God often spells out his superiority to and authority over pagan gods and false beliefs. The Bible is full of references like “don’t you know” and “that you might know.” In Ezekiel, the phrase “they will know that I am the Lord” is repeated over and over as a response; that when God does such-and-such, people will know _____ about him. And yet …
Can’t Know Spiritual Truth?
One young adult leaving Christianity says that each Christian is just deciding what to believe, that no one really knows. Brennan Manning (in an old video I saw) expressed that we shouldn’t be too strong on the doctrines we hold. And he finished up with something like, “We’re all just guessing anyway.”
Really? We can only guess? In John 14 Thomas asked Jesus, “How can we know the way?” Jesus didn’t say, “Yeah, rotten luck, but you can’t.” He said, “I am the way” (John 14:6; see 8:19; 17:3). Proverbs 2:6 says that from the Lord’s “mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Paul talks of the Galatian Christians in terms of before and after they knew God (Galatians 4:8); they had come to know something along the way. Ephesians 1:17 and 2 Peter 1:3-5 indicate that we have knowledge of God and that we can add to it, knowing more.
So what’s the problem?
Don’t Want to Admit Our Knowledge Is Limited?
Psalm 139 shows that David knows God, though David indicates that he can’t comprehend everything because God is so magnificent (v. 6). Perhaps sometimes our problem is that we just don’t want to admit any lack. (Don’t want a God smarter than I am?)
The late R. C. Foster, a Bible scholar, prefaced his dive into one very deep subject with this: “A statement of knowledge on any subject may well be prefaced humbly by an admission of the partial character of that knowledge and an admission of the existence of the vast unknown. The more one knows about a topic, the more keenly he realizes the limitations of his knowledge” (Studies in the Life of Christ: The Middle Period, 1968 edition, p 60).
More often, though, it seems to be a different kind of humility problem.
Don’t Really Want to Know?
When we know something is true, we still must decide whether to accept (obey) or reject it. Former atheist C. S. Lewis spoke of the God “whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.” He confessed that he was brought to Christianity “kicking … and darting [my] eyes in every direction for a chance of escape” (Surprised by Joy, p 228–229).
Isn’t our problem most often, then, a wish to avoid acknowledging the Lord—because that would mean acknowledging his authority and our need to obey him? Proverbs 1:29 says that the people “hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord.” Hosea 4:6 says the people had “rejected knowledge.”
Paul’s strong letter to Titus opens with his intention to work for knowledge of God (Titus 1:1-3). He’s exposing false teachers who only claim to know God (1:16). Obviously there is the expectation that we can know God, know what he wants, and obey him.
A rather frightening continuation of that idea is in 1 John 2:3-6; knowledge and obedience go together. Verse 21 indicates that John’s hearers knew the truth.
Similarly, 2 Corinthians 10:5 talks of “pretensions” that set themselves up against “the knowledge of God.” (The knowledge would have to be knowable in order for someone to go against it.) Down in verse 12 Paul talks of people who “measure themselves by themselves.” He’s criticizing them for not measuring themselves against God’s higher standard.
It would seem most common (throughout history) that people keep trying to Jenga-dismantle the Scripture—pulling pegs out in order to keep only those things that align with what they want to believe and leave in place. But it won’t work—there’s nothing left but a toppling tower. Our own imaginings are not the same as truth/reality. But hey, maybe we can go with our imaginings!
Not Knowing Is Superior?
Stephen Mansfield said that “in much of alternative spirituality, uncertainty seems to be the point” (Where Has Oprah Taken Us?, p 192). That idea can be made attractive if proponents teach that spiritual knowledge is out the window, old school, and that what’s superior is not knowing. Ah! And now we’ve arrived at the mystical approach: to be among the spiritual elite, we must get beyond the usual kind of knowing.
Popular resources sold in Christian bookstores and used in churches revere the anonymous medieval work The Cloud of Unknowing. Richard Rohr says, “Enlightenment is not so much knowing as unknowing.” An astrologer was quoted as saying, “No Path is the True Path, for in the Absolute there is no Truthfulness or Falsehood, no right and no wrong, no yes and no no” (in John Ankerberg’s The Facts on Astrology, 1988, p 42).
Romans 10:2 speaks of a zeal that “is not based on knowledge.” But promoters of “unknowing” seem to forget that if nothing can be known, we have no way of knowing whether unknowing is actually superior. Ya know?
Scripture repeatedly indicates that we can know God and know what God wants—and that he intends for us to know. In many more passages than can be referenced here, God is all about revealing and truth. Surely that indicates God’s desire for us to get to a place where we trust him, based on what we know.
The Good Shepherd passage of John 10 is about how those who belong to the Lord listen to him (vv. 4-27). The shepherd knows the sheep and the sheep know the shepherd, it says. They don’t listen to “thieves and robbers” (v. 8). This idea that others will try to interfere with the message from God is seen in Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees. They messed with God’s words, added to his law, and had “taken away the key to knowledge” (Luke 11:52). God’s Word equals knowledge. We must go there.
But we should expect zealous interference. That’s why Paul prayed for Christians to grow “in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-14). If we grow in knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), per God’s Word, we won’t be “blown here and there by every wind of teaching” (Ephesians 4:14) or deceived “by fine-sounding arguments” (Colossians 2:4).
Attacks on truth and knowledge are everywhere. Always have been. We should’ve known.