Philosophers sometimes restrict “knowledge” to verifiable facts, logical inferences, statements, theories. In fact, knowing goes on all the time, in many modes and manners. As Esther Meek puts it, our lives are a tapestry of acts of knowing.
Our knowing is nestled within God’s knowing. Our acts of knowing occur within the passivity of being-known.
Psalm 139 is the Psalm of knowing. It begins, “Thou has searched me and known me, thou dost know when I sit down and when I rise up.” It ends, “search me, O God, and know my heart.” The Hebrew yada’, know, appears seven times in various forms.
God’s knowledge isn’t mere knowing-about. It’s not gained from a safe and objective distance. God knows us because He’s God-with-us, in heaven and Sheol, in our ascents and descents, whether we race to the dawning sun or probe the depths of the sea.
His is knowledge of particulars. God formed my kidneys in my mother’s womb, saw me yet unformed, knows my words before I speak, writes my days before I live them. God dotes on me – me! – with thoughts as numerous as the sand on the shore.
For some, this is doubly offensive. We want to be autonomous, free from surveillance and scrutiny. We want to elude the divine Stalker. And many hate this passivity, this being-known. We are masters of our fate, our knowing is active and exploratory.
Resistance to being-known alienates us not only from God but from ourselves and from knowing. We wriggle free from God, but find in the end that we can’t know anything unless we are known. Our acts depend on a deeper, wholly receptive passivity.
The English priest-poet Malcolm Guite captures this “knowledge too wonderful” in “O Sapientia,” one of his sonnets based on the “O Antiphons.”
I cannot think unless I have been thought,
Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.
I cannot teach except as I am taught,
Or break the bread except as I am broken.
O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,
O Light within the light by which I see,
O Word beneath the words with which I speak,
O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me . . .
Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,
Come to me now, disguised as everything.
We know only if we are known. The prayer of the knower is the prayer of David: “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and see if there is any hurtful way in me.”