A long, long time ago when I was a very young adult (married at much too young an age) and not yet a follower of Jesus, I got in an argument with my spouse in the car. It was a horrible argument. We were both angry and yelling loudly at each other — which reverberates inside a car at many times the decibel level of the same yelling done outside on the beach.
And what was the subject of this angry yelling episode? It was about whether you can “know” something that isn’t true, or whether you only “believe” it, but the fact that it’s not true makes it impossible for you to count it as “knowledge.”
I’m completely mortified that I ever really acted that way. Ugh.
Hopefully I’m enough of a grown-up now that I’d never get into a screaming, yelling argument with anyone about anything anymore, let alone about the nature of knowledge.
But my fascination with the nature of knowledge has never gone away. I even got a degree in it (“Epistemology” – you’ll find it in the Philosophy department in case you’re as weirdly fascinated by it as I am).
“What can we know and how do we know it?”
Western philosophy generally settles on something like “justified true belief,” although there are lots of variations and disagreements within that general trend. But it only gets that far by completely dismissing the possibility of anything supernatural that is knowable.
Becoming a Christian has turned my temporary satisfaction with that compromise completely on its head. I think it is a fundamental teaching of Christianity that supernatural things are real and are knowable, not the least of which is God’s creation of the universe, His supernatural begetting of the Son of Man, His sacrifice of His only begotten Son to atone for the sins of whoever believes in Him, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the existence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as three aspects of One God … I could go on but you get the picture.
Jesus heartily denounces false prophets and hypocrites. But how are we to recognize false prophets, teachers of false doctrine, hypocrites and those who are more mentally ill or spiritually broken than spiritually enlightened?
I have been enormously blessed to have experienced God speaking directly to me, personally. I know it was God. But how do I know it was God, and not Satan or my own superego, or a chemical imbalance in my brain, or just plain mistaken identification of my own experiences?
These are critical questions to ask, especially when we look around us and see the proliferation of false teachings, high profile and charismatic religious leaders engaging in immoral conduct, cults, Satan, and other spiritual dangers.
“What can we know and how do we know it?” is a critical question for all Christians to consider. And there are no easy answers.