On what we don’t know… (II)

How do we not know what we are made to know?

‘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?’
Original Post

Knowing YouWe need to step back again for a moment. It seems at this point every step forward needs careful prodding with the toes first to make sure we are on firm ground.

To say ‘I know’, could equally be a statement about facts or about relationships.
“I know how many elephants live in the zoo” and “I know Bob the Elephant keeper” are two different forms of knowledge.

In the Biblical world view (and increasingly in the post-modern world view) both these forms of knowledge are bound together. There aren’t any such things as ‘Facts’ bare, naked, and objective. There are only interpreted facts, given in relationships, through testimonies, and in the context of experiences.

Our lack of knowledge of the ugliness and evil of sin, and of our dire need for restoration to friendship with God, is an ignorance of certain primary facts about the world and it is ignorance of our primary relationship.

In every sense our knowing is broken.

How did this come about? How did knowledge get broken?

If Christ is the self-evident Word of God, [the way in which God is known] why do so many people reject him? The answer lies in original sin, that original rejection of God’s word by Adam in which the whole human race is involved.
Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan, p. 60

It is interesting to note that the first time Knowledge is mentioned in the Bible it is not in the context of the relationship between Humanity and God. It is in the description of the forbidden tree as ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’.

(What a strange plant, was it a weed?)

It certainly wasn’t an Apple Tree – this tree has no species, it is unique – named for its unique fruit. This is the tree – the fruit of which gives knowledge of good and evil.

Fruit of KnowledgeAs Adam stretched out his hand to take and eat he was wreaking a change upon the world that was profoundly to do with knowledge. Human rebellion against the word of God had fundamental consequences for our knowledge because, at this one point above all others, our knowledge-as-facts and our knowledge-in-relationship was intimately bound together.

There is a long history of speculation about what it means to have the ‘knowledge of good and evil’. Some have understood this to mean factual knowledge, i.e., what good and evil are, (what the rules are). Others have taken this knowledge to be experiential, having the first hand experience of good and evil. Still others have taken this to have some sort of sexual referent.

The difficulty for all these understandings is that later in the Genesis narrative we hear God saying,

“Since man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:22 HCSB)

The forbidden knowledge at the heart of human rebellion seems to be, knowing good and evil, as God knows them.
What is God’s knowledge of good and evil?
God’s knowledge is autonomous knowledge. It is not knowledge of what is good and what is evil as defined by ‘the moral law’, it is not experience of good and evil (God has no evil in him).
God’s knowledge of good and evil is the knowledge that defines good and evil.
God knows good and evil because he decides what good is, and what evil is.

For Adam and Eve to eat this deathly fruit was an arrogant grasping at the prerogative of God.
Rather than to continuing to know God (and through knowing God to know the world)
Adam and Eve sought to know like God.
Humanity sought to decide for itself what good is, and what evil is.
They did this, first, by deciding that it was good for humanity to eat a fruit of which God had said, ‘don’t eat!’

The knowledge of good and evil is a colossal thing. It is fundamentally a narrative, a system of meanings that locate our identity and purpose. This narrative had begun with the First Word,
“Let there Be…”
…And there was.”
God had given us identity and purpose. He told us the story into which he had placed us.

But in the Fall, Adam substitutes his own story, a new framework of meanings, and thereby deafens himself to the word of God.

The conclusion of this long answer is that our darkened understanding of who we are (that we are fallen) is a consequence of our grasp for moral autonomy. We have so thoroughly substituted our own definitions of good and evil, which is to say, our own fundamental narrative, that we cannot correctly identify our state from God’s perspective.

And all this is a very long winded way of restating Paul’s conclusion in Romans 1.

“For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened.” (Rom 1:21 HCSB)

Which finally, wearied I’m sure, and very much overdue, brings us back to the really important question:
How do I show my friend that our rebellion against God is horrifying, evil, and disgusting – not just intellectually credible? And how do I do it with humility and gentleness?

We live faithfully, in faith, with faithfulness.

We trust and remain loyal to the Creator who is alone able to utter those decisive creative words that can utterly alter our thinking.
This trusting of God is expressed in speech, life, and prayer.

No actions on our part alone can bring a fellow human to knowledge of God,
but they are the vehicles through which the Creator God has chosen to express himself.

So we trust God through speaking the truth, which is ultimately the true story, the gospel announcement of the Death and Resurrection of God’s King through which the God’s Kingdom has come, meaning that the hour of judgement is at hand, though there is salvation for those who seek it.
Already it is an incomprehensible story.

And in the light of this story we will live incomprehensibly. As the Christian begins to comprehend the world and our place within God’s future, our values and priorities are derailed from the tracks in which they used to run. Certain things which appear to others as insane sacrifices are now ‘worth it’ for the Christian. The shape of our thinking is changed, the centre of our hope moves forward.
For the person who is not a Christian, watching as these lives are lived, they do not make sense, the Christian life will be simply incomprehensible.

And we pray. This sounds like such a weak answer after such a long build up. However, I’m more and more convinced, through reflecting on God’s word and seeing my own perversity, that unless God acts to change something in our perception of the world we can never see him. Our minds really are darkened – this is not just a nice turn of phrase.
Unless God gives us the interpretive key, this world-of-a-text remains a mystery, indecipherably encoded.

No one comes to know the truth about God or themselves without God taking a prior action to give this knowledge. The individual is powerless. In fact, all the individuals involved, other than God, are powerless. We are as equally powerless to stir up another person from their blind danger as that person is themselves.

Which is why we are to be humble and gentle in our prayers, and in our speech and action.

In our humble prayers we admit before God that we are unable to save the people that we love but that we trust that he can and that he desires to do so.

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One thought on “On what we don’t know… (II)

  1. Thanks Dan, that helps somewhat. I had come to much the same conclusion, but had not thought it out nearly so clearly.

    I am working on a 'mechanics of knowledge' kind of essay, but it's getting rather long. I very quickly get out of my depth because I haven't any formal training in either philosophy or theology. For that matter, I haven't had any formal training in psychology, but I have at least read some relevant academic literature on the subject.

    I'm interested to know where narrative fits in to your thoughts on 'knowing'; especially in relation to <a>'testimony' and 'authority' as you mentioned in earlier posts.

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