Last night we began several weeks of seeking answer these questions:
- How can Christians claim to really know God?
- How can they claim to have a true knowledge of God, especially one that is more accurate than other concepts of God?
- How can we really know anything?
In other words: What is possible to know, and how can we know it?
We noted that the academic discipline that explores these questions is epistemology. That’s the study of how we know things, how we acquire knowledge, and what the limitations of our knowledge are. (The related word is epistemological, “having to do with theories about how we know things.”)
These epistemological challenges are some of the most important challenges we are facing to our claim to know Truth. It’s not that people tend to say we have the wrong God, but that they question our claim to be able to really know or say anything definitive about God at all. So we’re going to spend some time trying to see how the Bible gives us justification for claiming to know God. Last night we were laying some ground work. The basic core of the study was: What can we know about knowledge?
First, we noted that behind these types of questions are some basic assumptions. Learning to locate and discuss the assumptions people make when they speak is a key to being able to converse with them about the Bible’s claims.
Here are five assumptions being made when people question our ability to know true things about God and reality:
- That the source of our knowledge is within—what we can figure out with our own brains. That our brains are limited, and that these limits are the limits of our knowledge. (Often it is assumed, in connection with this, that our perceptions acutally work.)
- That if God exists, he could not give, or has not given, or would not give, information about Himself and the world. (But this means, for all practical purposes, that God doesn’t exist in any meaningful way.) The upshot of this is assuming that there has been no authoritative information given about the world or about God.
- That if a being such as God did give information, we could not understand it in any more than some partial, vague way. But this simply assumes #1 and applies it to information from God. In other words, it assumes that if God spoke, He would be unable to communicate truly and accurately to the minds that He made. He would be limited by our minds. So here it is assumed that He can make us, but not communicate to us.
- That in order to anything meaningfully, we must know exhaustively. Since we can’t know everything about God, we can’t claim to know anything about God. (A question we’ll get to: Do we really think it’s impossible to be right about something, oranything?)
- Since no one is there to explain the world to us, it is up to us to figure it all out using our minds. We do this by observing objects and analyzing data. In other words, knowledge is impersonal.
Before we move on, we should note that none of these assumptions have ever been proven. They are assumed–by your teachers, classmates, and co-workers. They should be challenged.
Now, let’s look at assumption #5, where last night’s study focused. Notice it contains an assumption that God doesn’t exist, at least in terms of giving us information aout Himself and the universe. But there are two important things we need to see if we assume this to be true.
Let’s follow out the implications of assuming that God isn’t there to tell us about things, and that knowledge is an impersonal thing.
- If there is nothing behind the universe (if it is impersonal), then knowledge can be impersonal too. But, if everything is impersonal, then so are we. If the universe is really just made of matter and time and chance, then, as Francis Schaeffer said, if everything is a machine, then we are part of the machine, too. Modern philosophy has followed this idea to its logical conclusions–we can’t have any way of knowing that our knowledge is anything more than the working of the machine. It’s just electricity and chemicals and hormones and the working of a “brain” machine. We can’t actually trust our knowledge.
- If nothing is behind the universe, then we are left with a metaphysical problem as well as an epistemological one. In other words, where did the universe come from? Can any universe come from nothing? Even science is saying no. Something must have been eternal. So either impersonal matter is eternal (which leaves us with problem #1) or Personality is eternal. The problem really reduces down to this: If matter is all there is, where did it come from?…and then how could we truly know anything about it?
Turning to Genesis 1:1 and Proverbs 1:7 and 2:1-7, we see a different picture. (One that makes more sense out of the world we live in.) The Bible says God was in the beginning. He made everything, and knew things before He made it, and before He made us. Before we know anything, He knew everything. Therefore:
- Knowledge is personal—it comes from Someone and is ultimately characterized by His personality.
- Knowledge is relational—it comes from being in right relationship to that Personality.
When we are rightly related to the Personality who possesses knowledge, He gives it to us. That is how we know anything.
Some Implications of the Bible’s way of describing knowledge:
- We can’t pursue knowledge just by analyzing data and observing objects. We must receive our knowledge from a Person. Of course, this matches even our earliest experiences, where we begin to experience things by observation (what we see/hear/feel) but then we begin to know things by the information (interpretation) given to us by parents (hence Proverbs 1:8).
- Since knowledge comes by relation to this Personality, it means that even when we are analyzing data by observing objects, it is not an impersonal activity, but it is (ultimately) the Personality giving us environment, ability, correspondence to come to the knowledge we obtain.
- We may not recognize this, but that means this Personality is generous—He gives even when we don’t know it is Him giving.
How must we relate to this Personality?
Proverbs 1:7–“fear” In other words, humble submission and reverence. We must bow before and seek connection to the Maker and Authority Possessor of all data.
Proverbs 2:1-5–We must apply our hearts to wisdom. It matters! There’s things to know and we can know them!
Proverbs 2:6-7–But when we find things out, it is because God has given us the wisdom. Therefore: Knowledge is moral— See also Prov 8:13, Psalm 53:1-4, 94:1-12, 2 Tim 2:7, Rom 1:18-22, 28.
This is all good news! We’re not just chance arrangements of matter. Because He is Personal, we are personal. Our individual personalities really exist (we’re not just part of the machine) and really matter (we have real siginificance as beings created in the image of God). Because He is reasonable, we can expect to be able to use our reason to discover things. Because He made the universe knowable, and in a way that corresponds to us (He made it for us), then we can use the minds He gave to explore and discover it. We can know that we have significance. We can have confidence. And as we relate to Him, He gives us knowledge about what we seek to know.
Not only that, but we can know that our Maker is good. The Bible reports that the reason we have all these problems with our knowledge is that we aren’t rightly related to the giver of knowledge. And the break in relationship comes because of our willful sin. But He made a way for us to be rightly related to Him again. Jesus Christ lived a life in full agreement with God, then died in our place and took the penalty for our sin–our break with God. Then He rose again and told His followers to go tell everyone that forgiveness and restoration to relationship with God was possible. And this opened up the way for us to know Him, ourselves, and the universe truly again.
Nonbelievers: Ponder the implications of:
- there not being a God behind everything.
- of God being there, and of not being rightly related to Him.
- what He has revealed about how you can know Him.
- Let’s ask God to sift our thinking to find where we might be assuming these things.
- Let’s grow in understanding the universe our God made, and how we get to know it.
- Let’s worship God for being the generous giver of all knowledge.
- Let’s seek to be totally connected to Him, and to seek wisdom from His hand.
- Let’s spread this message.