An Explainable World (2 of 3)

It has long been the underlying mission of modernity to seek to unpack an explainable world that the rest of us can understand – attempting to incrementally demystify the unknown into manageable bits of information that we can leverage against the future with an unwavering hope that somehow science would be able to offer us a sufficient enough purpose to pursue that future . . . before we all lose heart. But post-modernism has already chosen to opt out, having already packed its bags, choosing to end this epistemological charade – having gone off in search of some self-affirming pronounced reality it is willing to embrace . . . one made in its own image.

This is the bipolar malaise our culture finds itself in – torn between the hard facts of empiricism and the cognitive dissonance of existential desire . . . ever tugging at the fabric of reality, ever hoping to smooth out the impossible wrinkles of its own discontent and fear. For there are few things that are quite as unsettling as an existence that can’t be explained. But because our questions about the meaning of our own existence seldom escapes the vague abstraction of our conscious minds – we are left to ask them within the subtext of all the things we do that give our lives any sense of purpose.

It is a secular confession to believe that life has meaning – even if they can’t quite put their finger on exactly why . . . making it a faith confession, of sorts. And it is the confession of my Christian faith to believe that life finds all of its meaning in God . . . even though we can’t explain exactly how it works. For only by faith am I willing to be humble enough to realize that explanations are almost always self-serving – tempting me to trust my own understanding of the world to guide my path.

And here’s the crux of the problem – we want an explainable world so we can place our faith in our own understanding. No doubt, this is why Proverbs 3:5 reminds us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” – knowing full well that placing faith in our own understanding, is in fact, in direct competition with our faith in God. Which is likely why verse 6 completes the thought “In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” – because humble submission is the way of Christ.

Here’s the thing — we crave the certainty that we imagine an explainable world would offer us . . . a world we can predict, if not control. But the certainty that God offers us is found in his immutable character, requiring us to pursue him above all else, that we might know him in his fullness (Ephesians 3:19) – a fullness that “surpasses knowledge”, a fullness that can only be experienced in the love of Christ. In the light of such love all other knowledge seems foolish, because all other explanations of the world become empty and lifeless, when compared to the love of God found in Christ.

. . . and remember — it’s a great big world.

The Gift Of Not Knowing (4 of 5)

I’ve always been a slow reader, tentative and methodical, and likely a little dyslexic – but I’ve always had a healthy appetite for learning. I remember sitting in my high school library reading an unassigned history book, wondering why educational systems make education such an uninspiring slog. It has since occurred to me that education is largely viewed as a means to something else . . . and not a desired end, in and of itself. This, of course, makes for a rather curious epistemological feedback loop – assuming that the knowing driving the acquiring of knowledge will somehow go unaltered by what has been learned . . . that one might take you a minute to puzzle out.

The Enlightenment flipped on all of the lights of modernity, hoping it could provide enough impetus to make our knowledge of everything enough to make our lives meaningful. “Knowledge is power” is a phrase attributed to Francis Bacon, thought to be the father of the Scientific Method, being the earliest to articulate its tenants. And ever since, knowledge has been treated as if it were a power source unto itself, capable of leading us all into a bright future. Until Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the Atom Bomb, gives us pause with this thought “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”.

It was the knowledge of good and evil that opened this Pandora’s Box – believing that our knowing of good and evil would be all it would take to be like God. Again, we find the same feedback loop as before, assuming our intentions to know are good before we can even know what makes something good . . . and something evil. But what we do know is that knowledge is power, and that power is control . . . and that we want control. So that feedback loop circles back around and we assume that we already know what we would do with such knowledge – we would control things for the better . . . but how could we possibly know that?

imagesNow we live at a time when the details of your past can be weaponized against you, should those details run afoul of our current cultural mores. It’s a bloodless unforgetting and unforgiving knowing of you, capable of unraveling your entire life. So yes, knowledge is power . . . a power that can be wielded by anyone for any purpose. Is this the world you want to live in, where we know every detail about one another? Which given our current technological trajectory, could very well involve calculating one another’s thoughts at any given moment.

I worship God in a room full of people, with whom I am happy in not being burdened with knowing every sinful detail of their broken lives – as I’m glad they don’t know those details about mine. Such details are meant to be shared as an intimate unfolding, as a gift of vulnerability we freely give to one another – and not as a ceaseless torrent of reckless gossip ripping through the middle of a congregation. This is what the gift of not knowing looks like — it looks like God’s grace and forgiveness found in not having to know. I’m always willing to carry whatever burden my brother or sister needs me to carry. But I won’t lie — the gift of not knowing is pretty sweet.

. . . and may God show us mercy on our way.