The Knowledge of God and Human Knowledge

Human knowledge has multiplied exponentially in the past 150 years to where the sheer volume of such knowledge is overwhelming and any single person is daunted to know even a small portion of that knowledge well. The measure of that knowledge is rationality, or the ability of humans to say, “That make sense.”  One piece of human knowledge relates to another in such a manner that there is created a rational whole whereby a line of reasoning leads from one conclusion to the next. This sort of process has continued until the number of books, publications, Internet sites and every other form of knowledge transfer and storage have become clogged with the massive flow.

As a consequence, we humans have become overwhelmed and resort to experts to help us in many fields of study since we cannot deal with this avalanche of knowledge.  Thus universities, businesses and governments are led in their decision making by expert opinions offered by scholars who have a small sliver of knowledge in their chosen field of study.  But there seems to be no-one who can put all the pieces together in a meaningful way that allows for either understanding or good decision-making. The information is sufficient but the phroneisis (practical wisdom) is lacking to know what to do with it.

In connection with this state of affairs is that an affect of globalization is that the scope of application possible for any theory is so vast and differentiated that it is nearly impossible to foresee or begin to understand the variety of contexts into which that theory will be thrown. Thus we have the phenomenon of intense globalization and intense localization both occurring simultaneously.  It turns out that peoples of the world are not ready to surrender their language and culture on the altar of “progress.” And yet progress remains our global message. For all our “postmodernism” we have not really moved very far away from the myth of continuous progress that has characterized what is now called modernity. Postmodernism seems to me to often simply by the pessimistic, dark side of modernism. The myth of progress is the same but confidence in the result has been lost. Knowledge continues to expand but in the end kills us because we lack the character to know how to use it. And who cares anyway. That seems to be postmodernism in a nutshell.

And so the same sort of epistemology has been brought into the area of theology. How do we know anything? Well, through the rational processes of the mind of course. Thus if God is “real” then we must also be able to know it rationally and if we cannot then we must conclude that God is not truly real at all and only another mythical figure from the darkness before human rationality saved humans from their superstitious selves. But one thing postmodernism has done for us is taught us to question everything. While that questioning has often been turned against religious faith, especially Christian faith, it must also be turned reflectively upon the assumptions we have concerning the nature of human knowledge.

Traditional societies are much more integrated in terms of the relationship between knowledge and spirituality. Whereas in Western thought knowledge has been assigned to its own separate compartment termed scientific, empirical or rational, the spiritual dimension of life remains deeply embedded in human existence. The ideas of the supernatural, of eternal life or eternal youth are now packaged in Harry Potter books, vampires, werewolves, the computer created world of the Matrix, or the dream worlds of “Inception.”  It seems that there is endless interest in some computer-aided increase of human capacity that allows for “supernatural” acts by super-human humans. Such fiction is evidently more comforting to the postmodern mind than the real experience of God.

Unfortunately many Christian scholars have bought into such thinking and so have rationalized theology and made the rational capacity of the human mind the final yardstick of both reality and theology.  Instead of the numinous quality of holiness that is beyond the limits of the human and thus offering awesomeness and wonder, we have been given Christianity devoid of miracles or the supernatural or anything that could be termed awesome or numinous or in truth, holy. If there is a “wholly other” quality to God it has been lost in modern Christian theology that has reduced God to the capacity of human understanding. If we cannot understand, it must not be real!  Thankfully, God is not limited by human understanding or there would not be much of any God at all.

Thus in much of evangelical Christian theology the scripture has taken the place of the Holy Spirit and we have contact only with the text of the Bible, which now mediates human experience with God.  The scripture has become the intermediary between humans and God more so than Christ.  If someone says they have heard God’s voice or experienced a direct interaction with God, the evangelical world will say they have lost their mind and need some sort of medication. Yet God interacts directly with humans in the Bible? Thus we affirm the Bible and deny its truth all in the same breath. So according to Evangelical theology God’s message to humans is complete, the scripture is finished and so there is no need for the Holy Spirit in terms of any practical role in Christian life, the scripture has taken that place.

But then the Pentecostal/charismatic movement has entered the scene and around the world we have millions of Pentecostal, Spirit-filled believers in Christ who have the experience of direct interaction with God. For them the scripture is not a mediating agent between themselves and their God but rather a living word from God that teaches the limits and character of proper Christian experience. For them it is possible to interact with God directly, to hear the voice of God today in our own lives and experience through the living and active Holy Spirit. This includes the gifts of the Spirit as well as hearing God in prayer.

But the Spirit of God does not primarily interact with the mind of humans, rather with the Spirit. Therefore the rationality of modernism and truth be told, of post-modernism, does not define God’s interaction with humans nor does it limit that interaction. The knowledge of God is received through the agency of the Spirit whom Jesus Himself said would lead us into all truth. If indeed there is a Spirit of Truth who reveals a God who wants to be known in Spirit and Truth and indeed God is Himself Spirit, then humans must enter into the realm of the Spirit to know such a God. Reducing God to the limitations of human rationality and understanding is like the cartoon character Pogo who is off on an adventure in his boat and looking over the side into the water he declares, “I have found the enemy, and the enemy is us!”

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