What if you lived in a cardboard box from day one of your life with a few other people who have also lived there since birth? All you can recall is the plain brown inside of this cubicle you call your home. You can’t hear anything outside of it and you don’t know how you got there in the first place. You can’t leave it, and because you don’t know of what is outside of it, you have no desire to leave.

Seems like a bizarre scenario right? I mean, for us to go spend time in a box ourselves right now would not help us understand this scenario because we already know what is outside of it. But humor me, and give this some thought as we switch gears…

We pride ourselves on knowledge. Our society’s hierarchy is very, very, closely related to your amount of education, how much knowledge you possess. These individuals deemed “intelligent” or “bright” or “a genius” run many of our corporations, universities, organizations, heck… even the government as a whole.

Wait just a second. Is he saying that these smart and knowledgeable individuals shouldn’t be in these positions? I’m not saying that at all. All I am saying is that we as a society put those who are intelligent on pedestals at times, and when a particular trait is highly regarded like this, it can lead, not always, but oftentimes to pride and arrogance. I can attest to this myself, putting a lot of my identity in my academic success here at Penn State.

We compare ourselves to our classmates, our coworkers, our family on the basis of how much we know about particular subjects. We get into heated debates with the sole purpose of being considered “right” at the end of it. And our perceived wealth of knowledge can keep us from seeing more, and understanding more. What if our own intelligence is a hinderance?

Don’t be scared off by the graph. I just think this helps to visualize this idea.

Let’s assume that our growth of knowledge is linear over our lifetime. We continuously take in information and gain a greater appreciation of what is around us. We will learn a lot in our lifetime; everything from the alphabet, to how to use computers, to how to work with people, to how to love. But let’s also consider what the exponential line represents.

It represents our knowledge of what we don’t know. That as we go through life, the complexities increase from will I be fed or get that toy for Christmas as a kid, to why is there so much pain and suffering in the world, and why when I try to be a good individual, do I still fail. I came to Penn State thinking by senior year I would be ready to understand the world. Here I am now, and I realize that I’m just starting to learn so much about this life, and that for every thing I learn there are infinitely more things I realize that I still don’t know.

So let’s switch the gears back. How does this cardboard box come into play?

If I were to study the inside of the cardboard box for my entire life would I learn anything about the outside of the box? Could I run experiments, tests, or conjure up a hypothesis that would explain the reason for me being in the box, or existence at all? I would argue that the only two things that could be concluded is that one, I exist. And two, something created the box, or the box came from somewhere.

In this world, our own perception and knowledge can only go so far, despite the fact that we want to be able to explain everything. We need to humble ourselves to realize we really don’t know as much as we think we do, and as resistant as we may be to admitting that ourselves, it remains true. 

From a practical standpoint, realizing how little we know will free us to learn more, not be shy to ask questions, and allow us to avoid plateauing in our lifetime journey of education. But I think there’s something much greater many of us may be missing out on.

Consider this last addition to the scenario. What if a note was given to you claiming to be from the outside that explained the existence of the box and you? What if this note explained a greater meaning for life than just a plain existence inside a cardboard box? Would you read what it had to say, or listen to the others inside the box who say, the cardboard box is simply a box and nothing more?

I didn’t believe in Christianity because there were individuals who had made claims that it’s not scientifically possible. How could Jesus raise from the dead? No one has ever defeated death. And how could so much evil be in the world if God is supposed to be so good? Wouldn’t the world be perfect if He existed? I studied the inside brown wall of my life and I couldn’t see how the stories I heard about this note made sense with what I saw.

But I had not actually read the story. I did not know what the note said and therefore did not know the reason for my life or the box. The issue is that if we try to make God fit our own expectations, and don’t read His story, then we will always come to that conclusion that he can’t exist. Our perception is not everything. The truth is not relative, and it may go against what we like to believe.

If we take a step back, and consider, “maybe I really don’t know everything,” and take some time to see what the story of the Bible is saying, we’ll find answers to other questions that human intelligence can’t provide. Who knows? Maybe it will give you a better appreciation for the cardboard box, and what’s outside of it.

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