Friday, June 22, 2007

The most repeated command in the Bible

You might be surprised to learn this, but the most repeated command in the Bible is -- "Fear Not".

While you are thinking about that one, check out this blog entry from the author of the shack.

The Need for Control

Thursday, June 07, 2007

More on 'Knowing'

I happened to be reading a Q&A session where N. T. Wright (a leading New Testament Scholar) was answering some questions from the Wrightsaid email list. In context the questions generally centered around whether Jesus 'knew' he was God. In the answer that he gave he made some interesting statements about Love being the highest form of knowing and I thought it would be worth posting his answer here.

Are you equating 'justified, true belief' with 'propositional knowledge'? If so, I think I want to shift the terms of the debate quite radically. I want to ask, do you hold some kind of hierarchy of knowledge, whereby some kinds of things are the 'real' or 'deep-level' knowledge and others less so? As you may know, I have come to the view, following Lonergan, that love is the highest mode of knowing; and love, notoriously, is difficult to tie down in propositions. That doesn't mean it isn't knowledge, or that it isn't true, or that it isn't justified, or that it isn't real. I think vocational knowledge -- knowing, in prayer, what God is saying about who you are called to be and become and do -- is quite close to love. I think knowing that two plus two equals four, while fully justified and true and real, is ultimately less significant than knowing I love and am loved, and knowing that God really is calling me to do and be certain things. And my frustration with the debate that swirls around this whole topic of 'Jesus' self-knowledge' is that people often seem to talk as though 'did Jesus know he was God' is more like 'knowing two plus two equals four' whereas I think it's much more like love or vocation.

In other words, I guess I have been driven, by my years of immersing myself in the gospels and in their Jewish context, to rethink all sorts of things about knowledge itself. I'm not claiming that the way I currently put it is correct. I just know (in several senses!) that it makes very good historical sense, theological sense (within a very high Christology and full Trinitarianism), and that it does NOT mean in any way a 'weakening' of Jesus' self-knowledge but rather a strengthening of it. I'm grateful for the question but I would urge those who are puzzled by all this, not to give up or back off but stick with the question and consider whether their ideas of knowledge might need to be pulled about a bit. Or, if they don't want to do that, whether they are prepared to argue against the ideas of knowledge I'm finding myself driven to.

Unless we have that debate, what's happening is that some people are putting my rather careful statements onto the Procrustean bed of their own late-western epistemologies -- like trying to play a Beethoven quartet on a guitar...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up

We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.
1 Cor. 8:1-3

Have you ever left a church service, having listened to a teacher or preacher, deeply troubled; wondering if God really loved you? That happened to me nearly a year ago; I left church that day very depressed by the picture of God that was painted for me. A picture of a God that was not much interested in relationship but 'required obedience' in order to be satisfied. It took me a couple of days to recover from that and I haven't been back since. Since that time, I have pondered on several occasions as to why it bothered me so much? And I think God has been working that answer into my life ever since that day.

Back then, when I would say that 'I know God loves me/us', this was really a statement about a collection of facts and applied reason. The problem with relying on our knowledge and reason is that we sometimes have to re-evaluate our conclusions whenever we receive new information. That is essentially what I was going through that day since I was lead down the wrong 'track' ironically by a very common teaching about a 'train' that was supposed to help people understand what to place their trust in. This 'train' was a picture that showed 'fact' as the engine, 'faith' as a middle car on the train, and 'feeling' as the caboose. This picture was supposed to teach you that faith comes from knowing certain facts that you learn from the bible (mental ascent to proper theology). This image fit very well with the teaching in my particular denomination, a denomination that is known for 'in-depth Bible study' programs. However this ideology is really a result of the enlightenment idea that 'knowledge is power'.

There is another way of knowing based on relationship and personal experience rather than a collection of facts and applied reason. To say that I know that my wife loves me is something quite different than how I 'knew God loved me'. I have 14 years of relationship with her that has been tested by time and trials. I draw from that far more than I would draw from the occasional 'I Love You' notes that I get (even thought I do enjoy receiving them). Notes minus the experience wouldn't be very convincing at all, however the notes do add to the reality of relationship that is already there.

That fateful day exposed to me the reality that I was relying on facts and reason rather than on experience. The flimsy baloon of my knowledge was easily deflated by a single lesson that left me confused. I thought I knew something, but as paul said I didn't really know as I ought to know. We are finite beings; our understanding of facts and our reasoning ability are far too weak to rely on alone. Since then God has been showing me that the Bible was intended to point me to Him and have a real relationship here and now with Him. And I am recognizing the care he has had for me all along.

Here is a quote from The Shack that relates to this very subject:

'In seminary [Mack] had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God's voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners' access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just God in a book. Especially one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?'