Challenges to the Hunger to Know

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This past weekend at Eastbrook, I explored the hunger that each of us have to know and be known as part of our Hungry for God sermon series. One aspect of this that I did not really get to explore as much as I had hoped was some of the challenges that we encounter with our hunger to know.

The Challenge of Limitations
One of the challenges about our hunger to know is that we often encounter our limitations with knowledge. Sometimes this appears in relation to scientific realities, such as the reality that there is more unknown ‘dark matter’ in the universe than what we can know, or the unintended consequences of genetic manipulation about mosquitos that scientists are currently wrestling with in their goal of eliminating malaria.  Sometimes our limitations are more basic, such as not being able to know what’s on someone else’s mind – whether a friend, lover, or boss – or our inability to know the future, one of the great anxieties of our lives

The Challenge of the Intrinsic Relationship between Knowledge and Power
Another challenge is the relationship between knowledge and power. There’s an old saying: “knowledge is power.” Knowledge serves not only to enlighten people, but to give certain people power. On the positive side, this is why so much effort has been given to help people learn to read. Literacy helps in the acquisition of knowledge, which is such an empowering breakthrough in life. At the same time, some people hold back knowledge from others as a means of brokering power in a way that keeps some down and props others up. Knowledge is power, but that power can be used dangerously or beneficially.

The Challenge of Neighbors to Knowledge
Another challenge about our hunger to know is the fine distinctions that exist between information, knowledge, belief, and wisdom. I
nformation tells us about things, but knowledge tells us why that information is useful. Belief is different from knowledge but equally important. Belief shapes our approach to the good (or moral) life. Belief is often devalued in comparison with knowledge. Some will say, “If you have to rely on belief, then you are unthinking.” But that is really an unthinking statement, since it derives from a position of belief. Knowledge and belief actually function in different, but overlapping, capacities in our lives. Appropriate knowledge is the basis of right belief. For example, if we know the stakes of winning in gambling are so low, we would do well to believe it and live accordingly. Knowledge and belief work together. Wisdom helps us know how to live well in light of appropriate knowledge and right belief. We ideally gain wisdom over the course of our lives, but not if we reject either knowledge and belief. That’s why we say there are some very smart people who do very stupid things in life. They lack wisdom.

The Challenge of the Eradication of God from Public Knowledge
Another challenge for us in our contemporary world is the tendency to eradicate knowledge of God and His ways from the realm of meaningful, public knowledge. 
Some will say that if you believe in God, then you should automatically not be taken seriously; which is probably one of the most biased, unthinking things one could say. All honest thinkers will at least admit that as much as people may say we cannot prove that God exists – and I think there are some pretty convincing proofs of God’s existence – as much as people may say we cannot prove that God does exist, we also cannot prove that God does not exist. After all, Jesus, even if all His claims about God were set aside, is widely commended for His contributions to humanity, for things such as the golden rule, love for the neighbor, and more. If Jesus and His followers viewed the basis for these contributions as rooted in the knowledge of God, then we certainly must not brush aside knowledge of and belief in God as significant for discussions in our hunger to know. We must allow that knowledge and belief in God be admitted as potentially important within the realm of meaningful, public knowledge, not just private, personal practice.

In the midst of all these challenges with our hunger to know, there is a word from God that we need to hear again today. It is found in Hosea 4:6:

My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.

The challenges to the hunger to know are significant. Still, knowledge is vitally important. The hunger to know must be filled and satisfied with what can truly fill and satisfy that hunger. 

Hungry to Know

One of my friends in college was always afraid that if she left one of our gatherings something really fun would happen immediately afterwards, leaving her out of the fun. We would joke around with her about it, promising that we wouldn’t do anything really fun until after she left for her apartment. Today, there’s a name for that: “fear of missing out.” The fear of missing out has become seemingly more pervasive since social media enables us to tell everyone everywhere about the amazing food we are eating, the cool people we are spending time with, and the once-in-a-lifetime vacation we are having. Everyone else can peek into it and experience the fear (or reality) of missing out.

In one sense, the fear of missing out reflects the insatiable desire built within humanity to understand what is going on in the world and in our lives. We scramble to be “in the know” or “on the inside track,” and we hate feeling “out of the loop.” In his essay, “The Inner Ring,” C. S. Lewis wrote that this desire: “It is one of the factors which go to make up the world as we know it … Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care.”

This hunger for understanding is built into us by God. We certainly recognize that this hunger to know has led to many important breakthroughs, whether in cancer research, philosophical understanding, or our conception of the physical world. Yet, left to our own devices, this hunger to know often pushes us into a mad scramble to indiscriminately know and be in on everything without stopping to consider what is really worth knowing and why. 

In its best sense, this hunger to know leads us into an encounter with that which is beyond us and, ultimately, God. This week our devotional is built around this theme of the hunger to know. 

Let us begin with some of the greatest prayers on this theme:

“Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.” (Psalm 25:4)

“Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth” (Psalm 86:11)

“Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees.” (Psalm 119:12)

RESPOND THIS WEEK:
Each week’s practice will feature some aspect of the process Paul describes for us in Ephesians 4:22-24, where we are to TAKE OFF something from our lives that has become corrupted or distracting and PUT ON in its place something God wants us to do.

Take Off:Choose to fast from information in some way this week: reduce your access to the news; reduce how often you check your email or social media; avoid gossip forums or conversations. Think about why we so often desire to “be in the know” when it comes to other people or events.

Put On: Replace the time you use to gather information with practices that will help you hear from God, such as regular Scripture reading, prayer, or sitting in silence before God. Make a commitment to change your habits regarding to how much time you spend taking in “news” about the temporary world and how you will begin to spend some of that time learning about God’s kingdom.

[This a devotional I wrote with Jim Caler as part of the Eastbrook Church Lenten devotional, “Hungry for God.”]