Nov
01
2012

It is the greatest truth of our age: Information is not knowledge. Caleb Carr

When you are too sure about God and faith, you are sure of something other than God: of dogma, of the church, of a particular interpretation of the Bible. But God cannot be pigeonholed. We must press toward certainty, but be suspicious when it comes too glibly. Stan Wiersma

 

And here is the main problem with basing your faith on obeying a bunch of rules. Once you get it down, once you become really adept at basing your relationship with God on making sure you you are doing everything just right—it’s real easy to become what I call a know-it-all. Have you ever met a know-it-all? This is a person who when you are in a room talking and you ask a question, this person comes out of nowhere and gives you the answer uninvited. This is the person who, in any kind of discussion, they never let up and will make sure they have the last word. This is the know-it-all:

  • The best books to read—where do I start?
  • The reason for poverty—let me give you the real answer.
  • How to make a proper omelet—let me show you how.
  • The very best political candidate—let me tell you a thing or two.
  • How to live a righteous life—I’ve got that one down.

Of course, there are degrees to this type of person; some people are worse than others. And of course, there are those who are genuinely knowledgeable, but there is distinction between that type of person and the know-it-all. Usually that distinction is that for the know-it-all, there is an arrogance or pride mixed into the batter. There is a way in which they use their knowledge as a weapon or in a manner in which they get to shine and be the center of attention.

Very easily, one can turn into this person once one has been a Christian for some time. Remember, believing is simply mental assent and it is easy to use knowledge as the device in which one grows their relationship with God. Knowledge then becomes the end pursuit. The end game then can become this: having a greater understanding of doctrine, knowing the biblical premise behind baptism, knowing the prophetic literature of the Old Testament inside and out, etc.—this is what makes you a Christian. Now, nothing is wrong with any of these kinds of pursuits, but it boils down to the motivation behind that learning. Usually, we pursue knowledge for two reasons: for understanding or for power. The student who enters medical school can learn about disease and the interaction with the human body to help others or they can study and log in all of those hours simply for more money or to wield their influence over others. Each aspect of knowledge is like this: I have met people who learn about world history, languages, computers, fashion, engineering, literature, mechanics, parenting, the tax code, and even the Bible, not for the joy of learning and growing, but simply to be able to wield that knowledge over others. In the end though, this pursuit for knowledge becomes a machine to impress or control.

This is exactly why this period in the Christian life can be so dangerous. All that we know at this point about God in some sense is just knowledge and information. This is the Peter that we read about in the gospels. Read one of them and see how much he knows and how often Jesus challenges him on what he knows. Over and over, he is telling Peter, “No, it’s not quite that way…let me explain it this way to you.” Do you remember the scene in which Jesus actually calls Peter the devil? This is Jesus challenging him as the know-it-all.  He basically tells Peter to shut up. That’s how bad Peter was getting in his arrogance. (Matthew 16:23)

This is what Jesus saw in Peter—he was becoming very much like the Pharisees, the teachers of the law with whom Jesus always had the harshest words. The Pharisees were the crème of the crop when it came to being know-it-alls. This importance of knowledge over relationship with God is the chief complaint Jesus has against them. The Pharisees were careful students of the Jewish law, and in fact, in Jesus’ eyes—too careful. They had the Scriptures memorized backward and forwards; they definitively knew what was right and what was wrong. In this pursuit of information, they even had come up with some of their own rules! But they missed the point entirely. In contrast, St. Augustine was so audacious with this issue that he wrote that “God is best known in not knowing him.” What Augustine was attempting to say was that pursuing just knowledge in the end could get in the way of genuinely understanding who God is.

And so with that, in the end the Pharisees began to misuse the dogma they studied. This is the tremendous pitfall of the one who bases their entire experience with God simply on attaining knowledge about him—they will eventually miss the major points like grace, forgiveness, and freedom in Christ. These are things they have never experienced personally, and therefore, these points of importance don’t connect with them internally. Their knowledge is merely based on rote learning which is flat and impersonal. This person might be able to talk at length about grace and other such theological fundamentals, but genuinely experiencing them is distant and missed. This is why Jesus called them “blind guides.” (Matthew 23:16) If a person has the essentials of faith wrong, they will obviously begin teaching others these ungrounded presumptions, which will cause further harm. Look at all the unsettling stuff that gets propagated in the church today.

  • Those who have cancer or relationships problems (or any other problem) just don’t have enough faith.
  • You shouldn’t go to “rock” concerts.
  • So and so is the best preacher and you should only listen to him.
  • You have to read this version of the Bible.
  • That woman should not have her hair cut so short (or that guy so long)!
  • You have to be baptized in this exact and precise way.
  • To be a real Christian, you have to attend our church.

Obviously some rules are actually right and good, but sometimes rules can turn into something that becomes a prerequisite to having a relationship with God. However, the truth is that some of these standards that we put on ourselves and others have little to do with having a relationship with God at all.

And here might be the most important point—as Christians we have the freedom to NOT know everything. In no way shape or form do we have to know it all. All of life is complex and there are mysteries to which we may never know. Events will occur in our lives that will leave us haunted by these experiences and not until we see God face-to-face will we understand. As the Bible says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) The world and universe is vast and to expect to have it all down and understood is impossible. There are problems we may face which simply do not have clear and cut answers. When we are presented with a difficult question or problem, it can be relieving to just say these simple words, “I do not know.” There can be a blessing in not knowing it all—it leaves us room to continue to explore. Theologian Clark Pinnock (as an aside, with his writings, he was very instrumental in our understanding about the infallibility of the Bible) says words which we would be well-advised to think about in relationship to our own lives when we have misgivings with our faith:

I know what it is to doubt and question. And I suspect that every Christian who takes the time to think seriously about his faith does so too.

I think these are good words for us to remember. We need to always remember that we don’t have to always know it all.


In: Friend to Jesus
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