On what we don't know... (I)

‘If humanity is made for the knowledge of God, why is it that many people do not feel the need of this knowledge, or seek God out?’

What I’m wrestling with at the moment is why that one thing doesn’t seem so self evident most of the time.[humanity is made for the knowledge of God] Perhaps I am suppressing the truth by my wickedness. Perhaps that’s really the essence of sin—not really believing that and acting accordingly. I guess it is then in my own sinful self-interest to avoid that particular piece of knowledge.

I know a couple of my friends are wandering away from the faith at the moment, because they don’t really see why they need God. Knowing that our primary function and greatest good is knowing him is completely opaque to them. Deep down they don’t really believe that they’re all that bad, and for the most part they’re happy in their comfortable middle-class, tertiary educated lives. How do I show them that our rebellion is horrifying, evil, disgusting–not just intellectually credible? And how do I do it with humility and gentleness?
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There are a lot of questions here, but I want to think about the final one first. How do we show our friends, and the lost world at large, the enormity of the evil and ugliness resulting from the Fall?

Wilfully BlindI’d be tempted to talk about the homeless couple who sleep outside our door. We talk to them (Emma more than me), we keep the Church toilet open, we try to connect them with the various refuges and drop-in centres around the city. Every night when I get up to go to the toilet in the night I can hear them coughing downstairs. Every time I think about it I’m ashamed, and guilty, and frustrated. There is very little I can do but I know that the world shouldn’t be this way. People aren’t meant to live like that. Something went wrong somewhere. And it’s the height of ugliness and arrogance to think, ‘my life’s ok’, when other people sleep on doorsteps. All our lives are somehow not ok when people live like that.

But I doubt that’s the right way to approach the question with a friend. If I was that friend it would either drive me into guilt and self-sacrifice to try to make things better, or it would just make me angry with God and avoid my own responsibility.

For the same reason, though the ugliness and evil of human rebellion is blatantly evident in every edition of every newspaper (and even more evident in the Daily Telegraph) This evidence, or any recitation of the litany of pain that is everywhere being uttered in our world, is unlikely to convince someone who doesn’t already see it through the knowledge of Christ.

We could point to the hidden ugliness within each individual, the secret shame that we bury deep down, and which are still there even for comfortable, educated, middle-class Australians. No one ever goes through life without standing in front of the mirror and thinking ‘failure’. At least no one you could even begin a conversation with.

But we would run into more problems. What right have I to point out the failures of someone else and tell them to repent before God. I know well enough the ugliness inside me. If it is a friend I’m talking with, they probably know my inside ugliness as well. I’d only end up sounding like a pompous hypocrite. Or they would hear and despair; or hear and try to work harder; or hear and think that in the end the good and the bad in them will probably balance out.
But the reality is, the last thing we’d do is turn to God for an answer.

Maybe if we were to wait for the right moment? I’ve heard Christians express this thought plenty of times, I’ve probably said something like it myself. If we wait, maintaining our friendship and witness until that moment comes when the fiction slips and breaks down. Maybe standing beside a grave the ugliness and evil of the world will become apparent.

But lots and lots and lots and lots of people stand beside graves and look bleakly at the ruin of a world, but not many look to God, even when they have Christian friends beside them.

Last BattleC.S. Lewis gave us an image in the Narnia Chronicles which expresses the tragedy very well. It’s the Dwarves in The Last Battle who are thrown into a smelly old stable and find themselves in Aslan’s Land. But they’ve told themselves so firmly and so long that they have been thrown into a stable that they are unable to see anything else. The evidence is all around them but they interpret everything through the grid of what they believe should be there – seeing a great banquet as donkey slops.

We read the facts and evidence that is presented to us in the world through an interpretive framework which shapes all these things into a story. A story that explains what is wrong, how it could be fixed, and where we fit in. But if you have the wrong framework, if you are telling yourself the wrong story, no amount of evidence will change what you see. You will simply read it into the shape of what you already know. (this is the point at which the post-modern critique is so profound).

As Christians however we know (there’s that word) that the world has a real, true story. There is a correct interpretation but it can never be arrived at through deduction (adding up 1+1=2) or induction (gathering evidence), the key to truly understanding the story only comes through revelation. Revelation is the foundation of Christian knowledge, and the foundational form of all knowledge.

The truth is that the knowledge of Christ in the gospel interprets our world for us, just as it interprets the Bible for us. Christ is the wisdom from God through which we learn to see the world; through which the events of experience are given coherence and relationship, to form a story.

Without knowing Christ, there is no true knowledge of the world.

But that fundamental question keeps drawing me back. How do we not know what we are made to know?

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