How do I “know” something is true? We pretend that word (by invoking it) settles all claims to the contrary. (“I just ‘know’ that X thing is true”) How did I arrive at that level of confidence? Epistemology is the formal term for theories of knowledge, what helps us distinguish opinion from belief. At first we think of our senses, our logic, our memories, or our trusted sources as that which “reliably” feed us facts, impressions, or results. Most of us think we have a firm grasp on certain truths, and we tend to double down when anyone challenges those personally held beliefs. Those beliefs form the tenets of our faith, the foundations of our worldview, or the basis of making important decisions. What would it take to dislodge you from your “unshakeable” position on X topic?
Some won’t budge on a belief out of loyalty to a memory (Granny always said so), loyalty to an ideology (I’m a conservative), or loyalty to a people group (our folks have always done it that way) regardless of new facts which stare us in the face and contradict our long held belief. Others arrive at a conclusion based on one initial response or set of facts (I know it is true because I looked it up on Google and read half of the 1st entry on the 1st page) and don’t see a reason to inquire further, mainly because they fear having their belief challenged. If the resurrection of Christ is flimsy enough to crumble from research or archaeology, our faith is indeed in vain. Relax. Critics have had 2000 years and every would-be debunker winds up bolstering, not weakening its truthfulness. (i.e., Lew Wallace, Frank Morrison, Josh McDowell)
I’m reading The Knowledge Illusion, a book that quickly challenges my depth and surety of knowledge and tries to show how lacking my “knowledge” of something truly is. When confronted with a simple question like “do you know how toilets work?” most people nod their heads without hesitating; we smirk and say, turn the knob, push the button, pull the lever. Voila. But when asked again, ‘how does that occur?’ most folks (except plumbers and experts in hydraulics) have no idea how gravity, water flow, or the Coriolis effect work together to produce the desired actions. We hold to an illusion of mastery until someone punctures it with facts or worse, demonstrations to the contrary. I’m currently engaged in an email exchange with one of the book’s authors (an Ivy League cognitive scientist and openly a non-believer). He did not belittle my faith per se but quickly dismissed the concept of God as an aggregate myth concocted by ardent devotees rather than an objective existence of a Deity. I look forward to further emails with him and pray he can eventually know God in spirit and truth (John 4.24).
1 John uses the word “know” over 30 times in most translations. By this or that you will know God, know your salvation is sure. John could have pointed at certain facts or faith assertions, or built some airtight argument constructed on logic. A closer look at those five chapters reveals it is not in reasoning or revelation alone we know we have eternal life in Him, but rather through our obedience (2.3-6; 3.14-18; 4.8) and submission to the Spirit (3.24; 4.13). Obedience clarifies our faith. In our modern society and its corresponding smugness we assert a need to ‘understand in order to obey;’ so we sit and peruse the situation, negotiate what we want to call fact or nonfact, and say I’ll obey when I have ‘all the facts,’ which is never achievable (there’s always more to discover about a truth). An old Jewish saying reverses this; “obey to understand.” When the Psalmist wrote “be still & know that I am God” (Ps. 46.10), it was not to just contemplate His existence. It should buckle my knees in submission, in holy fear & trembling.
The mind can play tricks, the heart can be deceived, but it is with the will we decide to obey our Father, follow our Christ, and submit to His Spirit. Know Him by incarnating His Word; make ‘Yes, Lord’ the first thought, the first words, and the first movements of the morning.