Tag: knowledge

Wrestle with God

church

I believe it is time we Christians relearned how to wrestle with God. Too often we paint God as dictating terms to us but the Bible shows us a God that wants to talk things over. These passages of scripture show how reason and understanding form the foundation of spiritual discernment and love.

Blind faith not needed

We often act as if blind faith in God were necessary for a righteous life but in Genesis 32:22-32 Jacob is commended for physically wrestling with God. As a result, he is told: “No longer will your name be Jacob, but Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have prevailed.”

Solomon was praised and rewarded for desiring wisdom and discernment (sound reasoning).

1 Thessalonians 5:21 says to test all things (especially prophecy). 1 Corinthians 13:2 talks of having the gift of prophecy an the ability to prophecy, and fathom all mysteries and all knowledge (but without love, that’s still nothing).

Clearly, God’s intention is for us to apply reason (another word for discernment) and to ask questions. Especially hard questions. Even if those inquiries cast doubts on dearly held beliefs.

Wisdom is found in the words of the discerning person, but the one who lacks wisdom will be disciplined.

Proverbs 10:13 New English Translation (NET Bible).

Have a  full-on morality debate with God

In Genesis 18:16-32 Abraham has a full-on moral debate with God on the subject of God’s morality in judging Sodom. Abraham, a mere mortal, did not just say “thy will be done” but he actually questioned that will and debated it with God.

Not only that but he got God to agree to withhold judgement if just one righteous an could be found in the city.

God stuck to that agreement too and did not bring judgement until after He evacuated the righteous man in question.

Similarly, Moses talked God out of smiting the entire nation of Israel over the whole golden calf affair.

Both men were prepared to wrestle with God over these matters and lives were saved as a result.

God is happy to debate with us

In the first chapter of Isaiah (Isaiah 1:18) God says “let us reason together”. According to my language tool, this is SG3198 to test and prove. Rendered variously as “argue”, “reprove”, “dispute”, “rebuke”, and “render decisions”. Later in Isaiah 43:26 it says this:

Remind me of what happened! Let’s debate!
You, prove to me that you are right!

Test God rigorously

In Malachi 3:10 God says “test me in this”. The prophet Malachi is literally telling us that the Almighty not only wants but fully expects you to investigate if He is being truthful.

This teaches us an important and key concept. Take your favourite ideas, doctrines, and prophecies and see if they can stand up under less favourable conditions. In fact, give them the least favourable possible conditions and let them fail. What is true and good will not fail but that which is flawed, untrue, or false will fall apart in front of you.

Christians should question God on injustice

Lord, you have always been fair
whenever I have complained to you.
However, I would like to speak with you about the disposition of justice.
Why are wicked people successful?
Why do all dishonest people have such easy lives?

Jeremiah 12:1 New English Translation (NET Bible).

Strong reasoning skills needed

Passively accepting whatever teaching is delivered to you is a recipe for being misled. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 directs us to apply reasoning and logic to light a fire under doctrine to see if it can hold up. Instead of defending our doctrines we should try to see if we can demolish them. God-given doctrine will hold up under such scrutiny.

Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said.

1 Corinthians 14:29 New English Translation (NET Bible).

Love and understanding go together

1 Corinthians 13:2 says that the ability to fathom all mysteries and all knowledge without love is meaningless.

Philippians 1:9-11 (NET) has Paul praying that love will abound with understanding :

And I pray this, that your love may abound even more and more in knowledge and every kind of insight so that you can decide what is best, and thus be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

Discernment and understanding require practice

There is a reason why a degree from a good university is valued by employers. It shows that the owner of the degree has put in the practice required to understand something. Doctrine is no different.

But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil.

Hebrews 5:14 New English Translation (NET Bible).

Seek wisdom like silver

My child, if you receive my words,
and store up my commands within you,
by making your ear attentive to wisdom,
and by turning your heart to understanding,
indeed, if you call out for discernment—
raise your voice for understanding—
if you seek it like silver,
and search for it like hidden treasure,
then you will understand how to fear the Lord,
and you will discover knowledge about God.
For the Lord gives wisdom,
and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.
He stores up effective counsel for the upright,
and is like a shield for those who live with integrity,
to guard the paths of the righteous
and to protect the way of his pious ones.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity—every good way.

Proverbs 2:1-8 New English Translation (NET Bible).

Thoughts on translation

One of the many things that disturb me about practitioners of modern Christianity is a reliance on translated text without a mind towards the source material.

When Christians insist that “the bible is clear” on some topic and then point to the English language edition for support – that worries me. It worries me because any translation is difficult and something is always lost in the transition.

I have read Galatians 5:9 where it says that a little leaven makes the whole loaf leaven. What if the translators were pushing an agenda? My theology would have that agenda in it. What if some vital clue was lost? What if some bias was introduced? My theology would be off-kilter too. What if a subtle point was obscured? How would I know I had missed it?

As a complete amateur in the field of linguistics, I am wholly dependant on the translation notes of the likes of Thayer and Strong. I have my suspicions that Strong may have had an agenda with some of his translations. When Strong gives the possible meanings of a word, there is often one (the one that is used) that sticks out as being quite different to the other possibilities. That bothers me. The best I can do is trust but verify.

The Bible was not written in English

I hope it does not come as a surprise to you to learn that the Bible was not written in English. (It was not). The Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek and first translated into Latin. Anyone who reads any of those languages fluently is going to have insights that we, who only read English, lack.

I have learned that some parts of the ancient Hebrew are so obscure that without the Latin version for a comparison, translation into English is only so much guesswork. “I guess my theology is right” does not sound all that trustworthy.

How do I know that what I am reading is what the original author intended?

1 John 4:1 says to test every spirit. I take that to mean: Test every message that is preached. By test, I mean:

  • Look and check to see if it measures up.
  • Think about it logically.
  • Study and make sure.
  • Ask questions.
  • Be as certain as I can be.

I cannot do that with Hebrew and Greek. The best I can do is check multiple translations and the translation notes. Anything I come up with must be subject to the caveat that it is based on other people’s interpretation. It could be flawed.

Trolls for Christ

Today, we have (what I hope are) well-meaning Christians hounding all and sundry on the Internet bombarding them with the English language translated scripture. Some are doing it in a way that borders on trolling. If there is one thing we can agree on scripture does not teach us to “troll for Christ”.

When the recipient of this Christian trolling knows scripture – in the original Hebrew – better than the Christian, all they are doing is making us all look stupid. When these people also offer a humble and gentle rebuke we have a choice expressed in Proverbs 9:7-9 – learn and be wise or demonstrate our lack of Christ-like-ness.

Humility is the only refuge

When it comes to debating scripture, teaching it, preaching it, or in any way talking about it – our only refuge from looking like fools is to remain humble. Unless we are fluent in ancient Hebrew and Greek, we are dependent on the translation work of others. We see only through the darkened glass of others, to quote 1 Corinthians 13:12.

To pretend we do not suffer from agnosis – a lack of knowledge – is both proud and very, very stupid; not to mention, self-deluded. Have you not read Proverbs 16:18 which says what pride goes before?

For that matter what about Psalm 138:6 and James 4:6? God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble. I will leave it to you to work out if “trolling for Christ” is humble or proud. (Hint: It is not humble at all).

I think it is the time that we Christians climbed down from our high horse and gave up the pretention that we are in any way experts. Proverbs 17:28 says that “Even a fool who remains silent is considered wise”. Let us be wise.

Agnosis

Agnosis is the first of the seven principles I listed in an essay I wrote called, “Travellers along the path of The Way of Yeshua”.

It comes from the Greek, and means literally “lacking knowledge”. ἀ- (a-, “without”, “lacking”) + γνῶσις (gnôsis, “knowledge”).

In my essay I wrote:

Man is ignorant and the full truth is inherently unknowable to us. All that we think we know is faulty due to our own limitations. Our own best knowledge, doctrines, and understanding are forever flawed and full of error. We seek to embrace metanoia – a change in our thinking – freely confessing our ignorance and, in doing so, we allow our nature to be changed into the nature of Yeshua.

The concept of agnosis is that there is simply so much that we do not know about The Father and about even ourselves. It follows that as we are finite and God is infinite that we cannot possibly know as He knows.

Many of the other principles flow from this one. Along with love, and trust in Yeshua, you could easily work out the others.

Embracing our own agnosis requires humility. Appreciating our own agnosis keeps us from being proud about what we do know. Agnosis keeps us open to learning from others. Which is why I recommend it for the Church of tomorrow.

Agnosis from the axioms of faith.

The principle of agnosis can be reached from the axioms of faith. The zeroth axiom states that all scripture is good for establishing doctrine.

  • Luke 10:21 and Matthew 11:25 show us that there are things that The Father has hidden from us.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known.”
  • Romans 3:23 tells us that all have erred (sinned) and therefore we are flawed.

Scripture never asks us to understand everything, only to trust Father, and walk humbly in righteousness.

How I intend to use the words agnosis and agnosia.

Sparingly. However, when I do use these words it is always as a reminder (to myself) of the limits of human understanding.