On what we don’t know… (I)

‘If humanity is made for the knowledge of God, why is it that many people do not feel the need of this knowledge, or seek God out?’

What I’m wrestling with at the moment is why that one thing doesn’t seem so self evident most of the time.[humanity is made for the knowledge of God] Perhaps I am suppressing the truth by my wickedness. Perhaps that’s really the essence of sin—not really believing that and acting accordingly. I guess it is then in my own sinful self-interest to avoid that particular piece of knowledge.

I know a couple of my friends are wandering away from the faith at the moment, because they don’t really see why they need God. Knowing that our primary function and greatest good is knowing him is completely opaque to them. Deep down they don’t really believe that they’re all that bad, and for the most part they’re happy in their comfortable middle-class, tertiary educated lives. How do I show them that our rebellion is horrifying, evil, disgusting–not just intellectually credible? And how do I do it with humility and gentleness?
original post

There are a lot of questions here, but I want to think about the final one first. How do we show our friends, and the lost world at large, the enormity of the evil and ugliness resulting from the Fall?

Wilfully BlindI’d be tempted to talk about the homeless couple who sleep outside our door. We talk to them (Emma more than me), we keep the Church toilet open, we try to connect them with the various refuges and drop-in centres around the city. Every night when I get up to go to the toilet in the night I can hear them coughing downstairs. Every time I think about it I’m ashamed, and guilty, and frustrated. There is very little I can do but I know that the world shouldn’t be this way. People aren’t meant to live like that. Something went wrong somewhere. And it’s the height of ugliness and arrogance to think, ‘my life’s ok’, when other people sleep on doorsteps. All our lives are somehow not ok when people live like that.

But I doubt that’s the right way to approach the question with a friend. If I was that friend it would either drive me into guilt and self-sacrifice to try to make things better, or it would just make me angry with God and avoid my own responsibility.

For the same reason, though the ugliness and evil of human rebellion is blatantly evident in every edition of every newspaper (and even more evident in the Daily Telegraph) This evidence, or any recitation of the litany of pain that is everywhere being uttered in our world, is unlikely to convince someone who doesn’t already see it through the knowledge of Christ.

We could point to the hidden ugliness within each individual, the secret shame that we bury deep down, and which are still there even for comfortable, educated, middle-class Australians. No one ever goes through life without standing in front of the mirror and thinking ‘failure’. At least no one you could even begin a conversation with.

But we would run into more problems. What right have I to point out the failures of someone else and tell them to repent before God. I know well enough the ugliness inside me. If it is a friend I’m talking with, they probably know my inside ugliness as well. I’d only end up sounding like a pompous hypocrite. Or they would hear and despair; or hear and try to work harder; or hear and think that in the end the good and the bad in them will probably balance out.
But the reality is, the last thing we’d do is turn to God for an answer.

Maybe if we were to wait for the right moment? I’ve heard Christians express this thought plenty of times, I’ve probably said something like it myself. If we wait, maintaining our friendship and witness until that moment comes when the fiction slips and breaks down. Maybe standing beside a grave the ugliness and evil of the world will become apparent.

But lots and lots and lots and lots of people stand beside graves and look bleakly at the ruin of a world, but not many look to God, even when they have Christian friends beside them.

Last BattleC.S. Lewis gave us an image in the Narnia Chronicles which expresses the tragedy very well. It’s the Dwarves in The Last Battle who are thrown into a smelly old stable and find themselves in Aslan’s Land. But they’ve told themselves so firmly and so long that they have been thrown into a stable that they are unable to see anything else. The evidence is all around them but they interpret everything through the grid of what they believe should be there – seeing a great banquet as donkey slops.

We read the facts and evidence that is presented to us in the world through an interpretive framework which shapes all these things into a story. A story that explains what is wrong, how it could be fixed, and where we fit in. But if you have the wrong framework, if you are telling yourself the wrong story, no amount of evidence will change what you see. You will simply read it into the shape of what you already know. (this is the point at which the post-modern critique is so profound).

As Christians however we know (there’s that word) that the world has a real, true story. There is a correct interpretation but it can never be arrived at through deduction (adding up 1+1=2) or induction (gathering evidence), the key to truly understanding the story only comes through revelation. Revelation is the foundation of Christian knowledge, and the foundational form of all knowledge.

The truth is that the knowledge of Christ in the gospel interprets our world for us, just as it interprets the Bible for us. Christ is the wisdom from God through which we learn to see the world; through which the events of experience are given coherence and relationship, to form a story.

Without knowing Christ, there is no true knowledge of the world.

But that fundamental question keeps drawing me back. How do we not know what we are made to know?

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5 thoughts on “On what we don’t know… (I)

  1. You wrote: We read the facts and evidence that is presented to us in the world through an interpretive framework which shapes all these things into a story.

    Sadly this is only too true, and I particularly like the Dwarvish example—sad though it is. We all create a meta-narrative for ourselves that explains what's wrong with our world, and what we need to do to fix it. If we are determined enough, we can interpret absolutely everything through that meta-narrative, so we reach that lovely state that the Beatles sang about: "Nothing's going to change my world". Forgive me if I I misunderstood the last two paragraphs of your post, but the question still remains: How do I show someone that their meta-narrative is wrong?

    You say, quite rightly Without knowing Christ, there is no true knowledge of the world. Which means that we believe firstly that there is a meta-narrative, and it is the true one. By post-modern standards, the very idea of telling someone their story is a lie is immoral. But if Christ is God, and the purpose of our existence is to worship and serve him, then we have a duty to shake up people's interpretive frameworks. At least, that's how it seems to me.

    But perhaps I'm making this more complicated than it needs to be. Perhaps 'simply' presenting people with Christ and the great puzzle of his life is enough to demand people re-think their stories. The man who spoke such wisdom, yet claimed to be God. The man who talked about cutting one's eye out rather than sin, yet hung around with tax-collectors and prostitutes. The God-man who lived as a Jewish peasant, yet now sits enthroned at the right hand of the Almighty. I guess that making sense of Jesus means we have to re-shape our view of the world.

    Then again, perhaps I am over-simplifying. What do you think?

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  2. Forgive me if I I misunderstood the last two paragraphs of your post, but the question still remains: How do I show someone that their meta-narrative is wrong?

    You didn't misunderstand at all, I simply didn't answer the question 😉
    Partly because this is Part I of II. I needed to go to bed and think about it some more…
    And partly because I have this sneaking suspicion that you can't show someone that their meta-narrative is wrong. That is reason this post is a whole list of approaches that probably won't work.
    But now I look back I apologise. I feel that I was unfaithful to the commitment I made at the start of the post when I said I was setting out to answer the question. I should have been more clear that I was setting out to think about the question, with the fervent prayer that I might begin answering it.

    By post-modern standards, the very idea of telling someone their story is a lie is immoral.

    This is an interesting point, and may very well be a challenge to Christians. However, I'm not sure that I agree. It may be true in academic post-modernism, but I see lots of public discourse in which one party tells another that their story of the world is wrong. The Climate Change 'Debate' (which doesn't seem to be a debate anymore) is a case in point. I didn't hear too many howling at Al Gore for immorally telling people that their world view was incorrect in An Inconvenient Truth. Those that objected did so on the basis of his 'facts' not his right to present them. The taboo on criticising another persons story is really only used to shut down particular kinds of critiques, namely those that might destabilise the dominant economic and cultural values.
    The point is, correcting another person's story still works (all things being even, which they aren't), even if it is regarded as in bad taste. At least, that's what I think.

    But perhaps I’m making this more complicated than it needs to be. Perhaps ’simply’ presenting people with Christ and the great puzzle of his life is enough to demand people re-think their stories.

    I certainly am inclined to agree. There are facts about Jesus that refused to be explained by any narrative other than that which he himself established. The only story that makes sense of a world with Jesus in it, is the story laid out from Genesis to Revelation.
    Christians can witness to this by living incomprehensible lives. Lives that refuse to be explained by any narrative other than that of Jesus. This is modelled in the sermon on the mount.

    I guess that making sense of Jesus means we have to re-shape our view of the world.

    Yes! and, No!
    I think that this is the heart of the matter for me. I think that the doctrine of Original Sin is essentially about the fact that humans have surrended the power to have God's knowledge of the world. We require an intervention by God in order to see things his way.
    So essentially, I guess that making sense of Jesus means that God has to re-shape our view of the world.
    That's the guts of my next post. But I won't be able to get around to writing it until after the weekend. I need to spend time with my wife.
    dan

    p.s.
    Thank you for your comments. I'm really honoured that you are taking the time to read and engage. I'm being challenged to think more clearly by this. It's really encouraging. thanks brother.
    d

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  3. I think understand what you mean by a sneaking suspicion that you can’t show someone that their meta-narrative is wrong. It seems to me that because we tie our self-identity to our meta-narrative, anything which threatens our meta-narrative therefore threatens our very identity. So in many cases, when our meta-narrative does not fit the facts, we are inclined to reject the facts (rather than the meta-narrative) because our very survival is at stake.

    This is one of the reasons why the Gospel holds so much hope for us in this live. As Keller, Crabb, and others point out, if our self-identity is rooted in a meta-narrative where our sins are paid for and our value to God demonstrated by the incomparable sacrifice he made for us, then our self-identity can never be shaken.

    Thus, it doesn't matter if my mistakes and incompetence are exposed to others, because my weakness, shame, and depraved heart have already been exposed to God. Not only so, but he has dealt with them. I do not have to prove myself to others to maintain my sense of self-worth. I do not have to manipulate others to give me affection when I feel unloved. While it may hurt when others neglect or mistreat me, my identity is secure in being loved and valued by God himself.

    At least, that's my very poor expression of the ideal. It took me a very long time to understand this, and I still find it hard to express clearly. I guess Paul did too. He spends most of Romans clarifying, qualifying and trying to address misinterpretations. But I do become slightly discouraged when I talk to people who have gotten (or given) the impression that the only hope we have as Christians is for when Christ returns–nothing now.

    The talk as if Christianity is like waiting for a heart transplant to arrive. Jesus is on his way with it, his arrival is certain. We even have many witnesses who saw him leave with the heart, so we definitely know he's coming. But until then you'll have to struggle on without any help. If you're suffering, just remember that the heart is coming. That will see you through.

    But to continue the metaphor, I need a heart transplant now. I'm dying. Knowing that a heart transplant may help me push through the odd minor discouragement, but if the heart I have now gives out, I'm dead.

    But the New Testament authors talk as if spiritual blessings and God's riches are available to us right now. Not in some kind of prosperity doctrine sense, but in the sense of having real strength and endurance to face any kind of trial–even martyrdom. The apostles talked like men whose meta-narrative really was completely changed by Christ. Their priorities were completely turned around and nothing could shake their purpose or hope.

    I'm sure it was more than just calculated long-term investment. Live for Jesus now, and gain a bazillion-fold return in eternity. No, they knew Christ as a present reality. His Spirit was alive and at work in them right then and there. Yes, their eyes were on the prize. Yes, it is the best possible long-term investment. But it's God who gives us the money, drives us to the bank and fills in the the deposit slip for us in the present.

    Hmmmm. I shall stop ranting now.
    Apologies.

    james

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  4. No need to apologise,
    sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you…

    But I do become slightly discouraged when I talk to people who have gotten (or given) the impression that the only hope we have as Christians is for when Christ returns–nothing now.

    I thoroughly agree!

    I think that a related danger arising from locating everything to do with 'new life' in the future, is that we excuse ourselves from taking seriously the claims of Jesus that we are to live our lives now 'in the kingdom'.

    I understand this to be at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is teaching his disciples how they are to live now that the Kingdom of Heaven is being fulfilled right in front of them.

    It is only a small step from thinking that the benefits of the Kingdom lie wholly in the future to thinking that the Kingdom itself lies wholly in the future – which releases us from the call to live now as citizens of the Kingdom of God.

    dan

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