“Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know
him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish
preaching to save those who believe.”
(I Corinthians 1:21)
Food For Thought… God, the creator of all that is, is knowable. He has made it so that we can know him—not just about him, but know him—deeply, intimately, and personally. We can know who he is, what he is like, what he likes, what he wants from us, and what his plans are.
The question is, how do we get to know God? Paul indicates in this verse that getting intimately acquainted with the Creator of the universe will not happen through human wisdom alone—what we might refer to as the pursuit of knowledge or research or reason or intellect. God has set the rules for getting to know him and he has declared that the avenue to knowledge is by way of faith.
That’s an infinitely critical point, by the way, since in the last several hundred years, man has elevated reason over revelation as the way to enlightenment. This has been especially true in western societies where we are willing to put faith only in that which can be demonstrated empirically. In our world, reason is king and faith is optional.
But for the Christian, everything starts with God. Reason is based on sensory data—what a person can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. Reason is not bad; don’t misunderstand what Paul is saying. I think Paul would quickly point out that reason is God-given, and that God expects us to exercise it. It is not antithetical to faith, but while reason can lead to knowledge or an acknowledgment of God, only revelation can lead to a knowledge of who God truly is—the God of the Scriptures who has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Revelation is based on something other, something more. Revelation is based on the truth that God took the initiative to make himself knowable, that he has revealed himself to us through his Word and by his Son. Now reason and revelation will not contradict each other, because both are from God. But reason alone will not suffice.
The brilliant Thomas Aquinas, who live in the 13th century and is arguably the preeminent theologian of the church in the last thousand years, if not longer, said it this way: “In order that men might have knowledge of God, free of doubt and uncertainty, it is necessary for divine truth to be delivered to them by way of faith, being told to them as it were, by God himself who cannot lie.”
Someone can observe the universe (sensory data) and discern (reason) that God exists. They can also reason that he is orderly and intelligent, and discover several other attributes of this deity. But they would have no certain knowledge that he is good, loving, and purposeful. Likewise, this person can practice certain moral virtues apart from a faith-based relationship with God, but they cannot practice authentic faith, they will not have the hope of eternity, and they will never know and practice divine love.
A couple hundred years before Thomas, St. Anselm argued that faith is the precondition of knowledge: “I believe in order that I may understand.” (credo ut intelligam). In other words, knowledge cannot lead to faith. It might get you close, but it won’t get you there. Faith is a gift from God, and when faith is experienced, true knowledge flows. Any knowledge gained outside of faith will be incomplete and untrustworthy.
What he was saying was eloquently stated in the 4th century by another pillar of the Christian faith, St. Augustine. Augustine taught that, “faith is to believe what we do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.” Faith first, then knowledge flows.
All of that is simply to say that God is the creator of all that exists. He is knowable—by his design. He furthermore, has set the rules for getting to know him. Although he has granted the gift of reason that man uses for amazing purposes, reason alone, or call it what you will—observation, research, knowledge, intellect—will never lead to a relationship with God. It may lead to knowing about God, but never truly knowing God. That requires faith. And faith comes only as the result of God’s initiative to reveal himself—to make himself knowable. Responding to his revelation is the faith that is required to unlock knowledge, a saving knowledge, of the Almighty.
So what does that have to do with what you are facing in your life today? Plenty! This God who has taken the initiative to reveal himself and who is discernable and knowable through the exercise of your faith, is a personal God—he wants to be involved in the daily details of your life—and a loving God—will wants to take care of you and favor you and pour out his love on you.
Perhaps you don’t see evidence of that right at this moment, but let me challenge you to believe what you don’t see, exercise faith in this loving God, and the reward will be that you will see, sooner or later, what you believe.
Prayer… Gracious Father, I believe. Help any unbelief I may have. I don’t see everything I’d like to see, but I believe. Now I pray that you would reveal yourself in my life today in tangible ways. Reveal to me your love, your care, and your favor. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, the revealed Word, I pray. Amen.
One More Thing… “Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things that are beyond it. The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know at all.” –Blaise Pascal