"Knowledge as Submission"
By Andree Seu
A very helpful book in understanding how it is that we humans “know” anything—and supremely, how we know God—is Esther Lightcap Meek’s Longing to Know.
Meek demystifies the enterprise of knowing God by demonstrating that in an important sense it is on a continuum with knowing our auto mechanic. It is the same kind of ordinary knowing—and draws on the same kinds of very human activities—as the knowing that we experience in relation to the man who changes our oil.
There are many little disparate bits of accumulated data that go into knowing our auto mechanic, some of them empirical but some of them extremely subtle, intangible, and unquantifiable. You see the kind of work he does on your car. You have conversations with him and get a “feel” for the man. The initial feeling you have is either confirmed or contradicted over time and subsequent dealings with him. Maybe he is a better man or mechanic than you thought at first; maybe he is not as good.
So knowing is making sense of a jumble of varied information. In the case of the auto mechanic, it is the eureka moment when we have finally put all the clues together and “get” who this man is. Knowing God is like that. We have wrestled with such random facts as (1) our sin, guilt, faults; (2) finding ourselves on a planet with mountains and stars around us that need an explanation; (3) a Bible that offers explanation. And out of the wrestling comes the belief that the God of the Scriptures fits the clues together best.
I am terribly oversimplifying this. I have left out the crucial part that apart from the Holy Spirit we cannot put these clues together. That is the not-ordinary component of knowing. God is able to give a person profound assurance of His reality even if the person is lousy at putting clues together.
An insight in Meek’s book that blew me away is the idea of submission as the final and indispensable step of knowing. This is as radical as it is wonderful because we don’t usually think of “knowing” in the same breath as “submitting.” We think they belong to the two unrelated categories of mind and will. That’s because we have a hangover from ancient Greek philosophy that conceives of “knowing” as a purely cerebral activity, and activity demanding no commitment on the part of the knower.
Once we have struggled a while (in some cases, a whole lifetime) with all the jumbled “clues” of our existence, and a coherent pattern finally jumps out at us (by the enlightening of the Holy Spirit), the pattern exercises a kind of authority over us. It’s do or die time: Will I submit to what I can no longer ignore?
There will still be “gaps” in the pattern. (Possible example: If God is good, why do children die? Why didn’t He answer that prayer?) But once we see the overall “pattern,” and it is a compelling one, the gaps no longer threaten. They are merely not-yet-seen portions of the tapestry.
What Meek has done most for me is to remind me that I do not really know God—and I cannot really say I have faith in Him—until I have submitted to what I learned about Him in His Word. That is the final and indispensable act in the process of knowing. We “submit” to our claim that we know that our mechanic has changed the oil; we do that by paying him and driving off 10 hours to Michigan. Not dissimilarly, we “submit” to our claim that we know God by living as though His promises are true and will hold us up. (This is the punch line of this column.)
I sometimes shudder to think of the days when I knew the theology and could talk the talk, but I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I had actually trusted God in an active way. Without that knowing breaking into doing, all I had was yards and yards of good chain, with a rotten link at the end of it.
Jesus was more succinct. He said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46)
[Andree Seu writes for WORLD Magazine]