Wednesday, February 03, 2016
The Treasure of All Knowledge, Part 2 of 2
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13
This is part 2 of 2 of an articulation of Jesus as the embodied yes of God to all His promises, including to all the treasures of all wisdom and knowledge. See Part 1 for the setting of the scene in which Jesus appears as said treasure.
The Pearl of Great Price
In 1 Corinthians 13: 8-12, love is a person. Further, the person of love embodied is the one doing the knowing. When I ask why verse 11 follows after verses 9 and 10, I realize that, in comparison to adults, children merely know in part. I then expect the next step in Paul’s logic to be that, as mature believers, we know and are to know as adults. We are to know more completely than children, right? But that’s not what verse 12 says! According to verse 12, we aren’t even the ones doing the knowing! In 1 Corinthians 13: 8-12, it is love in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Incarnate God of all creation, who is the One doing the knowing!
We are (“merely”) children of the king, and we will become his heirs when he appears. In other words, when we come to see – which is to know – then we will rule the way the one we see also rules.
I think this is what N.T. Wright means when he talks about an “epistemology of love.” It is what Wittgenstein was pointing to when he said “It is love that believes in the resurrection.” Our belief is a gift from love embodied when his Spirit is sent upon us.
Now that the scene has been set, let me now return to Colossians 2, which opened Part 1 of this short blog series:
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
- Colossians 2: 1-5
It is easy to blow past a rich, full treasure of great love and, yes, power, just as quickly as Paul does in this passage. There’s a rather obvious and deep truth hidden in the midst of Paul’s flow of thoughts. And that richness is that in the person of Jesus Christ is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. People seek after treasures.
If we connect the dots between these passages in Colossians 2 and 1 Corinthians 13, we find that the love embodied in the person who does the knowing is also the One in whom is hidden all knowledge (and wisdom). In Surprised by Scripture, N.T. Wright, in borrowing from Paul, says that love is an integrated mode of knowing (p. 147). Wright also says:
“”It is, in fact, Jesus who is the subject of it all. Within the larger narrative of the Bible, as Saint Paul says, all the promises of God find their yes in him; among those promises are promises about knowledge. In him are hidden, Paul says, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” – Surprised by Scripture (p. 148).
In other words, it is the actual person of Jesus Christ who embodies the healing, reconciliation, and integration of the previously discussed breaks that dominate our world, the breaks between history and science and religion, between reason and superstition, between the powerful and the marginalized, and between a disembodied heaven and a “merely” physical earth. In Jesus, unity is not only possible but actualized.
Since my friend and I had the conversation about the painting of a series of black and white spheres that he liked – which was discussed in the previous blog post – he remains and engineer and is more successful than ever in that endeavor. He has since, then, though, very lovingly taken up the art of photography, which quite recently generated a conversation between he and I about art as the framing of a new reality, a new world, rather than simply the analysis of what is measurable and quantifiable. I have a feeling that this development in his life, which is an opening to a new way of knowing, is part of his wonder and love driven pursuit of the treasure of all knowledge.
In Jesus is a unified world. In Jesus, we can begin to imagine a unity of the many divisions in and of the world in which we live: between subjective and objective knowing, between aesthetic and rational judgment, between critical analysis and experience. And, not only can we begin to imagine reconciliation and healing in the midst of those deep wounds that constitute the fabric of our world and the practices by which it operates, but, in the actualized risen person of King Jesus, such unity is lived out. Jesus has a left and a right side to his brain, too.
In Jesus, then – quite actually – is “an epistemology of love” (as N.T. Wright refers to it).
Here’s the thing, though. Having taken his place on the throne of heaven, the resurrected and ascended King Jesus still bears the scars of love by which we are able to share in his Kingly glory. In other words, yes, it may be correct that “knowledge is power.” But, if true knowledge is of the whole, integrated, and embodied person of Jesus Christ, and if all knowledge is a gift from God, then true power is in knowing Jesus. Jesus is the gift.
People seek after treasures.
And, lest our flesh get too excited about this whole knowing Jesus is true power thing, Jesus turned power on its head. As discussed previously, the world’s modes of knowing rely on identifying one’s self with how one sees power truly at work. Do the ways of knowing of the scientist or historian rule in our responses to mass gun violence? Or, rather, do we let providential “superstition” determine how we respond to a refugee or a terror crisis?
24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the least, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. – Luke 22: 24-27
On the cross, Christ didn’t settle which post-Enlightenment mode of knowing wins the day. Already embodying the union of heaven and earth, of left and right brained thinking, of subjective and objective knowledge, of speculative thought and ritual actions, Christ settled the question of how we are to go about knowing in the first place with obedience to the point of death (Phil. 2).
The cost of the pearl of great price is death. That includes the sacrificial transformation of our old and inherited forms of knowing ourselves, our reality, and our world.
In Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright mentions that the resurrection was the whole reason for the persecution at Lyons in A.D. 177. How could Rome use death by crucivixion as a means to control her subjects if Christians were going around saying death had been defeated!?
In medieval times, it was no coincidence that the resurrection - of the wholly integrated person of love - lost its prominence and centrality as a teaching of the church as the church took on more and more the form of a powerful empire. As the church came to lord power over others, “as the gentiles do,” she focused less on proclaiming Christ’s powerful victory over death and instead used death as an instrument of power.
In other words, as the church came to assume that knowledge is power in the same ways that Enlightenment modes of knowing do so, it lost sight of Jesus. As the church came to know death, it lost its life. When the powers of the medieval and modern world alike came to see and know with excitement that death is all powerful and therefore can be used as a means of power, then (knowing) the resurrected (and knowing) person of Jesus was forgotten (unknown). The church embraced knowledge of the power of death at the same time that it identified itself with the power of empire.
In other words, what’s at stake in the realization of love as an integrated mode of knowing – in and by the very person of Jesus - is the question of whether we love power or trust in the power of love. Yes, that cliché is Jesus, who is no cliché.
Mentioned previously was also the idea that the world's modes of knowing rely on what one takes to be what they believe really moves things in the world. If all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Jesus, then it’s neither ISIS nor the political scientist who responds who are the movers and shakers of our world. It’s neither the authority of the psychologist nor that of the Archbishop that leads the way forward in the midst of fear of mass shootings. What leads, moves, and fords us ahead is love in the integrated, whole, and unified person of the risen and ascended Jesus Christ, from his place at the right hand of God by His throne in heaven.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
To be obedient to the point of death rather than to use death as an instrument of power, then, is “being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery…” To realize that the resurrection of the King, being therefore perfectly prototypical of the new world in which we now live as a result, doesn’t defy but changes the rules of science is to not be “deluded with plausible arguments.”
To know that Christ is sovereignly at work in the midst of the many “disputes that arose among them,” even when the apparent king of the land named Saul is pursuing my death, is to know who the real leader is. And, he is alive and well – and a being of fully integrated and unified knowledge not only between left and right brain, subjective and objective knowledge, reason and faith, but also between humanity and divinity, heaven and earth. To trust in who is really the prime mover while “the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain” (Psalm 2) is to be “hid with Christ in God.” The real leader, the real authority, is not me. I am weak, though he is strong. To know (the One) who is really in a position of knowledgeable authority is to identify myself with Jesus. People pursue treasures.
Jesus is the treasure.
Ultimately, then, when it comes to questions of “epistemology,” the point is Jesus. The end game of what knowledge is and how it works – is Jesus. The “so what?” when we study what knowledge is and how it works – is the actual, concrete, embodied, physical person of Jesus. And we aren’t even the ones doing the knowing! People pursue treasures of knowledge, and the treasure is the one who is doing the knowing. The one we seek to know is the treasure, and he is the one pursuing us.
People pursue treasures, and the treasure is pursuing me.
The Treasure of All Knowledge, Part 1 of 2
- Colossians 2: 1-5
An engineer friend of mine owned a favorite painting of a mathematical set of spheres of uniform size painted in black and white in different lighting from different angels. It was far more of a scientific study of shape and light than an artist’s framing of reality. I told him he “liked” that painting (which was not the painting pictured above, but was similar), because he was like that painting.
I did not mean that as a subjective judgment of his poor, inner, private taste in art, but that is hard for most who would read this to even believe. I meant to say that his identity is tied to his scientific way of thinking of the world. Therefore, I meant to say that his preference for that painting was an affirmation of how he identified himself in and before the world.
He thought of himself as a scientist who knows objectively, universally, and rationally. He thought of himself as having trust in objective reason; he was skeptical about inner, subjective experience as a valid way of knowing in and about the world. He was dominated by left-brained thinking. That’s what he was good at, and it’s how he navigated through life (quite successfully, I might add). That such a way of identifying himself and moving through the world was even an option in comparison to a more “subjective” way of thinking, living, and practicing speaks to and implies the kind of brokenness at the core of our world.
[DISCLAIMER: I’m pretty sure my friend’s scientific studies and explorations were or are partially fueled by curiosity and love, but I’m trying to make a point here, lol. Why is modern science so exclusively the angle by which subjects were approached with the given love and curiosity?]
The kinds of wounds I have in mind involve painfully inflamed openings between “experience” of the external world, on the one hand, and analytic internal thinking on the other. I have in mind cuts between superstition and knowledge, or between “relativism” as compared to what is taken to be universal and absolute truth.
Those whose way of knowing of and in the world is trained by the speculations of modern science are so skeptical of the make-believe that, even if they are committed to belief in a religion, they generally presume religious rituals to be “empty.” Under such assumptions, which are really assumptions about how and what we know, humanity’s relationship with God could never be practiced as the acting out of a story.
Those who assume that interpretation of scripture is done by a private, independent, autonomous, transcendent, and individual subject in search of the singular intention of the original author also tend to see the concern for the particular in post-modernism and therefore forcefully and violently throw postmodernism in the “relativism” box. The fact that post-modernism doesn’t necessarily belong in the relativism box and yet gets placed there automatically further implies an apparently unbridgeable gap between action and speculation as modes of knowing in and of the world. Enactment is the engagement of a subject.
Similar kinds of breaks or fissures in our world occur between left and right brained thinking, between aesthetic and scientific ways of knowing or seeing, or between trust in “subjective inner experience” and trust in “objective rational thought.” These are differences in how and what different groups of people go about knowing in our world, how people navigate their way through life. The break between left and right brained thinkers is generally so severe that architects and engineers usually don’t even understand each others’ languages. This is partially a question of how we identify ourselves.
I also have in mind similarly impassable and antagonistic gaps between history and science as compared to religion, between politics and religion, or between dominant classes or cultures and those who are marginalized by the powerful. The historian and scientist alike generally assume a required suspension of disbelief in order to engage or believe in anything religious at all. Politics is assumed to be so absent from questions of salvation of our souls that to question the de-politization of the gospel is generally first met with blank stares of information not registering in the brain, as if trying to install software that is incompatible with the hardware being used.
The struggle between classes, races, or cultures has erupted into violent tragedies that have put this wound on obvious public display, but most people on both sides of the fissure are too wedded to their claim and pursuit for a place of power in the world to see this primarily as an opportunity for reconciliation and healing. The question is why I mentioned this in the same breath as the break between science and religion or between politics and religion. It is said that knowledge is power, and that appears to play itself out here.
Those who identify themselves as scientists or historians tend to identify themselves with a particular way of knowing, and that identity is partially a stake in a claim of what is truly authoritative and powerful in our world. Politicians are generally doing the same; they make the claim that they know what really moves the world and, thus, how to direct it properly. Those who bind themselves to a religion also tend to do the same.
Of course, there is also the isolation of and between heaven and earth. Modern Christians know their way around Narnia but can't transition to the real world. This is precisely because of the reified modes of knowing in our world are assumed to be governed by the above wounds and antagonisms.
Christians mistake indicators for the real thing (our world is flat). The only mechanism modern Christians know of to connect Narnia to the real world belongs solely to the internal logic of Narnia itself. There is no interrelation or interlocking between the imaginary and the real. Hal Lindsey, Left Behind, and the millenarian movement, as attempts to force such correlations between the conceptual world of what’s written and the concrete world of what happens, are examples of symptoms of this break between heaven and earth.
Of course, here, Narnia, as an imagined reality, and scripture, as a system of meaningful words in the mind, both work as analogies for heaven. Narnia is locked away from reality, because concepts are assumed to be dualistically separate from the world to which they refer. Words in the mind are assumed to be dualistically vaulted away in a separate compartment from the bodies of sound that press out from them, because how we know is partially a question of how we identify ourselves and understand our world. Narnia is separate from reality, scripture separate from the world, when man is the ghost in the machine and the world is the Clockwork Universe.
These breaks between the thinking man and his body and between the autonomous, secular universe and the Epicurean gods establish the antagonisms between the figures who pursue power and authority in our world. Post-Enlightenment, we are dis-integrated humans living in a dis-integrated world because of dis-integrated modes of knowing.
I would suggest, then, that the break between heaven and earth, like the rest of the fissures that dominate our world, is partially due to the prevailing notion that knowledge is power. The resurrection of Jesus Christ, the glorified King of all of creation, has always been a threat to power.
We live in a broken world. To any Christian, this is obviousness and readily acknowledged. Porn, adultery, and divorce are common, even in the church. The world is still at war, and all Christians believe that won’t always be the case. Bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness still rule the day in many a family or personal interrelationship.
There are some wounds, some cuts in the flesh of the body of the world we live in, however, which are less obvious to most and less readily acknowledged as such by most Christians.
What every single one of those breaks have in common is that they all come from the story the Enlightenment tells. Each of the above wounds is a fruit of what the Enlightenment tells us what knowing is. To live those wounds is to live out that story, to know the way the Enlightenment tells us to know. To live in any or all of those areas of the inflamed flesh of our world is to identify with the Classical Liberalist story of reality and humanity told by the Enlightenment, to affirm our place in the world as established by Enlightenment ways of knowing in and of it – just as my engineer friend with the scientific painting of a series of black and white spheres.
To see that these are, indeed, wounds, however, is to live in and inhabit another story. To resist the automatizing urge and temptation to give allegiance to one side or other of our wounded world, both sides of which are inflamed, is to live a story that heads in another direction. To desire and work for reconciliation and healing is to head where the gospel directs us rather than towards the transcendently, objectively, exclusively scientifically knowing subject who makes free choices autonomously with no interference from foreigners or tyrants. It is to start to wrestle with the differences and wonder where and how unity is possible in the midst of such presumed division.
In Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright discusses how the church’s belief in the urgent imperative to improve society was given up on at the same time - late 1800’s/early 1900’s, the climax of Enlightenment thinking - as when the church quit believing in resurrection. Instead of believing in the resurrected son of compassion, the church began settling for disembodied heaven. This was because man had come to think of himself as a disembodied ghost who moves a ragamuffin machine. Because the world had become a clock wound by a Deist god at the beginning of time and left to operate on its own.
In the face of such breaks, then, how is a unity possible? How can the world be so unified if such breaks or fissures are built into the very fabric of how our world works (quite practically, I might add)? How can we even begin to imagine such a unity between the many divisions in and of the world for which the Enlightenment is so responsible: between subjective and objective knowledge, between religion and politics, between superstition and reason, between the powerful and marginalized? Once we can even begin to imagine it, how can we then live it out?
N.T. Wright recognizes in Surprised by Hope that Wittgenstein begins to provide the answer: “It is love that believes the resurrection” (p. 72).
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