The When, Who, and How of Knowing

The When, Who, and How of Knowing August 14, 2018

For our culture, real knowledge is the bits of data we accumulate by observation and experiment to store in our brains. Once harvested, knowledge is an impersonal and atemporal heap of information.

In the Bible, knowing isn’t so simple. The Bible forces us to ask, When? How? and Who?

God planted two trees, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam was allowed to eat the fruit of life from the outset, but he had to wait for the second tree. He was called to receive knowledge of good and evil at the right time.

Eve learned some things about the forbidden fruit from its appearance – it was good for food and a delight to the eyes. But she and Adam gained knowledge of good and evil by eating. The organ of knowing wasn’t the eye but the palate.

God promised to give childless Abram seed like the stars and a land to plant them in. “How shall I know?” Abram wondered. Yahweh didn’t analyze or argue. He told Abram to cut animals into pieces, passed through the pieces like a smoking oven and flaming torch, and said “Know for certain.” Abram knew by ritual.

“Why do you speak in parables?” the disciples asked, and Jesus answered, “to you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to them it has not been granted.” To know Jesus’ teaching, you had to be in the in-group.

In Scripture, knowing a verb not a noun, the action of persons in time.

Our culture can’t even get scientific knowing right. As Michael Polanyi said, “man can transcend his own subjectivity” and make contact with reality only “by striving passionately to fulfill his personal obligations to universal standards.”

For Christians, knowing, like everything else, inevitably centers on Christ. In Him are hid all treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and He anoints us with the Spirit, so that we may “know all things” (1 John 2) and “judge all things” (1 Cor 2).

The end of knowing is to know Him, a knowing that is eternal life: “This is eternal life, that they may know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Aristotle said that we are beings who long to know. In Christ we become truly human, a communion of knowers who hear the living Logos and taste the powers of the age to come. We know because of when we are in Christ, who we are in Him, and how, together, we form one body with Him.

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