and desire to look good in front of people could have remained hidden were it not for my learning humility in this area. And, thirdly, appropriating this truth in my life allows me to sit back and watch God work. It relieves the pressure of living as my own master, in evangelism and life, and lets me see my existence as a part in His plan. Nothing I do can thwart His designs, and it is He who has created me as a normal human being in order that His strength and sufficiency would be displayed in my life.

So, I am free to be normal, free to be me.

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