Luminouré – Part One: Who Do I Trust?

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen it comes down to the fundamental things that I know, I have come to realize that all I’m sure of is that I am uncertain. There are things that I hold to be true, at least in the sense that they influence my life more strongly than others. There are also other things that I wish I held to be true because I am somehow aware of their value. However, it is hard for me to make a list of things that I know. Even when it comes to teaching, I make students aware that the rules I present are normative and not imperative. There are sometimes when crossing over the lines is actually the right thing to do. Nevertheless to function as a society, we have certain behaviours that we not only adopt but also enforce to keep things flowing. Without these, nobody could get anywhere safely or quickly.

Fundamentally, I believe that truth exists yet I still consider it to be unknowable. Even in the sense that I understand Jesus to BE the truth as He claimed (John 14:6), I still consider Him to be unknowable. The example that I give is like that of a husband and wife who might be married and whose lives are closely connected, but who might forever grow in the knowledge of each other. If it were possible for single individuals to truly know themselves, then perhaps it would be possible to assume that they could know anything else. However, because the first is not possible, the second requires an even greater leap of the imagination.

This last idea makes a single individual the arbitrator of what is, which is contradictory to my assumption that nothing “is” apart from God. All things that exist do so through Him and Collossians 1 makes clear that it is in Jesus that all things hold together. Therefore the individual human is part of a greater story altogether than what he can see, observe, or understand. While God may not be knowable, it is possible to relate to him at an ever-increasing depth. The reason for this does not rest with the understanding of man, but with what we have come to understand about the nature of God and His purpose for humanity in which He sacrifices everything in order to restore a connection. He may not be knowable, but still He has revealed Himself in a way that humanity can understand and relate to. He became a person like us in the form of Jesus.[pullquote-left]He may not be knowable, but still He has revealed Himself in a way that humanity can understand and relate to. He became a person like us in the form of Jesus.[/pullquote-left]

When I ask the question of whether or not I know this to be true, I am hesitant to answer yes, even though I believe it. If someone were to make the claim that what I believe is not true, I would certainly hear their arguments and consider the validity of what I claim to believe, but only if their life aligned with what they claimed. I have made claims about the truth of Jesus, which my life contradicted. Now the opposite is true in which my life makes claims that I cannot substantiate with my words. I have defined myself in terms of the greatest truth that I know of, yet I still leave some room to doubt whether there might be another greater truth yet undiscovered. I have not yet come to rest in my quest for truth and I don’t know why this is still the case.

I have been baptized as a demonstration of full commitment to the gospel of Jesus. My life is aligned inasmuch as I must consciously choose it to be so with the truth of the Scripture (though even using this phrase bothers me), and I have been captivated, embraced, and securely held by a love that I cannot explain and a joy that cannot be expressed. I have tasted through experience the nature of what ‘is’ and still I cannot bring myself to claim that I know it. Perhaps I could relate it to watching a movie in which my heart strings have been played by the hand of the expert director, so that when the film comes to an end, I know more deeply what love could look like. However, if you were to ask me what love looks like, I would probably hesitate before proposing that it could be like what I have just seen. Though something inside of me has the childish desire to run through the streets shouting “I have found it!” can I really be sure of what it is?

On the flip side of this I find that truth also reveals itself in an objective form that is not always present in my experience. Perhaps this is because I do not yet see reality as it is and remain caught in some alternate way of thinking that allows me to explain and engage with the world around me without actually perceiving its nature. [highlight]How can my eyes be opened to discover what this is?[/highlight]

I cannot be content to simply look into the Bible and claim that what I see there explains the nature of reality.Today I shared a discussion with a friend in which we explored the distinction between the Christian belief in Jesus as Lord because of what is written in the Bible and the Muslim belief that Jesus is not God as written in the Koran. Who has a more valid argument if both point to a book as the source of their belief? In the course of our discussion, I found that I could claim that my belief in Jesus is right, but I could not find within me to claim that the Muslim was wrong. I could propose that they were mistaken and might be better off embracing a belief more similar to my own. However, I could not make the claim that I was right and they were wrong if I had nothing more to argue from than my belief in the validity of a book.

Certainly, I believe that the nature of the book is wrapped up in the nature of Jesus and the revelation of who He is. Yet I know that within the Islamic belief system, the Koran also transcends a merely human recording of ideas. It is not just letters and words, but something almost magical in its power and sacredness. Christians do not even treat our holy book with the same sort of reverence. In my opinion, the Bible is a revelation of the Truth because it is a revelation of Jesus. However, in itself it is not truth. This does not necessarily assert that it is false, but [highlight]relegates it to the place of supporting and facilitating an encounter with the truth rather than being the truth in itself.[/highlight] A reflection in the mirror is not the same thing as the object which is reflected. The mirror is simply a means by which the object can be seen. In this way I differ somewhat from a standard evangelical opinion toward the words of God. Does this mean that I think it could be wrong? The answer is no. However, it is possible that the way in which I understand or apply it could be wrong.

The reason today that I am a Christian is not because I looked into the Bible and discovered that I needed to do so. Certainly the revelation it contains was helpful in my conversion, but I owe my response to the knowledge it contains to an encounter with its Author. I would have no value for the book if I did not first love the person about whom it is written. The end goal of my interest in the Bible is its revelation of Jesus, not some abstract truth that it might contain.

I am afraid that my understanding of truth as outlined above may limit the passion that I am willing to display. There are certain people in this world who have a deep-seated knowing that is unfathomable to me. There are some who claim in ignorance to know and others who are so persuaded of the justice of their cause and the validity of their argument that those who hear them speak find growing within them a longing to embrace whatever it is that the speaker has said. Why do I not feel this way about the truth I claim to believe about Jesus? I seem to make a rather strong distinction between knowing and believing something.

As I looked further into this question, I disclosed an idea that perhaps it is impossible to know anything without belief. In order to know my past, I must believe some written or spoken record about what took place. In order to understand and engage with my present, I must believe that certain words and modes of communication can express my ideas. I must even believe that words themselves carry meaning and that when I open my mouth it is not simply meaningless sounds that come forth. The black marks on the computer screen are not just art, but ideas and knowledge locked away in groupings of shapes, letters, words, and concepts. I have learned how to interact with all of these and I might even dare to say that I know something about how to write. I wouldn’t say I know how to write because I have read other authors who I believe do know how to write and I would not compare my own work to theirs for many years to come, if ever. But then again if we are exploring the idea of fundamental truth, one might claim that even these authors I admire did not know how to write, but simply reflected the nature of writing through their works.

The real nature of writing is unknowable and unattainable by the human creature because it is something other than what we are. However, there are some who come closer than others to revealing its nature and these receive our admiration and applause for so familiarizing themselves with writing that the rest of us can enjoy its benefits.

Jesus is said to be like this in regard to the very nature and image of God. To have seen him is to have seen the Father (John 14:9). He is like the one writer who was able to capture and communicate the essence of writing. In Jesus, humanity is able to see the fullness of who the Father is if we are only willing to look and find it.

I write this as if it were a fact. If I were asked if I believe it is true, I would say yes, otherwise I would not write it. On the other hand, do I know it? In whatever respect I might claim to know anything at all, the answer again is yes. But I claim to be unable to know anything and I even question this very claim against knowing because it makes me uncomfortable. I would almost rather be able to know something. Do I believe that it is impossible to know, or is it simply impossible to know without believing? This last question I am finding to carry greater weight the more I press into it. There is nothing that can be known apart from belief. [pullquote-right]There is nothing that can be known apart from belief.[/pullquote-right]

I must believe something, some one, some writing, some experience, some interpretation in order to know anything at all. Thus, whatever I believe must be worthy of trust. Otherwise my knowledge is worthless.

In order to believe, one must first learn to trust. Trust takes time to develop and requires a relationship to exist. Inanimate objects may be easier to trust since they appear more unchangeable in nature and may even find themselves adapting to whatever an individual wants them to be. On the other hand, real people are more difficult to trust, and even more difficult to know. I may know the name (or word) by which I may address another individual and I might even believe that it is their name if I trust that they were honest when they said it was such. I may even believe what they say about themselves and enter into the same sort of incomplete self-knowledge that they possess if I take the time and attention to do so.

‘What do I know?’ therefore becomes a question of ‘who do I trust?’

  • CH,

    I will attempt to retype the comment that just got eaten by WP….

    Upon reading through this, I get the impression that you are still processing this idea of knowing and of truth. This is merely a stepping stone to help you more clearly grasp what you believe, and what you will believe “ages and ages hence” as Frost would say.

    The following response may feel a bit like a straw man, for which I apologise. The problem arises that I’m ascertaining from context what you mean by “know”, and it does not seem to match the normal definition of the word (to perceive, understand, have knowledge of, to experience; to be intimately—physically, emotionally, or intellectually—acquainted with someone or something).

    Hence, I disagree with your assertion that God may not be knowable, though He may be approachable. I believe that God is approachable, but that He is also knowable. He is knowable like truth is knowable, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn 8:32). But not just “similarly to how truth is knowable”, rather, in the same way—because Jesus Himself says that He is the Truth (Jn 14:6). Further, the Bible is not just something that facilitates the Truth (Jesus) being known, it is truth—Jesus says so, “Father, sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (Jn 17:17).

    Above you said, “In Jesus, humanity is able to see the fullness of who the Father is if we are only willing to look and find it.” Does this seeing the fullness of the Father mean that He is knowable, or simply One we can know about? Or something else? Beyond that, the converse of your statement is also true, in Jesus, humanity is able to see the fullness of who we were made to be… This comes about via intimate relationship with Him—knowing Him by heart, as well as with our minds, wills, and emotions. Knowing Him who is Trustworthy and True.

    I look forward to your further thoughts… I hope my response to your above piece does not come across as rote or as a poke in the eye—I merely thought your reflections overlooked some pertinent content from Jesus (Truth) Himself.

    ~ Jody


    As an aside, the Bible is more accurate (historically, contextually, etc) than the Qur’an, as you may recall from class with Kevin… not that those proofs are our salvation, just that one book is more trustworthy than the other, and it is okay to say so.

    • If that whole comment is what WordPress ate for dinner, I owe you a debt of gratitude for coming back and making another set of thoughts to chew on for awhile! It would be nice if I had a quick answer to the questions that you pose, but they are really the heart of the issue that I am exploring.

      I once believed in the principles of Christianity and would have made the claim to objectively know them. However, nothing beyond my words would have proved this claim. Now I believe in the God of Christianity and would make the claim to relationally know Him. The beginning of this process is described in my book: Road to Royalty, which also presents the idea that in order to embrace this relationship by faith, I had to give up what had formerly been a demand for reason to prove its value.

      Thus, I went from having a relationship with objective principles that were clearly defined and understood (because they existed in purely human terms) to having a relationship with some subjective mystery known through history as God and revealed to humanity in the person of Jesus. Immediately, logic, reason, and every way of knowing I could rely on become inadequate to grasp the nature of something so much ‘other’ than I am.

      The concept of infinity may be helpful here in which I may know something about its function and how to use it in mathematics, but relationally it is too much for a person to experience. To truly know infinity, one would have to become infinite. No matter how much exposure a mathematician has to its use and effect on things around it, he still does not know it. In this sense, I recognize God, and even other human beings, to be unknowable.

      Perhaps, I need to come up with another word to use, because I would submit that a person can know God, know the truth, etc… while still being ignorant of the nature of these. Can I claim to know my facebook friends who I haven’t seen in five years? Perhaps I know my close friends better who I see every week and share my secrets with. What about the God who created me? I say that I know all of these, but my knowledge of each one is different. It is easy for me to claim that I know a principle because it is so much simpler than I am (It has been created for my understanding). On the other hand, it is difficult for me to claim to know God because He is so much more complex. I may have insights into who He is through the Bible, through the Holy Spirit, through my experience of relationship with Him, but even these are inadequate to say that I know Him in the way that I know a principle. The kind of knowledge I need to create a word for is that complete knowing of another, to which the process of marriage points imperfectly. No matter how long the pursuit continues and how deep and wide the knowledge grows, it must still be incomplete. How would you contrast these types of knowing?

      The shift taking place in my mind is one of whether I can, with my incomplete knowledge of who He is, say that I know God. This was easier to claim when I thought I could limit Him to the breadth of my understanding, but I fear I have fallen off the other side of the road into the impotence of a postmodern style of thinking that emphasizes the gap between the individual and the infinity of truth (okay, maybe it’s not postmodern) at the expense of recognizing that with effort truth can be more fully known (though still imperfectly). If I really believed truth was unknowable I would stop searching for it. In the upcoming Luminouré, I explore my process further as the idea of objective knowledge begins to collide with relational knowledge in my experience of Truth.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and feel free to keep digging into the process here. You have some good questions!

      • Thank you for your reply—my apologies for the delay in getting back to you…

        From your above response, and a line I re-read in your essay, I’m getting the idea that you are indeed using “know” in two different ways. In one sense, we can “know” truth or God or others or even know ourselves to a degree. But can we know even ourselves fully? I who am myself, can I know me fully? If I cannot, then how can I know anything outside of myself fully? You catch this when you say:
        “The real nature of writing is unknowable and unattainable by the human creature because it is something other than what we are.”

        But…does one have to know something fully, to *be[come]* the thing sought to be known, in order to know it? I think you are using know in this way, more than the common usage of “know”, here in your essay. You are essentially saying: to know something or someone, you must know it fully and completely—and of course we can never know God thus, so how can we say that we know God?

        You hit on this “knowing God” (though we know imperfectly, incompletely) above in your essay by saying that He is approachable. What if He is not only approachable, but knowable by/to degree? Perhaps we can know in part (as Paul talks about in I Cor 13)—we don’t have to know fully *to* know. I feel like I might be saying the same thing ad nauseam, so I’ll cease. Does this distinction in knowing partially vs knowing fully make sense, though? Am I understanding what you’re trying to convey? (That was my shot at trying to contrast the differences in using the word “know”.)

        From your comment here, I wonder if you are making perhaps too stark a distinction between knowing facts and knowing relationally. When we have erred one way or the other, it is easy to overcorrect the other way (as you mentioned near the end of our comment).

        Striking the balance between knowing Jesus Incarnationally/relationally and knowing about Him—or knowing true things—is no easy practise, as I am reminded daily/weekly. I spend time in the word and in prayer before heading to work—and within five minutes of walking out the door, I am not thinking about any of the things that made my heart tender flesh (rather than stone) that morning. It is a conscious effort and balance (a continual need for the Holy Spirit) to be relationally present with Jesus when my mind needs to think on other things, too.

        On the other hand, were my mind pouring over Scripture in an academic setting all day, it does not signify that I am “spending time with Jesus”. I am studying a text, a language, etc., seeking to derive more depth and meaning in the nuances of said text. It is very different than coming to the word ready to listen to God. But I cannot neglect the study of the language and the nuances of the text, either. I need both in order to have a more perfect knowledge of God—because I am creature who has a body, a heart, *and* a mind…and God has made Himself known to me as a whole person: body, mind, will, emotions, and spirit.

        There is more that could be said (of course!) but this is rather long enough, I suppose. 😉