Monday, March 03, 2014

knowledge exposed

Knowledge exposed to God's presence. We commonly distinguish between knowledge of facts ("knowing that . . ."), knowledge of skills ("knowing how ..."), and knowledge of persons ("knowing whom ..."). These three are related, but they are not identical with one another. Knowing a person involves knowing facts about him (contrary to some "personalistic" theologians), but one can know facts about someone without knowing him, and vice versa. A political scientist may know many facts about the president of the United States without being able to say that he "knows" the president. The White House gardener may know far fewer facts and yet be able to say that he knows the president quite well.

All three kinds of knowledge are mentioned in Scripture, and all are important theologically. A believer must know certain facts about God-who He is, what He has done. Note the importance of the "historical prologue" within the covenant structure: the Lord begins the covenant document by telling what He has done. The covenant begins in grace. Those who disparage the importance of factual knowledge in Christianity are in fact disparaging the message of grace (cf. Ps. 100:3; Rom. 3:19; 6:3; 1 John 2:3; 3:2-random examples of factual knowledge that is vital to the believer). Furthermore, a believer is one who learns new skills-how to obey God, how to pray, how to love-as well as skills in which believers differ from one another-preaching, evangelizing, diaconal service, and so forth (cf. Matt. 7:11; Col. 4:6; 1 Tim. 3:5). But (and perhaps most importantly) Christian knowledge is knowledge of a person. It is knowing God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit."

Sometimes in the Scriptures, "knowing" a person refers mainly to knowing facts about him, but most often it means being involved with him either as a friend or as an enemy (cf. Gen. 29:5; Matt. 25:24; Acts 19:15; 1 Cor. 16:15; 1 Thess. 5:12. The common use of know to refer to sexual intercourse should also be noted at this point, e.g., Gen. 4:1). When Scripture speaks of God "knowing" men, generally the reference is not to factual knowledge at all (since it goes without saying that God knows the facts). In such contexts, knowing generally means "loving" or "befriending" (note Exod. 33:12, 17; Ps. 1:5f.; Jet. 1:5; Amos 3:2; Nahum 1:7; Matt. 25:12; John 10:14, 27). This is frequently an important exegetical point, especially in Romans 8:29. The statement there that God "foreknew" certain persons cannot mean that He knew that they would believe, and thus it cannot teach that predestination is based on God's foresight of man's autonomous choices. Rather, the verse teaches that salvation originates in God's sovereign knowledge (i.e., love) of His elect. Hence Scripture almost never speaks of God "knowing" an unbeliever; the only examples I can find of that (John 2:25; 5:42) clearly refer to factual knowledge.

Man's knowledge of God, then, is very similar to God's knowledge of man. To know Him is to be involved with Him as a friend or as an enemy. For the believer, to know Him is to love Him-hence the strong emphasis on obedience (as we have seen) as a constitutive aspect of the knowledge of God. Here, however, we wish to focus on the fact that the God whom we know and whom we love is of necessity present with us, and therefore our relationship with Him is a truly personal one. The intimacy of love assumes the present reality of the beloved. We can love someone at a distance but only if that person plays a significant, continuing role in our thoughts, decisions, and emotions and in that sense is near to us. But if God controls all things and stands as the ultimate authority for all of our decisions, then He confronts us at every moment; His power is manifest everywhere, and His Word makes a constant claim on our attention. He is the most unavoidable reality there is and the most intimate, since His control and authority extend to the deepest recesses of the soul. Because of the very comprehensiveness of His control and authority, we may not think of God as far away. (Earthly controllers and authorities seem far away precisely because their authority and control are so limited.) Thus God is not merely a controller or authority, He is also an intimate acquaintance.

The covenantal language of Scripture brings out this intimacy. God speaks to Israel using the second person singular, as if the whole nation were one person; God uses the language of "I and thou." He proclaims to His people blessings and curses, the mark of His continuing (priestly) presence. As the history of redemption progresses, the covenant relationship is described in terms of marriage (Hosea; Eph. 5; etc.), sonship (John 1:12; Rom. 8:14-17; etc.), and friendship (John 15:13-15).

The sense of the believer doing all things not only to the glory of God but in God's presence (coram deo) has been a precious truth to Reformed people. God not only controls and commands, but in all of our experience He is, ultimately, the "one with whom we have to do." Nothing can be farther from the deterministic, impersonalistic, intellectualistic, unemotional brand of religion represented in the popular caricature of Calvinism.

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