The Desire to Know
Knowledge is desirable. We want to know the difference between truth and error, right and wrong. We want to know the skills and facts that go into how we work, the careers we choose, and the way we are to live in community with others. We also want to know people, not only in the sense of who they are, but in the sense of friendship. Mostly, we ought to want to know God and His truth, for this is what He wants for us: “this is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4).
No one likes the idea of being ignorant, and ignorance in what we ought to know can be devastating. For instance, ignorance of how to drive can be disastrous if getting behind a wheel and randomly pushing buttons and pressing pedals. We need to learn how to do it before getting on the highway. Knowledge can save lives while ignorance can have a detrimental effect on others.
The danger of ignorance is especially a problem when it comes to knowing God. For example, the psalmist equates having no knowledge with being in darkness (Psa 82:5). Paul spoke of those who walk in darkness, in the futility of their minds, as being “alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph 4:18). This kind of ignorance will kill us eternally because it keeps us from coming to the light of Jesus Christ in whom is life. Yet we can know God if we really want to because He has made Himself approachable through Jesus.
While the desire to know is needed and commendable, that same desire can get us into trouble if our target is not what it should be. After all, the first human sin was based on a desire to know good and evil in a way that sought to usurp God’s authority (Gen 3:5). God has given us the capacity to know with minds capable of learning, but we do not have knowledge in an unlimited sense or to the same level of God, and true knowledge must first be based upon fearing God. The wise man wrote, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov 1:7). By respecting God, we can appreciate the minds given us so that we use them to His glory rather than our own selfish whims. There is little virtue in gaining knowledge for selfish purposes.
Grasping at knowledge without a proper foundation can lead us into conceit and arrogance. Paul warned about this with respect to certain foods: “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (1 Cor 8:1-3). Knowledge must be tempered by love and humility if it is to be pleasing to God. That takes us back to God Himself as the foundation of all true knowledge.
We need to approach knowledge with a sense of modesty and wisdom. Knowledge needs to added to our faith (2 Pet 1:5-8), but humility must undergird that knowledge or we will stand opposed to God, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5). As important as it is, knowledge alone will not save us. We still need God’s grace.
There is much we would like to know but do not. Sometimes knowledge is within our grasp and we need to apply ourselves to learning. But some knowledge is beyond our grasp and rests with God. As Moses told Israel, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut 29:29). This can bother us because we don’t like not knowing. Why doesn’t God give us the information that we would like to have? Why does He let us languish in ignorance when we want so much to know what is going on? (Think of the book of Job and the problem of suffering.)
In these cases, we may consider a lack of knowledge to be a human weakness. And like any other weakness, it should point us back to God. In other words, there are some things we will not know so that we may learn to trust the Lord (cf. 2 Cor 1:8-9). Some things belong to God’s mind only, but our task is to seek Him, serve Him, and trust that He knows what He is doing. Through this weakness, we may become stronger in faith as we learn more to rely on Him rather than on our own wisdom. When we can do that, we will have the true knowledge of God.