How to Know that you Really Know Something

canstockphoto14114383It’s maddening when a person answers a question with another question. A time or two is all right, but it’s frustrating when they do it all the time.

Add this to the reasons that Jesus can be quite frustrating.

I read somewhere that in the gospels Jesus was asked 183 questions and only gave 3 answers while asking 307 questions himself? I’m not going to take the time to check the math, but I have a feeling the point is accurate.

Jesus seemed to have all the answers yet was reluctant to dish them out. I don’t think it was because he was a truth-hoarder, nor because he intended to lead a mystery religion like Gnosticism in which only the insiders had access to the truth.

So why didn’t he ask fewer questions and give more answers?

I think one reason is that he believed that the most important truths weren’t hidden but in fact were rather self-evident. Let’s face it, summing up the Law with “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” isn’t rocket science.

In fact, he wasn’t even the first one to say it; he was quoting two very well known scriptures, Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Every one of Jesus’ hearers knew these verses. Other rabbis cited them as summaries of the law; Jesus wasn’t breaking new ground here.

In the first chapter of Romans Paul makes it clear that spiritual insight isn’t hidden but can be clearly seen: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.”

Therefore Jesus wanted people to see that they didn’t need a rabbi or Pharisee to impart to them great spiritual truths that were hidden from view. Open your eyes, he is saying, and see what has been self-evident all along.

He was notoriously known for telling down-to-earth stories that did not answer questions as much as provoke thought, and then he trusted people’s ability to hear his stories and reach some startling conclusions about the kingdom of God.

Jesus believed that farmers and housewives and tax-collectors and lepers could imagine, think, and reach conclusions. He believed in the human ability to discern.

Jesus knew that developing discernment in others was far superior than giving them point-blank directions. Some individuals wanted Jesus’ ready-made answers to their dilemmas, and usually went away disappointed.

But I think that Jesus wanted more than just for people to think for themselves; he wanted people to think differently. Few of life’s dilemma’s can be solved by ready-made answers. People aren’t machines, and neither is life. It is invariably unpredictable.

I have an inherent—and I believe healthy—distrust of people who come to me with silver-bullet solutions to my problems. I have found that life is much too complex for simple, one-size-fits-all answers.

But here’s the real kicker: I think that Jesus wanted to get people away from the idea that the kind of truth that matters, that really, really matters, is the kind that can fit into an answer to a question, regardless of whether that answer is simple or complex.

The truth that really matters can’t be put into a propositional sentence like a math formula, a doctrinal statement or a creed. At best, those kinds of answers can only point to the truth; ironically, by pointing to the truth they are not in fact propositional statements but metaphors that head us in the right direction.

Remember, Jesus didn’t say, “I know the truth” but “I am the truth.” (As well as the way and the life.)

There is a kind of knowing that involves facts, information, solutions, and reasoning. But there is another kind of knowing that doesn’t involve any of that—and that is when you experience the truth.

I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, but I’m pretty sure that reading about it and knowing all the facts there are to know about it can’t compare to being there in person.

Once experienced, words are not only insufficient but unnecessary.

To experience something is to enter into a relationship with it. You know it, even if you can’t quantify it. It may not be logical or make sense to anyone else, but it makes sense to you.

This is relational knowledge—“I am the truth,” Jesus said—and it isn’t subject to the categories of logic, the scientific method, or inerrancy.

Since God is an animate Being—a Person—then it is the way that we must come to know him.

And until we know this, we don’t know a thing.

Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / gpointstudio

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