Tuesday, January 19, 2016

I don't know...and that's okay

Image result for i don't know what to do
Image from bigdreamawakening.com
There is a lot of "I don't know" in my life right now. I don't know what I will be doing in three months. I don't know what kind of job I want to pursue. I don't know if I am willing to move to get the job I don't know I want. I don`t know if I I am ready for an academic career and all the pressure that comes with it. I don't even know what's for lunch tomorrow. This place of not-knowing is not an easy place to dwell and I feel a bit lost.

My first instinct when I am floundering is not to pick up some philosophy text, but this afternoon it was cold and snowy and windy in Montreal, a perfect day to sit at my kitchen table with a cup of tea and read some theological philosophy in preparation for my class tomorrow. And today's reading happened to be an article by Paul W. Gooch on the topic of "Faithful Knowing." [1] Basically, he writes about what it means "to know" within the context of faith and how this fits into the general knowing that we do as human beings. Two of the main questions the author asks are: What is it we claim to know as people of faith? and How do we know it?

Gooch starts out by stating that, "The knowledge and wisdom of the life of faith cannot be reduced to propositions that are the conclusions to arguments for the existence of a divine being." What he means is that faithful knowing is not propositional knowledge, that is, it is not knowledge which identifies this is that, or knowledge developed as a skill set (know-how), or knowledge as recognition (I know what that is). These are all valid ways of knowing, but they are not the primary methods for knowing anything about God.

There is another kind of epistemological category (and Gooch concludes it is the one which is preeminent in theology) and that is personal knowledge. This does not merely refer to awareness (I know who that is) nor it is a nod to having met someone in person. Personal knowledge means that we know the person for who they are. To know someone personally means that the knowledge is mutual (we know them and they know us), it is positive (we are not there to do them harm or merely get something from them), it approaches intimacy (we open up about our hopes, desires, anxieties, etc.), and it respects the other's freedom and integrity.

What personal knowing requires is trust, and Gooch positions trust as that which sits between knowing and not-knowing, almost like a bridge. Personal knowing is never complete because we never have total access to what the other person is thinking, doing, or feeling, This is what makes long-term relationships so meaningful; there is always more to be discovered about the other person. What we find in the Psalms are narratives of personal knowing which speak of divine agency, care, and love, of longing and lament, and of crises of trust and frustration about not-knowing. And always present in these texts is the invitation for Israel to trust God in the not-knowing because of what they do know about God. Similarly, what we see in Jesus is also an invitation to personal knowing, to know the Father as the Son knows the Father. We must be careful not to cast the historical person of Jesus as a divine, all-knowing being who never struggled to trust God in the not-knowing. His prayers before his death indicate otherwise. What Jesus shows us is that personally knowing the Father means we can have confidence in God's love and care even when we find ourselves in the dark abyss of not-knowing.

To summarise Gooch's article (because that's what students do): what do we know as people of faith? We know a person (God) through personal knowledge which involves knowing as well as not-knowing. And how do we know it? Through encounter - historical, narrative accounts as well as our own experience. We come to know the character of God through the ongoing dramatic story of God.

It is always interesting to note which words jump out at someone when they are reading a text because it usually reveals something about the state of their heart and mind at the moment. In my reading this afternoon, the phrase which grabbed my attention was this: "Jesus is living presence." Really simple. But the fact that I latched onto this phrase, that it made my heart leap when I read it, let me know that what I am really longing for in this unsettled place is not answers to all my "I don't know's" but the presence of Jesus himself. In this lies all my hope and peace. I read a quote recently from Gary Best: "The home we've never known but always longed for is found in Jesus." Let me find my way home.


[1] Paul W. Gooch, "Faithful Knowing," in The Wisdom of the Christian Faith, eds.Paul K. Moser and Michael T. McFall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 19-38.

1 comment:

Shelley said...

yes. and thanks for sharing the article, which I otherwise would never encounter!