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Friday, January 22, 2016

Knowledge

     Love never fails. But where there are prophecies,  they will cease; where there are tongues,  they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
-1 Corinthians 13:8 (NIV)


Answer: Betting all of your money on Final Jeopardy.
Question: What is a really bad idea?
     Returning Jeopardy champions Claudia Corriere and Mike Drummond did just that Monday night. Tied for the lead, their best bet for a win was to go all-in on the clue: “A 1957 event led to the creation of a national historic site in this city, signed into law by a president whose library is now there too.” Neither contestant was able to answer the question correctly, so they both lost everything. Which opened the door for challenger Randi Kristensen. Randi, in fact, didn’t even have to answer the question correctly. All she had to do was not bet all her money. 
     So, of course, she did. She bet it all. 
     And, like Mike and Claudia, couldn’t answer correctly. 
     Meaning that, for only the sixth time in the show’s long history, an episode ended with three goose eggs on the board.That means none of the three comes back. Three new contestants took their places behind the podium the next day. Pretty harsh, especially considering that these are intelligent people to even become a contestant. A harsh result from the lack of a little bit of knowledge.
     Have you ever noticed that the more you learn about something, the more you realize you need to know? Knowledge is an infinite nesting doll that somehow gets larger with every layer. It’s a vein of ore that you never finish mining, a well that doesn’t run dry. 
     That doesn’t mean, as some might want us to believe, that knowledge is futile. Knowledge is a good thing, generally, a tool that can help us to understand the world, our place in it, and those we share it with. God wants us to know him, to know his word, and warns that lack of knowledge can destroy us as his people. “The discerning heart seeks knowledge,” the Proverb says. Though human beings can only know “in part”, knowledge is still something to be prized.
     But it only goes so far, for the reason Claudia, Mike, and Randi understand all too well: the most we can know is not enough.
     I grew up going to Sunday School, and each Sunday we had to recite a “memory verse” that we had spent the week before (or maybe the night before) learning. I still have a lot of those in my brain somewhere, in King James cadence and vocabulary. (None of those easy “modern” translations for us!) Since then, I’ve studied the Bible at the graduate level. I know the strengths and weaknesses of the Four Source Hypothesis. I know what Q is (It’s not a Star Trek character), and who Deutero-Isaiah is. When I watch Jeopardy, I can always answer the Bible questions.
     Funny thing is, what I know doesn’t make me spiritual. Paul, points out, in fact, that knowledge can inflate the ego. Knowledge isn’t one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. While lack of knowledge can destroy,  possessing knowledge can too. Always lurking behind knowledge is the shadow of arrogance, the danger that we could confuse knowing with being, 
     As powerful as knowledge can be, knowing is never enough. Knowledge, on its own, will fail. It will pass away. At best, we only know a little of who God is and what he wants of us. What we can know of ourselves, each other, the world and our place in it, is limited. The deepest we can dig is a scratch on the surface. Knowledge alone won’t save us and won’t give grace to the people around us. 
     Paul prays in Philippians 1:9 “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” That’s an interesting verse because it puts together two things that for many of us don't go together easily: love and knowledge. We need to grow in knowledge, in depth of insight, sure: but always in the context of love. In another place he says it even more memorably: “If I…can fathom all mysteries  and all knowledge…but do not have love, I am nothing.
     Knowledge tells us what we need to understand. But love tells us why.
     Knowledge that doesn’t teach us to love more, or better, or more widely, or more completely, is not helpful. It inflates our egos, even as it tears down the people around us. That’s what passes for knowledge in many churches, and for many people who wear the name of Jesus. It’s what passes for spirituality. But it doesn’t deliver what it promises.
     We don’t really act out of knowledge, not really; if you doubt that, the next time you’re in traffic count the number of people you see driving while texting. Everyone knows that isn’t safe, but lots of people still do it. Why? Because we act out of what we love, not what we know.
     That’s why Paul’s prayer for another church is that Christ will dwell in their hearts so that they will be “rooted and grounded in love.” And with that rooting and grounding, they will be able to understand all the dimensions of Christ’s love and be filled to overflowing with God. He wants them to understand the extent to which God has gone for us. There is an important place for knowledge in our walk with God. But if knowledge doesn’t come from God’s love and lead to our knowing and living out his love, then what’s the point? Knowledge enough isn’t enough. Without love, we lose. 
     Oh: Little Rock, Arkansas, is the city in which, in 1957, Central High School was desegregated, and it’s the city in which Bill Clinton has his Presidential Library. Now you know that, and you might be able to impress someone with that bit of trivia. You might even win a game show someday.
     But don’t get too enamored with your own knowledge. It is limited, it’s finite, especially what you can know about God and about his work on our behalf through Jesus. Of primary importance is not that we know God, as though we can come near to him and grasp him through our own intellect and reasoning power. Of primary importance is that he has chosen to know us, and has made himself known to us.
     On that, you can bet everything.

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