Monday, March 19, 2012

Knowing God . . . for People Like Us

“ Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel:  for the Lord hat a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, no mercy, no knowledge of God.”
Hosea 4: 1, 2

“I am savagely attacked . . . because I do not adore Aristotle, but there is another one whom I adore, who promises not vain and frivolous conjectures about treacherous things which are good for nothing and have no solid foundation, but a knowledge of Himself.”
Lorenzo Valla, The Profession of the Religious

“Of all the writings of Cicero those from which I often received the most powerful inspiration are the three books . . . On the Nature of the Gods . . . When I read these passages I often have compassion on his fate and grieve in silent sorrow that this man did not know the true God . . . The ancients, and particularly Cicero, may pardon me if I say:  this great man devoted much energy to compiling what, it seems to me, ought not to have been written and, as I think, ought not to be read either. . . If I have said all this of my Cicero, whom I admire in many ways, what do you expect me to say of others?”
            Petrarch, On His Own Ignorance

“The Word became flesh,” and when He did, His own people dragged Him to the slaughter.  To our great humiliation, we ourselves are made from the same stuff as were His killers.
Epistemologically speaking, that changes everything.  It takes away the self-congratulatory delusion that we are objective, reliable, honorable seekers after Truth, that we are full of teachable good will and clear thinking.   We are not.  Even Nietzsche understood this about us:  The will to power is stronger than the will to reason or truth.  When Truth showed up, we killed Him.  God deigned to walk among us, to reveal Himself in human flesh, in human history, and in human terms.  In response, we deigned to annihilate Him.  That today He lives among us at all is no thanks to us.  We meant it to stop.  He meant it to reconcile his death-dealing enemies to Himself.  His plan worked.  Ours did not.  Graciously, He overwhelmed it and overturned it.
Without the revelation of our personal hatred for God and His ways that surfaced in our response to His incarnation, we might have gone on forever thinking that we are well-suited to knowing the world both properly and well, and through it, by means of our own ratiocenation, knowing the God Who made it.  Be deceived no longer.  The Truth Himself finds no welcome here other than what He makes.  Apart from that Divine making, He finds only enemies and death.
But whenever He wills, we cease to be our murderous and truth-suppressing selves.  By His grace, He makes us His friends, the recipients of redemptive and renewing mercy, which alone makes knowing Him possible.  Knowledge of God is mediated by saving grace because to know Him as God is to know Him as Redeemer.  If you do not know Him as Redeemer, you do not know Him. 
The redemptive Word of God had to come to us.  We could not, and would not, go to Him.  When He did come, He came as a human Person in history, as a Storyteller, as the chief and pivotal Character in the narrative drama of redemption -- not as a metaphysician, much less a metaphysical disquisition, something for which He seems to have precious little tolerance and of which to He seems to make precious little use.
Or, if Polanyi suits you better, if there is no subject who knows, there is no knowing.  The fundamental fact about the subjects who think they know God is their decisive rejection of Him and His revelation, which they suppress and exchange for lies and for gods of their own making.  The fallen, human subject who knows (or thinks he does) is very far from objective.  Indeed, there exist no such persons, especially when what they claim to know is nothing less than God.
It seems not to have occurred to those who adopt the philosophical path to knowing God that truth results in freedom.  Freedom does not result in truth.  You don't free yourself and then find truth.  The Truth must free you or in bondage you must remain.  Truth, you will recall, is a He, not an it (John 14: 6).  Truth Himself must liberate you from you.  Until He does, you are hopelessly lost and locked away in an error you cannot escape, no matter which philosopher’s path you walk.  The Biblical understanding of truth is not the allegedly timeless truths of nature or of metaphysics, but the narrative of God’s historical actions, the gospel.  Natural theology has its creed, but it is not the creed of Biblical Christianity, the creed of God’s grace.   

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