Are people truly knowable?


I was pondering this week how differently we act, and how differently we are seen by others, depending upon where we are and who we are with.

The incident that brought it to mind was a memory of a business meeting. One man was “all business,” fairly abrupt at times, strongly opinionated, and he had some difficulty in appreciating and recognizing other points of view. If that had been the only time that people had ever seen him, they might have come away with a very inaccurate picture of this individual.

This same man was a very generous individual, cared about the welfare of others, often volunteered to help and assist people in need and was a deeply spiritual person … which seemed at odds with who he was at the business meetings.

The truth is, of course, that he was both people … and he was many more people besides. All people have multi-aspects to their humanity, like the facets on a precious diamond. In addition to what people saw of this man in the business meeting or in the community or church setting, he was also a committed father, a doting grandfather, a person who wanted to make a difference in the world — and he was even more than this. As are we all.

When we visit a patient in the hospital, or see a sick friend at home, we see a very small slice of that person’s life. He or she is much more than we see in the hospital, hospice, or sick bed. They are more complicated than we might imagine.

Someone once said of a person, “I can read him like a book.” But one can read a book and know the whole story, but one can never get to know a person well enough, however many years we might try, to say that we know all about them. Unlike a book, they can never be fully read. There are hidden depths in every individual that will never be plumbed, even by those closest to them.

All this is to simply say that we cannot, must not, judge a person based upon what we see of them at a given moment in time. Indeed, all we ever see of a person at a given moment may be described as merely a “snapshot” of a very small portion of a person’s life.

Since January of this year, I have spent 27 weeks in class with three other individuals who are also students in Clinical Pastoral Education. I know them better than I did in the beginning. However, I still have not begun to REALLY know who they are.

There are people in my church with whom I have been friends for over 30 years. But I don’t know everything there is to know about them either. It is likely that I never will.

And that is not a bad thing. It is just more evidence that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Every person has a unique and priceless value that demands that we treat them with dignity and respect. All person’s are God’s unique creations and his work is magnificent.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA ( He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee ( and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at]