November 4, 2013

Knowledge and faith

When asked about my spiritual gifts, I say that I am mainly an information collector. There is danger in knowledge for the Bible says, “knowledge puffs up” meaning something like “don’t become an educated fat head” but I cannot help my curiosity. If I look up a word in the dictionary, I’m apt to read the entire page.

Knowing new things does mean that they have to be weighed in the light of the old. That is, how does this information fit into my life now, or does it fit? If not, what needs to change? Do I toss the information out, or is it making a demand that I rethink everything else and change my old thoughts and ways?

New knowledge does not always bring liberty or power. Sometimes it produces inner conflict. For example, when Eve ate the forbidden fruit from tree of the knowledge of good and evil, her eyes were opened and she was illuminated. However, that new light did not bring peace or gladness, only struggle and sin. 

When I became a Christian, that new light also brought a struggle, but it was of a different kind. Eve did the wrong thing and her innocent and tender conscience fought the intruder. I did a right thing and my guilt and defiled conscience also fought the intruder. Sin does not want the knowledge of God; the knowledge of God does not want to sin.

Sometimes new Christians have friends who become hostile to their new life. Their knowledge of Christ and way of life offends others, so they are shunned and find themselves seeking out new relationships. Their old friends may even persecute them.

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. (Hebrews 10:32–34)

In my delight to know Jesus, I didn’t fully notice the conflict and the changes. After many relocations, I was used to change. After a recent divorce, I was used to conflict. However, as I look back, I can see how new information and a new life affected me, and I remember how I struggled with it.

New knowledge still affects me. I’ve never stopped being an information collector and am currently studying for a master’s degree in theology. The more I know the more I want to know, yet in the case of God, the more I know about Him, the more I realize how much I don’t know. He is transcendent, beyond me. As one of my online professors says, eventually a student of theology gets to a place where they must say, “I don’t know” for our understanding has a ceiling. God is knowable, yet beyond human capacity to understand fully. 

At that, there is a choice. I can struggle with the uncertainty of not knowing everything, of wanting this “you cannot know” information to be resolved and fit with my desires to grow in knowledge. Or I can accept this as reality and live in the tension between knowing God as my intimate “Abba, Father” without fully knowing everything that He is and does.

The former choice may be that of idol makers who really don’t want God, but instead fashion a god that they can know and control. The latter choice is that made by faith. I know enough about God that I cannot control or fully understand Him, but also that He has given me enough information to trust Him.

How is this practical? A friend and I discussed a wayward child whose parents pray for that child. She is abandoning her faith because it does not fit with her I-wants. We know God is aware of this and that He loves this child. We also know He is powerful and by His Spirit can “bring her to her senses.” What we don’t know is why He hasn’t made a move in her life. If we insist, we could press the issue and try to make her choose differently, but would that interfere with the plan of God? What will her struggle between knowing God and having her own way do in her heart? Does God know things about her that we don’t?

Faith is based on knowledge. Yet it is not about what we can see or figure out, but about our knowledge of God. What does faith say? It says things like, “For God so loved the world . . . .” and “He works everything for good to those who love Him . . . .” and a host of other descriptions and promises. All our information says that God not only knows what He is doing, but He will “finish what He started” in this child’s life.

But that faith does not nor cannot make God do what we want. It cannot fill out our knowledge to our total satisfaction. Instead, faith simply trusts that God is God. He will do whatever is right according to His will, and we need to live in the tension between that knowledge and not knowing.

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