“There are things you know you know and
there are things you know you don’t know.
There are things you don’t know that you know and
there are things you don’t know that you don’t know.”The Johari window
This stanza was popularised by Donald Rumsfeld during a press conference in 2002 explaining that ‘there are known knowns’, and various unknowns, about the existence of weapons of mass destruction. The phrase was associated with him to such an extent that he used it for the title of his autobiography Known and Unknown: A Memoir. However, he was drawing upon what was already known as the Johari window, a grid about the extent of one’s knowledge.
Journalists’ lack of knowledge
Wikipedia states: “The statement became the subject of much commentary.” What it does not say is that journalists mocked Rumsfeld when he first quoted this. It is not unusual for people to mock things that they do not know – such as God.
Journalists are abreast of the news and so they think that they know most things. So, when something unusual is brought to their attention they are prone to mocking it, or at least being incredulous, and some of them cannot hide it.
I recall journalists’ incredulity and mockery in 1994 when I coined the term ‘sexual addiction’ in a press conference on HIV in the Highlands of Scotland. It is now a mainstream term, but it is still so little understood that the NHS website uses it as a question: ‘Can you become addicted to sex?’ Observation of the average homosexual ‘Pride parade’ will demonstrate sexual addiction. Pornography is one the main uses of the internet, and this is not an addiction? Alcoholism and violence have been medicalised, but sexual behaviour cannot be abnormal? The western secular world is only half-way through its sexual revolution, which is damaging many people in the process. The Christian church has still to address the issue in a biblical manner.
Gambling addiction is gripping the UK and there have been several recent media programmes in the UK addressing concern about the topic. Slowly, the UK will be forced to admit that the National Lottery, which William Wilberforce campaigned to abolish after he abolished the slave trade, created a gambling culture that has spun out of control. I campaigned against the National Lottery being reintroduced to Britain, but it fell on deaf ears. “First they ignore you, then they mock you …”
There is a quotation, wrongly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Donald Trump popularised it during his presidential campaign, but others used it before him. It articulates a common experience. It is useful for Christians to remember this and to persevere when they are ignored and mocked by the secular world.
We all know many things that we do not know, such as foreign languages. These are ‘known unknowns’. ‘Unknown unknowns’ are blindspots in our knowledge. We need other people – or Wikipedia – to fill in what we do not know. It is useful to try to identify ‘the unknowns’ in our knowledge and increase our knowledge in these ‘windows’.
Its relevance is that people are afraid of the unknown.
The Great Unknowns
There are many ‘great unknowns’ for the average person. God is the greatest Unknown. Life after death is another unknown. The great abyss to which some are going is another. The blessedness of heaven is largely hidden from us as its revelation would completely unsettle us for the mundane nature of life on Earth if we knew its nature 2Cor 12:4.
However, our ignorance of God is not absolute. Every rational creature knows something about God, but not everything about God.
The Bible tells us about the deliberate ignoring of God and even suppressing the knowledge of God Rom 1:18. “When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God” Rom 1:21. So the continuing ignorance of human beings, arising from ignoring God, leaves them “without excuse” Rom 1:20.
Dealing with the unknown and the fear of the unknown
God can take away the fear of death and of the unknown future eternity. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has explained these matters to us and has addressed these fears. By His own redeeming work He can “deliver them who through fear of death” are “all their lifetime subject to bondage” Heb 2:15.
As for “the unknown God” Paul addressed this issue in Athens. He told his hearers: “As I passed by and saw your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore you ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you” Act 17:23.
The Lord has said: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” because they rejected knowledge Hos 4:6. However, he sends His preachers who, like the apostle Paul, proclaim: “Be it known unto you, men and brethren, that through this man Jesus Christ is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins” Act 13:48. “To you is the word of this salvation sent” Act 13:26. You can hear and learn about it by clicking here.