Let us pray:
Lord, we pray that you would enter into your word today. Move through it; show us your will and your ways. And may the words of my heart and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
What do you know?
It’s an open-ended question, isn’t it? There are different kinds of knowledge, and different kinds of knowing: I know how to drive a car, and I know how to make a shopping list, and I know how to write a sermon. Those are three very different sets of knowing, from the purely technical to the more abstract and difficult, to the point that I actually hesitated to say that I know how to write a sermon–I would hope that I will always recognize that there is more to know about writing sermons.
There are different kinds of knowledge, and different kinds of knowing: I know facts left over from undergrad classes, like Avagadro’s number and the major works of the playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and I know the major roads of the city of Pittsburgh, and I know my best friend. There is knowledge that comes from memorization, and knowledge that comes from time, and knowledge that you discover slowly even if you can never quite put it into words.
We as a society are obsessed with knowledge. Those who have gone to school for longer, who are supposed to know more, are more hireable; the internet allows people to find the answer to almost any question in seconds; we print unfathomable numbers of self-help books, which purport to give knowledge about how to make yourself better; we collect statistics on anything and everything we can. Just this morning I was looking at apps to download on my phone so that I can track how I use my time, and there were a lot of options.
But that’s only a certain kind of knowledge. That’s facts-based knowledge, which often ignores or flattens other kinds of knowledge. Like I said, there’s many kinds of knowledge.
And I think we cling to knowledge so tightly because–well, we’ve all heard the saying, “Knowledge is power.” When we know something, we have an advantage. The world makes sense; we know how things work, and we won’t be blindsided by surprises because we know how things work. We can claim certainty, and not have to look any deeper, not have to notice anymore the bits of life that don’t fit. As Paul writes, “Knowledge puffs up.” I say our society has this problem, but humans have been human since the beginning of time; humans have always had this problem. We have always wanted certainty.
Here again we run into the distinction between different kinds of knowledge. Is Paul saying that all knowledge is terrible, or that I shouldn’t have gone to seminary? Of course not. He was writing to a specific church with a specific problem.
The church at Corinthia had–well, many problems, which is why they received two long letters from Paul–but a problem specifically with two different groups in the church. There were the rich people and the poorer, because, again, humans have been human since the beginning of time. The rich argued that, since God was God, all other Roman gods that they had worshipped before didn’t exist. And, if the gods didn’t exist, then there was nothing wrong with eating meat that had been sacrificed, because the gods didn’t exist, so it was just… meat. They knew that the gods didn’t exist. Most of the poor members of the Corinthian church, however, seem to have still believed that the gods existed. They knew God was the one true God, but didn’t discount the power of the little-g gods. They thought eating meat that had been sacrificed was still showing allegiance to those gods in some way, which is why they refused to eat that meat.
At issue here isn’t the knowledge itself, but how the Corinthians have reacted to having that knowledge. The richer Corinthians have become arrogant in their knowledge. They looked down on those who wouldn’t eat the sacrificed meat as not knowing enough; they were utterly convinced that they were right. And yet Paul reprimands them. It’s not that their knowledge is wrong; Paul agreed with them that they could eat sacrificed meat, and he argues passionately for that position in other letters. But here, he’s concerned about those Corinthians’ arrogance, and how that arrogance is injuring other members of their church. After all, if they try to insist that the poorer church members do something they deeply believe is wrong, or if they tempt them into doing it even though they see it as wrong–well, we Christians in church are a family, and families share responsibility. The rich Corinthians may know their theology, but they don’t know their church sisters and brothers very well.
We act as if knowledge is something individual, something that affects only me and that I must act upon no matter what it may do to others, but we are far too interconnected for that to be the truth. Our knowledge affects others. It can free them; it can imprison them or lead them astray. Let us be responsible and kind with our knowledge–and above all, let us be humble.
God, after all, is far larger than we could ever completely know. The world is far larger than we can ever know; there are scientists who spend their entire life studying one species and still don’t discover all there is to know. So, search out knowledge of God and of one another, but do so humbly: knowing that there is always more to know, and remembering that knowledge is not something individual.
And so the question that I posed earlier is incomplete: What do you know, and what do you do with that knowledge?