“Semper discentes et numquam ad scientiam veritatis pervenientes” (The Latin Vulgate, 2 Timothy 3:7).
“ . . . always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7, New King James Version).
Ours is an Information Saturated Society.
Indeed, some publications suggest that with the advent of social media in the early 2000s, we have already passed through the Information Age and have entered the “Attention Age.”
The increasing volume of information available to society has ushered us into a new era marked by the ability of individuals to create and consume information instantly and freely and share it on the Internet using social media. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Blackberry, iPhone, all these (and more) facilitate a warp speed forward in our ability to gain, to amass and to disseminate information and knowledge.
By way of illustration, consider this definition provided and found quickly at Wikipedia.org: “The Computer Age or Information Era, is an idea that the current age will be characterized by the ability of individuals to transfer information freely, and to have instant access to knowledge that would have been difficult or impossible to find previously.” If we are to believe those whose job it is to track society, we are “beyond information.” We have achieved Information Saturation.
Continuing technological advancements put a dizzying array of data, facts - “knowledge” - at our fingertips.
Many of us recall a time not long ago when we relied on physical libraries and reading hardbound books. Now, libraries exist in cyberspace, the word “book” is increasingly preceded by the letter “e” and virtual media is fast displacing actual, physical material.
This may be good news for trees, but I wonder about the cumulative effect gaining the knowledge of data, fact and statistic on the soul, the inner man in all of us. According to William Van Winkle, a writer specializing in the subjects of personal computing, and technology's social impacts, society is “ingesting information constantly to the point of choking on it. The risk of information asphyxiation touches all of us -- managers, Web surfers, even lazy couch tubers.”
The advent and development of the PC, the iBook, “Kindle” and the iPad among others sweep us forward at dizzying speed until we are at risk of complete information overload or “information asphyxiation” as Van Winkle has termed it.
Conservative estimates put the rate that human knowledge is increasing at about double every 10-15 years. This means the amount of knowledge and information currently available to us is about twice what it was in 1995 or 2000. The most recent computer software is outdated almost before it’s been downloaded.
Meanwhile and all too often, Truth is lying in the street, replaced by data that has become just so much noise.
Some readers will be astonished to learn that this writer and many who read this recall a time when there was no internet, no blogs, no websites, no Wikipedia, indeed, a time before the public had even heard the word “computer!”
As I rocket along the electronic, wireless virtual freeway of the internet, doing everything from paying bills to booking flights to parsing the Greek, my own library, which consists of a thousand or so books and fills one room and consumes three quarters of another largely sits untouched, collecting dust.
Let me be quick to say that I appreciate and make the fullest use of virtual and internet resources that my brain can understand. Surfing and searching, cutting and pasting, reinforcing and validating via computer screen and keyboard, reduce my work time.
This protracted preamble leads to my most immediate concern: It is that we, the followers of Christ have collectively become a society of information junkies; we are awash in “knowledge” but I question whether such voluminous knowledge makes us any better citizens of the kingdom of God for all the “getting.”
The words of Paul to Timothy are compelling; “ever learning,” (and) “never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
The context of the apostle’s admonition is both found in “last days”(obviously intended to embrace Timothy’s days as well as ours) and in the words “having a form of godliness but denying its power,” “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,” and “those who creep into households and make captives of . . .” resistors of “the truth.”
An interesting concept and seeming contradiction: “Always learning” and at the same time, resistors of “the truth.”
My email inbox is stuffed with “prophetic words” and “revelations,” dreams and visions about everything from the signs of the times to the latest discovery of ancient, biblical artifacts to the next and greatest “knowing” that God has (supposedly) definitely given to a chosen few “seers” or in my lexicon, “Knowers” but not necessarily “doers” of the knowledge they have so mysteriously attained or spiritually received.
I believe in prophetic ministry. I do not question or doubt that God speaks to His people and that He visits His own with dreams, visions, understandings, and with “the word of knowledge.“
But knowledge divorced from something deeper, something more substantial, something of divine nature and purpose is at best fruitless and at worst dangerous.
Jesus warned against the error of learning but missing the point of the learning: “. . . whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them . . .” and “everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them” is “foolish,” builds on “sand,” and ultimately will “fall.”
Jesus warned that something more than examination, something more than study, is essential in the pursuit of God: Jesus taught, “the kingdom does not come with observation.” “For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you."
I receive comparatively little thematic email about simple living by faith, trusting in Jesus, understanding, receiving and living in sonship, kingdom life, walking in grace, extending mercy, walking in the love of God, incubating and releasing the patience and the goodness of God, themes that ought to dominate the believers thought life, social life and spiritual life.
Paul, the apostle understood much that I am still moving towards with regard to the function of the church and fellowship with God. No doubt we all could sit at Paul’s feet and gain tremendous understanding and perspective concerning the faith walk in Jesus. Prior to his conversion, Paul, then Saul was Gamaliel’s prize student. Rabbi Gamaliel was himself a respected and revered “Doctor of the Law.”
Yet when Paul sums up, boils down and condenses his entire heart and life’s’ desire it is simple and it is this: “That I may know Him.”
“That I may know Him,” not in the sense of information accrued or of facts memorized, but Paul’s heart cry was to “know,” the Greek word used here is ginosko, a verb indicating personal as opposed to intellectual knowledge. Included in its mdaning is “to come to know, recognize, understand.”
Usage of ginosko in the Septuagint helps us. In Genesis 4:1 is the Hebrew yada, “Adam knew (yada) Eve his wife; and she conceived and bore Cain.” Yada is translated ginosko in this verse, and indicates far more than an intellectual knowledge between Adam and Eve; Yada or ginosko denotes the physical, spiritual, emotional and mental knowledge of another. Yada/ginosko “conceives,” it produces life.
Intellectual knowledge, the gnōsin and gnōsis of 1 Corinthians 8 is lifeless, it is inert; it produces nothing of value, it walks alone and talks loudly and benefits the possessor more than those who hear it.
Another “knowledge” and related word is epiginosko; a form of ginosko having to do with a knowledge that exceeds and is superior to intellectual “knowing.” Contained is "to recognize a thing to be what it really is.”
Epiginosko is translated “acknowledge” in 1 John 2:23, "he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also." The indicative is far more than mental assent or intellectual knowledge. John really gets to the core of the matter - having laid the groundwork in chapter one, verses one through three. There, John speaks of that "which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life."
The “acknowledge” of chapter 2 intimates even to the contemporary believer, a relationship with Christ so real, so vital that “heard,” “seen,” “looked upon” and even “handled” are all available, authentic experiences. Bill and Gloria Gaither were not describing some ethereal, cerebral experience when they wrote, “He touched me, Oh, He touched me, and Oh, the joy that floods my soul.”
So Paul desires to know Christ, and not merely to know about Him. His aspiration is relational and not informational. Paul’s, and our desire ought to be to know Jesus personally, intimately, experientially.
The goal of the Christian life, the objective of all who would follow Christ was proclaimed by the apostle, to “be found in Him,” not around Him, not even just near Him, but in Him.
This intimate knowledge, this “knowing” and this being “found in Him” is far from the mere amassing of data, far from the ability to quote scripture or to cite historical, biblical facts.
Were Christianity intended to appeal to the intellect only, our numbers would be reduced enormously. I for one am thankful that “this life” is accessible to all who (will) call on the name of the Lord and come to Him with hungry hearts.
Perhaps another and a better “getting” than mere knowledge is getting wisdom. Much space is given in the Proverbs to the Prince called “Wisdom.” And Solomon encourages us beyond wisdom; urging us, “Get wisdom! Get understanding!”
This kingdom life is not primarily about revelation or discovery or becoming vast walking repositories of knowledge; it is not about the bandying about of the latest doctrine, dispensing the most up to date “present truth” or spouting data to the spiritually starving multitudes.
This kingdom life is about walking as Jesus walked, living as He lived, speaking, caring, loving as He did. If ever there was truth to the old adage, following Christ is literally found not in “what you know, but Who you know.”
True, spiritual life cannot exist apart from Him. Jesus said of Himself, “the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.”
The life He characterized was not one of mere imitation: Jesus knew His Father relationally and not simply intellectually.
Without divine disclosure, we become miserable and pathetic imitations of the genuine. The opening of the eyes of the heart, the giving of spiritual sight is elementary to this life of divine imitation.
The “truth” is not a thing, it is not an object; it is a Person. Jesus said, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life . . .”
Knowledge of the truth is not something that occurs in the seminary classroom; it is revealed in the secret place of fellowship, in the hidden place of drawing near to the resurrected, living Christ and listening, hearing what cannot be heard with the carnal, natural mind. In short it is found in intimacy, the intimacy that is only ours in, by and through His indwelling Holy Spirit.
What value is knowledge that is static, inert; what good is a reservoir if the waters therein are never released? What good is a storehouse that is never open to those who are hungry? Indeed, what value is a life of religious delusion?
Knowledge plus inactivity equals dissipation. Knowledge without wisdom is foolishness. Knowledge without grace is a murderer. “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.”
Knowledge with love is a healing balm; knowledge without love is a killer.
Do not quickly assume that herein is any anti-intellectual or anti-learning bent. This is no biased diatribe commending “experience” over “knowledge.” One undergraduate, another graduate and a post-graduate degree and a continued lifetime of learning testify to the love this writer has for education, learning, for inquiry.
But if there is a knowledge to be gained, let it be a life-producing, life-sustaining, life-giving knowledge. If there is a “knowing” to pursue, may it be pursued toward a divine purpose. That knowledge is commended and intrinsic to life in Christ. It is all found in the words of Paul, “that I may know Him . . .”
In a church full of knowing, there’s still much room for doing.
Semper Discentes – Always Learning.
With all our learning, may we also, first of all and ultimately, “know Him.”