Only Don't Know; Grace Knows

 I know a man in Christ who was caught up into the third heaven fourteen years ago. I don’t know whether it was in the body or out of the body. God knows. I know that this man was caught up into paradise and that he heard unspeakable words that were things no one is allowed to repeat. I don’t know whether it was in the body or apart from the body. God knows. I’ll brag about this man, but I won’t brag about myself, except to brag about my weaknesses.

If I did want to brag, I wouldn’t make a fool of myself because I’d tell the truth. I’m holding back from bragging so that no one will give me any more credit than what anyone sees or hears about me. I was given a thorn in my body because of the outstanding revelations I’ve received so that I wouldn’t be conceited. It’s a messenger from Satan sent to torment me so that I wouldn’t be conceited.

I pleaded with the Lord three times for it to leave me alone. He said to me, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me. Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong.

                                                                                                                                        - 2 Corinthians 12:1-10


There’s a Korean Zen teacher named Seung Sahn. He’s famous for bringing the Korean version of Zen to America. He got his start working in a laundromat in Providence, Rhode Island in the 1970’s. He attracted some students from Brown University and this led to the implanting of his unique form of Zen in the West.

His teaching can be summed up in a phrase he repeated over and over in his teaching – Only Don’t Know. Seung Sahn taught when you approach the world from the standpoint of not knowing anything and being okay with not knowing, you can live an enlightened, contented life. You know that phrase, ignorance is bliss? Well, Seung Sahn basically taught the truth of that phrase and built a spiritual teaching and practice upon the truth that ignorance is bliss.

A Japanese teacher, Shunryu Suzuki had a similar approach with his Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. If we approach the world as if a beginner in the task of living life, we will live enlightened, contented lives.

For a some time in the first decade of 2000’s, I studied the Korean language in Korea. My goal was to get a PhD in East Asian religions, focusing on Korean religions, and this required proficiency in the language. While a language student, I expended a lot of energy trying to listen and decipher people speaking. Korean didn’t come naturally to me. Listening was especially difficulty. So I needed to give great effort to practicing every aspect of the language – reading, speaking and listening, especially. I’d get a headache trying to learn the language. I soon realized that it would take a long time to master it. In the meantime, Corey was soon born. Learning Korean, getting a PhD in hopes of teaching at a university, well, that took a back seat.

Anyway, sometimes, when language learning gave way to a headache, I’d simply stop trying. I’d simply observe and listen to the musicality of the language being spoken without trying to know what was being said. I’d choose to be okay with the don’t-know state of being. This mental break was actually rather freeing. It’s been noted that at least three-quarters of human communication is non-verbal. When you stop and simply observe without trying to know everything being said, you see a lot, you intuit a lot, you experience a lot.

To simply see the world, intuit the world, and experience the world around you – that is the key to enlightenment and contentment for Seung Sahn. It is also key to easing the suffering of others. When you see, intuit, and experience the world around you, you are better able to respond to the suffering you see, intuit, experience.

I think Paul is getting at something rather similar in the passage I just read. He twice repeats this phrase – I don’t know; only God knows.

We experience that same reality in reading the passage. There are so many things we don’t know and will never know.

Who is this man that enters into the 7th heaven? I don’t know.

What in the world is the 7th heaven? I don’t know.

What are these unspeakable words? Why are they unspeakable or unrepeatable?

I don’t know. I don’t know.

What would entering into the 7th heaven out of the body look like? I don’t know.

How about in the body? I don’t know.

What is the thorn in Paul’s body that so weakens him? I don’t know.

Who or what is this messenger of Satan? I don’t know.

Why plead with the Lord only 3 times to have the thorn removed? Why three and not four or five? I don’t know. I don’t know.

How is power created perfect through weakness? I don’t know.

How can someone be both weak and strong? I don’t know.


Maybe you often read the Bible or hear it, and come up with the same answer: I don’t know what the heck is going on here.

I’m here to say this morning, that that’s okay.

Embrace the only don’t know mind, and know this, know what is key to the gospel for Paul, know what is at the heart of it all –

God’s grace is enough.

And grace, well, grace at heart isn’t an intellectual thing. Grace isn’t a feeling either. Grace is a way of being in the world, a movement of the heart, a melody that rising above all the madness, all the chaos, all the doubts, all the answerless questions.

Grace is what Seung Sahn called the primary point, the net zero of our existence that makes us fully human, that loves us into being, that actualizes in us the God-image we were created to be.

Grace is what exists when there’s nothing left to say, nothing left to think, nothing left to feel, nothing left to ruminate upon. Grace is enough.

To close, I share this story that I’m sure I’ve told before. My father was a jokester. He liked to get a laugh every now and again. One reliable joke he’d use came on special occasions when we had a big family dinner. Offering a blessing, what has for some reason come to be called grace, before the meal was important to our family on such occasions. So he’d remind everyone, let’s say grace before we eat. He’d have us all bow our head, most of us knew what was coming, and you guessed it, he’d simply say grace. And pause. Until someone started laughing and a more elaborate prayer would take place.

But come to think of it, there’s no more appropriate or perfect prayer than with full sincerity and faith offering up that one word, Grace, and then pausing. Grace, true, divine, and life-saving grace, is enough.

So we close that way. Let us say grace, and pause.



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