On Knowledge and Faith

“For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness”—He has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2Cor 4:6 HCSB)

Knowing RabbitThere are lots of different ways of using the verb ‘know’. It can be a slippery little word.
If I say, ‘I know the history of Ballet’, I mean something slightly different to when I say ‘I know Bob the Ballerina’. When I say ‘I know…’ I might mean anything from being able to repeat facts, through a claim about having had certain experiences, to relationships, sexual intimacy, recognition of objects, and who knows what else! Humans are incredibly creative when it comes to playing our language games.

Generally however, you can work out what I mean by ‘I know’ by referring in the context to the object I’m speaking about. That’s how you can tell the difference between my uses of ‘know’ in ‘know the history of ballet’ and ‘know Bob’.

The thing I’m claiming to know tells you something about the kind of knowledge I might have.

How does this work with God?

If I claim to know God, what kind of knowing is this?

We can only work out what kind of knowing it is by working out what kind of object it is that I’m speaking about – in this case, God.

But God isn’t an object. He’s a He. God is a being. God is a person…
…actually The Person.

We know this because he reveals himself.
We are capable of understanding this Self-Disclosure, we are capable of knowing God as The Person, precisely because he made us with this capability.
[There is more on this here]

What we find, as God makes himself known to us, is that God is a Unique Person, A Unique Being.

God is an utterly Unique object of human knowledge.

And therefore, when I speak of ‘knowing’ God, I’m speaking of knowing a unique kind of thing. It won’t necessarily be like knowing the history of Ballet, or knowing Bob the Ballerina. The only thing knowing God can be like is… knowing God.

So what is ‘knowing God’?

The strange answer in the pages of the Bible is this:
Knowing God is what happens when the gospel is proclaimed.
Knowing God = the effect of the gospel.
Human knowledge of God is defined as that which is created in human minds through the preaching of the gospel.

(there is more to be said at this point about the work of God the Spirit in the words of the gospel preaching and in the mind of the hearer, but another time)

This is a unique form of knowledge – a unique definition – for a unique object of knowledge.

What does it mean for me to ‘know God’? It means that I have heard the message of the gospel, and that the gospel has had its proper effect on me.

What does it mean for the gospel to have had ‘it’s proper effect’. What is the effect produced by the gospel?

Faith

The gospel produces faith in those who have heard it (in the truest sense).
Therefore, the heart of Christian knowledge of God is faith in God.
To know God is to trust God, believe God.
Faith is the uniquely characteristic form of the Christian knowledge of God.
We are truly knowing God when we trust him.

Trusting God sends us outwards again to the words of the gospel because to have faith in God means to have faith in his words. And this is precisely what is demanded by the gospel which comes to us in the form of a promise:

““For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 HCSB)

It is a promise secured by the death and resurrection of Christ, and therefore a ‘better promise’, but a promise nonetheless:

“But Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree He is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been legally enacted on better promises.” (Heb 8:6 HCSB)

To know God is to have faith, which is to say, to trust God’s word of promise.
Abraham’s trust in God was a belief that he would carry out his word of promise to Abraham.
Of course this was not simply a static, mental affirmation. Abraham’s faith in God led him on a journey to a foreign and unknown Land, led him to the point of sacrificing his promised Son, of refusing to let his Son leave the Land, and lying dead in a bought burial plot.
The knowledge of God produced by the gospel is faith – the action of trusting in God’s word. The word produces the response which acts in accordance with the word.
Word-Response-Word.
This is the double-action of gospel preaching.

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3 thoughts on “On Knowledge and Faith

  1. Yeah! This week I have been thinking quite a bit about the idea of knowing God. I have been reading David Hume's 'Dialogues on Natural Religion' in my honours seminar where he discusses and critiques the idea that God can be known from the natural world. The problems with this though are abundant as each argument is flawed and even if they they do hold they don't really say much about God at all – only perhaps that if the world had a first cause 'he' must be it – or something like that. The most that can be known is perhaps that whatever you define as 'God' may exist – which is not really to know God at all.
    The absolute necessity of the Gospel for any form of knowledge of God at all is really the conslusion I came to at the end of it (which, I suspect, was not really the puspose of the seminar – but there you go!).

    Thanks for the post,
    John

    What do you think about the place of human reason in all this?

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  2. Interesting thoughts mate,
    Today in one of my classes we were discussing whether there may be the germ of a theologiical argument against Natural Religion – or General Revelation in the words of Moses in Deut 4.

    ““Be extremely careful for your own good—because you did not see any form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire— not to act corruptly and make an idol for yourselves in the shape of any figure: a male or female form, or the form of any beast on the earth, any winged creature that flies in the sky, any creature that crawls on the ground, or any fish in the waters under the earth. When you look to the heavens and see the sun, moon, and stars—all the array of heaven—do not be led astray to bow down and worship them. The Lord your God has provided them for all people everywhere under heaven. But the Lord selected you and brought you out of Egypt’s iron furnace to be a people for His inheritance, as you are today.” (Deut 4:15-20 HCSB)

    God specifically chose to disclose himself to his people in his words from the mountain (see the preceding verses). The prohibition on idolatry is connected to the form in which God has revealed himself. And the fact that this revelation of himself is exclusive. True knowledge of a person is only available when that person engages in self-disclosure. To say that God can be known from the creation (in any sense other than the most general) is to say that God is not a person.
    The problem with idols is not that the invisible God cannot be represented visibly – this would deny the incarnation.
    Rather, idolatry is is corrupt because God's revelation did not come in the form of an image, but a word.
    What do you think? There is obviously more going on here…

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  3. On another subject, I've recently come across a Scottish Philosopher who was a contemporary of Hume's called Thomas Reid. <img src='http://andersonpost.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/03/200px-thomasreid.jpg&#039; alt='Thomas Reid' style="float:right; margin: 10px" border="0" height="auto" width="auto"/>I'd never heard of him before but he's one of the original thinkers behind the connection between knowledge and testimony that I've been exploring here. He was actually probably the more well known of the two philosophers at the time.
    Here's a quote:

    "The wise author of nature hath planted in the human mind a propensity to rely upon human testimony before we can give a reason for doing so. This, indeed, puts our judgement almost entirely in the power of those who are about us in the first period of life; but this is necessary both to our preservation and to our improvement. If children were so framed as to pay no regard to testimony or authority, they must, in the literal sense, perish for lack of knowledge. I believed by instinct whenever they [my "parents and tutors"] told me, long before I had the idea of a lie, or a thought of the possibility of their deceiving me. Afterwards, upon reflection, I found they had acted like fair and honest people, who wished me well. I found that, if I had not believed what they had told me, before I could give a reason for my belief, I had to this day been little better than a changeling. And although this natural credulity hath sometimes occasioned my being imposed upon by deceivers, yet it hath been of infinite advantage to me upon the whole; therefore, I consider it as another good gift of Nature."

    Here's the Wiki Article

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