So said Nephi to the spirit during his vision of the Tree of Life (and more; see 1 Nephi 11). I’ve never been asked anything in a vision, but I certainly could regularly say, “I do not know the meaning of all things.” And I must confess, I’m a little leery of those who seem to (know the meaning of all things, I mean).
I appreciate the humility inherent in Nephi’s statement. I mean, here he’s having a vision, conversing with “the spirit of the Lord”, and it’s not just a run of the mill vision, but it’s about to be one of those broadly scoped visions of epic proportions. It’s pretty easy to imagine that Nephi post-vision was more confident in what he knew than pre-vision, anyway.
I think about times that I have behaved as if I knew more than I did. I suspect there were times on my mission that I was that way. And I don’t mean saying “I know” when I really believed, but I mean falsely believing I had a greater grasp of scripture and culture and language than I did – believing I was more capable than a companion, or capable (on my own) to convince an investigator.
There have been times as a dad when I have assumed I knew more than my kids and didn’t. I regularly demonstrate that I have forgotten much of what I learned in grades 5-9 when approached by my children of those ages through the years. I had a 14-year old son who loved to argue with me and would regularly challenge me to bet him something was true. I always lost. Always. Clearly, I did not know the meaning of all things. (Now, with my present 14-year old, I do not bet. I have come to understand myself far better, at least.)
As I’ve taught seminary and institute sporadically over the years I’ve encouraged my students to ask questions – any questions they may have. And I’ve freely admitted to them that I do not know the meaning of all things. But I’ve invited them to join me on a journey of discovery to find answers if we can. Sometimes they were easy to find, and sometimes we didn’t find the answers we looked for. But hopefully those students will continue on their quest for understanding and meaning.
I do not find weakness in Nephi’s statement, particularly given that he says it to the spirit of the Lord, who probably knew the answer before Nephi said it. Nephi had already demonstrated desire and faith (he called on the Lord for understanding, and he admitted to the spirit that he did believe all that his father had taught). If he knew the meaning of all things, it would hardly have been necessary to seek more.
I further have appreciated when church leaders or teachers I’ve known locally have admitted that they don’t instantly have an answer to a question I pose, but that they will research it and come back to me. There is comfort to me in knowing that these faithful and righteous servants also recognize their limitations. And it’s ok not to know everything.
Similarly, it’s ok for me not to have every private question I carry to the Lord in prayer be resolved instantly. Part of the test of faithfulness is (for me) learning to walk quietly in the darkness, trusting that more will be revealed as I need it. I am ok knitting together a hypothesis when I do not understand. I can say to myself, “I have experienced that X is true. Y is related to X and I don’t fully understand Y, but for now, since I accept X as true, I can also live with Y. I believe in time, the significance of Y will also be revealed.”