Friday, October 26, 2012

The End of Knowledge

I've been reading 1 Corinthians over the past several weeks. The Corinthians seem to have been a mixed bag of Christians- the rich and poor, Jews and Gentiles, wise and simple-minded (weak brothers), many spiritually gifted with charisma and full of contention on several topics (which leaders to follow, questioning apostolic authority, lawsuits among believers, misinterpretation of liberty- especially on sexual topics, engaging the idolatrous culture around them and even within themselves.

It is painfully clear that Paul is exercising restraint and showing forbearance even as he pens reproof for these actions, and demonstrating a rich theology that is stunningly clear in its application in our world. He frequently undermines the reliance on human wisdom that many Corinthians seem to have come to prize above all else, and even while appealing to people who exult in their liberty to show concern to the weaker brothers, he points his guns at this idol of wisdom. "We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know, but the man who loves God is known by God" In the second chapter he has mentioned that the rulers of this age with their wisdom could not comprehend God's plans, and however simple-minded Christians may seem, they are able to understand by the help of the Holy Spirit the wisdom of God.

He shares with the Corinthians that he has become "all things to all men, that by all possible means he might save some", and as a reward, he will share in the blessings of the Gospel. This is the one goal for his witness, because as he says "when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest." Again, while admonishing the Corinthians on how they must put the Gospel and its witness first in engaging the unbelievers, he says, "I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many, that they may be saved."

When talking about their coming together as a church, he urges each believer to wait for each other when partaking in the communal meal that was the Lord's Supper in his day. This was in response to the confusion and selfishness the people exhibited in this sacrament, in which they went ahead to eat without waiting for anyone else as he says, "One remains hungry, another gets drunk."

He talks about spiritual gifts, of which the Corinthians seemed to have an abundance, but urges them that they must consider every member as complementary and indispensable, like the parts of a body. If one part suffers every parts suffers with it. If one part is honored every part rejoices with it. He likens the church to a body in which the parts that seem to be weaker are indispensable, the parts that we think are less honorable, we treat with special honor (for some reason I keep thinking of applying deodorant when I read this!), the parts that are unpresentable we treat with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. I keep thinking of the disabled ministry in our church called STARS, one of my favorite ministries in the church. One of my favorite services is when the Stars come together to lead worship- they are assisted by their ministry leaders.

This section culminates with 1 Cor 13, arguably the most famous chapter in this book, if not the Bible itself. As this chapter unfolds, removing layer and layer of mystery and allowing us to marvel at greater mysteries, it says"Where there is knowledge it will pass away." Paul means that it will pass away as we transition from here to eternity. But how does knowledge pass away? Does it mean that we will know nothing in heaven? Does seeing God face to face mean that it will be the end of knowledge? It seems to me that loving God is the end of all knowledge. We search for extraterrestrial life on other planets, for the answer to everything in the smallest supposed building blocks of the universe, study the human psyche to understand why we behave the way we do, look for clues in our history to understand why we believe what we do... all of that for one and onle one end, to know God, whether we believe it or not. I think this is why earlier Paul remarks, "We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know, but the man who loves God is known by God"- because loving God seems to be a special kind of knowledge.

If we see God clearly, not a poor reflection as in a mirror, but face to face; if we know God, not as we know now (partially), but fully- even as we are fully known, then the knowledge of what we think are lofty concepts like jet propulsion, sending rovers to Mars and mapping the human genome, will seem small. When we think of these small things as ends in and of themselves, we are like kids playing with legos in a magnificent cathedral- having no eyes for the beauty of the cathedral, but content to build simple structures with our legos.

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