Who knew? (part 2)

checkbox-303113_640We know that God is faithful.

We know that God is gracious.

We know that God is merciful.

But what do we mean when we say we “know” these things?  

Sometimes, what we call “faith” is a matter of conscious agreement or assent. If we had a questionnaire in front of us asking if we believed God to be faithful, we’d check the box for “Yes.” If, from the pulpit, the preacher proclaimed that God is faithful, we’d say “Amen.”

And if the preacher proclaimed that God is not faithful, we’d take it as some kind of rhetorical device, meant to get our attention. We’d wait for the moment when the controversial statement would be turned on its head, and all would again be all right with the world.

If, however, that moment never came, we’d think seriously about getting a new preacher.

There’s no question that faith includes what we believe with our intellect. And matters of doctrine are important, sometimes even critical. But there’s knowing, and then there’s knowing.

Before our son was born, my wife and I went through Lamaze classes. I had to train to be her breathing coach, and we dutifully did our practice exercises. We both knew what to do.

But we had never been through childbirth before, and there were so many unknowns. One of them was this: my wife needed to know that when the moment of truth actually came, I would be there for her. I could bravely promise her that I would, and she could hear and understand my words. She could believe that I meant what I said.

But that’s not the same as the trust that was established when I actually “showed up” in the delivery room. By the time our son emerged into the world, we knew something about ourselves and our relationship that we could not have known otherwise.

Looking back to part 1 of this post, I think this is something of what John the Baptist meant when he said he didn’t “know” Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God until the moment that the Holy Spirit descended and remained upon Jesus at his baptism (John 1:32-34). Surely John must have “known” beforehand; surely his mother had told him the stories of her own miraculous pregnancy and Mary’s. And surely John believed.

He knew. And yet, until the critical moment when God revealed the truth to John in all its fullness, he didn’t know.

Faith is not, as some would have it, a blind leap into an intellectual void. By necessity, we believe some things that we don’t completely understand and can’t completely explain. Who wants to worship a God who can be entirely systematized and dissected by the human intellect?

But sometimes, we are also given a gracious gift, in which God reveals himself to us in a way that bolsters our trust in his goodness and mercy.

That doesn’t mean our faith is weak. It just means that our faith should always be reaching toward God in ways that help us know what we know.