The spiritual universe is full of oddities. This one is odder than many. It begins with a Bible passage but can apply to ideas well beyond.

While reading the Bible the other day (part of my daily practice), I ran across this old chestnut, and it brought back memories from long ago:

Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)

Way back in college—in our Christian fellowship, where we were young and ardent and took the Bible literally—this verse told us we should never date non-Christians. By non-Christians we usually meant anyone outside our tightly circumscribed theological circle. This disrupted several relationships while I was there, including one of my own.

Just one hitch: whatever the passage means, it’s not about dating (or not only).

Scholars struggle mightily with it, and for good reasons. Contextually, it appears out of nowhere, interrupting a sustained argument by the original author (the apostle Paul). Stylistically, it doesn’t sound like Paul. It might even be a rogue passage from another letter. And it’s vague: what kind of partnerships?

Bottom line, I think we misunderstood this passage in college. But here’s the oddity: it turned out OK.

Better than that, it bore fruit in our lives. If I hadn’t known this “dating advice,” I could have married the wrong person entirely—an alluring young woman to whom I was completely unsuited—instead of the marvel who has now been my wife for 40 years.

This got me wondering. If we were so certain and so wrong about a sacred text back in college, how many other texts, or ideas, or systems of thought have we misunderstood? Especially when it comes to spirituality: God is vast beyond measure, and our intellects are puny, so how could we not misunderstand?

And what does it mean that the misunderstandings bear fruit too? We typically think of them as negative.

I mentioned all this to my wife, and she told me about the time she preached a sermon in our house church during her own college days. After the service, three people told her how much the sermon had spoken to them. Each brought up a different point that my wife never intended to make. They’d misheard her, or she’d misspoken, and their lives were better as a result.

So we’re probably all walking around with a misunderstanding or 10 that shape our lives. And while I wouldn’t ever use this as license to dismiss facts and good arguments, the misunderstandings may be OK in the long run.Regardless of what’s in our brains, we are deeply held—I would say, tenderly held—by the Real, whom I call God and you may call by another name.

The same apostle Paul wrote elsewhere that God works all things to the good for those who love God. Perhaps the key is not to understand everything correctly, but to sort through it all—through all of life—with a wide-open heart and the humility to stay mindful of how much we don’t know.