Knowing God


Why should anybody believe anything at all?

We may think that we know why something is true and that the issue of knowing is in principle straight forward and simple, but at a closer inspection it will be evident that the process of knowing is more complicated than we generally imagine. We are not here speaking about everyday practical knowledge although that may be more flawed than we think and thus cause all kinds of social and existential difficulties. What we refer to are the Big Questions regarding  life and existence such as: What is the world all about, who are we, where do we come from, where are we going, what is wrong with the world and what is the solution?

We may not give much thought to such questions and their possible answers but they are nevertheless crucial for our most important choices and values although we may hardly be conscious of how it all works.

So what are the possible sources of knowledge about everything open for humanity and how do we access such sources? Again we generally assume our sources of knowledge and we rarely reflect on why we seek knowledge the way we do and in the places we do. Our perception of sources and our methods of knowing has been established, by means of a cultural and social process, as a habit of mind in terms of which we think rather than something we think about. So the particular worldview in terms of which we think is generally inherited from the culture in which we happen to live. The larger perspectives in terms of which we think are seldom subject to critical examination and often we are not even aware that we have a worldview in terms of which we interpret and assess everything we encounter. We tend to think that our outlook on the world is based on the plain facts of observation and experience which if needs be could be affirmed logically and scientifically.

Basically there seems to be only three major categories of sources or avenues of knowledge open for humanity namely Mind, Nature and Revelation and that in a variety of combinations. The options that seems most obvious to a post enlightenment person are Mind and Nature while a pre enlightenment person might opt for some kind of revelation as the primary source of knowledge. The human capacity for imagination and logical thinking by which we create mental images and theorems of reality has always fascinated humans. With the ability to imagine what the real is like it is not strange that humans should come upon the idea that this mental capacity is itself the avenue and source of truth. Whole worldviews have grown up around this assumption from eastern to western religious and philosophical systems of imagination and thought. Such world views generally assume that the ultimate real is spiritual and non material and that the mind has direct access to such a reality. Thus the mind becomes the avenue and source of knowledge and the imaginative and rational speculation is equal to the truth.

Another obvious possibility is that the ultimate real is in physical nature itself and that nature therefore is the true source of knowing everything. The inner secrets of the universe are thus assumed to be in nature not outside of it. Since the mind does not have direct access to nature but only indirect through the senses thus sense experience and observation becomes the avenue of knowing the ultimate real. This set of assumptions under girds the whole project of natural science and is the approach that has dominated what we call modernity. This has now been called into question by post modernity and its devastating critique of the assumptions under pinning this approach to knowledge.

Simply stated the problems with the assumption that Mind is the source of truth is that such assumption cannot as claimed be independently verified. How dodo we prove such assumptions? How do we prove that the ultimate real is non physical and that the mind has unlimited access and thus capable of detecting and reading it? Such assumptions are not independently verifiable and all the grand religious and philosophical systems which over the centuries have been based on such assumptions might just be ingenious but brilliant nonsense.

The same problem haunts the assumptions that nature is the source of ultimate truth. This approach not only assumes that nature contains the key by which we all secrets of the universe can unlocked but that our senses provides unlimited, unrestricted and undistorted access to all of reality. So we tend to think that what we see, hear and feel is all there is. We might need to extend our senses with scientific instruments (microscopes – telescopes) but what cannot be detected by our senses are simply written off as non existent and should be dismissed as mythical thinking. The problem is simple but insurmountable. How do we by means of sense experience verify the assumed capacity of sense experience? What senses cannot detect they cannot detect and we would be forever the dark if anything else exists. There could be a parallel universe and we would not know it. The problem is that our attempts to understand everything by an empirical search could lead to reductionism and a distorted view of reality thus the naturalist worldview while being ingenious could be just brilliant nonsense.

The problem is that what we consider to the ultimate source of truth is inseparably linked to a whole set of assumptions regarding the universe. Whether the hen or the eggs of this issue comes first is insignificant. What we think is the ultimate real is determining our general worldviews and thus what we consider sources of truth regarding reality. All this could just be a harmless word game like science fiction but the problem is that this is not a harmless pastime activity for scientific and philosophical minds. These approaches constitutes a set of  assumptions that informs our worldview which in turn determines the values, morals and ideals by which we order our lives, cultures and societies, that is, the way in which we are humans.

The challenge is that there seems to be only two avenues of knowing open o humans and upon a closer examination it seems clear that they are not independently verifiable as claimed but its adherents. The post-modern critique therefore concludes ‘hat all our values and ideals are but a slowly emerging consensus without any objective foundation – we are forever bound by our subjectivity’. This pessimism not only undermines the truth claims in general but also the ultimate truth issue in particular. The dilemma is that this is an impasse that undermines life itself or said in other words; it is standpoint on which we cannot stand. The existential demands of life forces us to make choices, to act and live as if we had access to a guiding truth and even if we don’t have such a truth we are still forced to act as if we had one. Thus we sit with the nightmare scenario depicted by Nichze that all we are left with as a guide to life  is power. We don’t seem to be able to live without a worldview to guide us yet we seem to be caught up in the dilemma that we cannot know if any such worldviews are true.

This not only affects our secular thinking but also our religious thinking. To cut a long story short. The problems associated with sources and their assumed worldviews not only affect knowing in general but specifically affects religious thinking.  If there is a dimension called God what is this God like and how could we possibly know such God? How could we obtain any reliable knowledge of such a God?

Any intuitive God consciousness or religious rational reflection could just be brilliant nonsense or not so brilliant nonsense leading us to worship  ‘we know not what’. Any attempt to know God based on a scientific empirical search in nature or sense experience could be just as fruitless. Without going into the long story of how these worldviews and approaches to religion pan out we can suggest that this approach tend to eclipse and marginalise God as a first cause (Deism) or equate him with nature itself (Pantheism or Pan-entheism) In either case any postulates regarding knowledge of God and the universe may be a complete distortion and a speculative illusion.

The rise of the European enlightenment was initially driven by the rationalistic Mind-source approach but was soon transmuted into the Nature-source approach known as scientific empiricism: an approach to knowledge which has become almost universally accepted as the way forward. Natural law was postulated as the key that would unlock the mystery of the entire universe including God. This latter approach tended to exclude God as nature was increasingly seen as a self-contained machine and as self propelling and as self explanatory and that God was not involved in maintaining or running the universe. The very logic of this approach to knowledge would either equate God with the universe or rule Him out of the universe a third option was not deemed possible. Finally God was abandoned as an unnecessary and irrelevant hypothesis by our culture.

Our present secularised world is the child of this naturalistic approach. Although this approach to knowledge has been deeply shaken yet this habit of thinking still prevail to a large extend in our post secular culture. While our culture has lost faith in the vision of humans being able to master the truth game the modernist approach is still the context for our thinking. It may be post –modern but that its exactly what it is.

The post-modern critique of the rationalistic (Mind) and the naturalistic (Nature) approach to knowledge has been devastating leading to a loss of faith in ma’s ability to access the truth about everything. If these avenues of knowing the ultimate truth about God, man and the universe are blocked then what options do we have? As humans we seem to be caught in a dead end street. We need to know the truth by which to orient our lives and yet we seem to be excluded form it. We cannot do without it and we cannot get at it. The Gated to Paradise seems closed. So is there a third option?

There has always been a third option which is less ambitious and more modest; claiming that if we cannot access the ultimate real the ultimate real might contact us. The avenues of Mind and Sense has always been linked to man’s attempt to master the universe and become the Lord of everything. However if the ultimate real is beyond the reach of humanity and there is someone greater in charge this someone might be able to reach man. The Hebrew – Christian world view like postmodernism also rejects the idea that man by his inherent ability of Mind and Sense can penetrate into the secrets of reality. In the biblical world view nature was newer seen as self existing and self-contained or autonomous but as being dependant on a creator for its origin, form, structure and continual function. This means that the secret of everything is in God not in the things itself. So when we search in our Minds and in Nature we will not find the secret key to the universe simple because we are lokking in the wrong place.

The story line in Genesis 1:1 opens by stating the fundamental biblical worldview assertion namely that reality is two dimensional constituted by a creator and creation. Everything that is God is not created and everything that is created is not God. God alone is autonomous everything else is contingent. This is a fundamental assertion that saturates the entire biblical story line. This view is reinforced in John 1:1-3; Acts 17:24-25; Col 1:15-17; Heb 1:1-3; Rev. 4:11. God is seen as not only the originator but also as the continual sustainer and upholder of everything.

The implications being that humans only have access to a limited sphere of reality and cannot by his own capabilities access the mind of God and thus access the secrets of everything. The only way human can know the secrets are if God reveals them and shares them with man. The prophet declared ‘can anybody by searching find out God’ (               ) and Paul makes a similar point in 2 Cor 2:1—.where He argued that we can only know the mind of God in the manner and to the degree he reveals it.

So the Biblical writers would concur with the post-modern critique of the human ability to penetrate the secrets of the universe by the sole means  of the avenues of Mind and Nature but they do not share the post modern pessimism regarding the possibility of getting some insights into the secret being of God. According to the biblical worldview God is neither silent or absent from the world although he is depicted as being distinct from it. God is neither in creation or absent from creation but interacts with it as creation depends on his sustaining presence. So God is rather the context for everything else including the biosphere in which humans live and move and have our being. God is seen as the life-support system of the universe.

God could be described as a parallel dimension overlapping the world of creation being interconnected with it. While human cannot penetrate the borderline between the two dimensions God can and God does according to the biblical worldview. God is not silent but has spoken at various times and in various forms throughout the human story and this communication is called Revelation.

(Quote Heb 1;1-3)

In this kind of universe God is seen as the master of the truth game not humans they are radically dependant his information for the mega narrative about themselves and the universe. Since God in; such a universe is the ultimate real a knowledge of him is the key to the mystery of the whole. Solomon said: ‘The knowledge of the lord is the beginning of Wisdom’. (     )   Thus God discloses his secrets sufficiently for humans to be able to orient their lives in terms of their deepest purpose. . The biblical story is the story of how God has continued to give guidance to the world and how he intends to guide it towards its intended goal.

Is such a worldview independently verifiable? No! And it has newer claimed to be verifiable in the manner that the rationalistic and naturalistic approaches have done and failed.  However that is not the point of any worldview. A world view is tested by its ability to account for the kind of world in which we find ourselves, for its ability to answer the big worldview questions and for its ability to propose workable solutions for the existential challenges facing us as humans. This is precisely where modernity failed and where post modernity has no answer. On that background we will suggest that it is time to revisit the third option, namely that there is a God and he is not silent nor is he absent.

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