Desire without knowledge is not good, and one who moves too hurriedly misses the way. Pro 19:2
In Proverbs, we find three words that are closely connected—wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.
Wait a moment, didn’t you mess up the order of those words there? I am convinced that I did not.
Wisdom in the Hebrew signifies “to know how to do things”. It is closely connected with obedience, learning from others by example, and just do what you are told. You must not understand to be wise, you just need a teachable heart and to sit with the wise. This is why young people can be wise beyond their age, just by honoring their natural and spiritual authorities and learning, gleaning from them.
Next comes understanding. We understand what understanding means, do we? It is not so much to get the hang of something—for that might just be included in wisdom. It is to know the why and to be able to reason about something. I now not only know how things are done, but why they are done that way, and I might even have considered other ways of doing them, maybe resulting in deeper wisdom. Better ways of doing things. Maybe leading me astray for a while, and maybe we do not like it exactly because of that. Or we mistake it for the gathering of information for information’s sake.
Last but certainly not least there is knowledge. The meaning of this word is so different from what we made it to be that I can understand why you thought I was confusing the order of things here. Knowledge is not the heap of information I gathered and that is at my disposal—that is, I still remember it—but it is to know something or somebody to the core.
Imagine an apprentice. He learns by gleaning from an expert and develops wisdom.We can now—and in most cultures that is the case—call them a professional and let them loose. Better though if he has the possibility to get to understand his trade. It makes it so much easier to apply the learned to other situations, enhance personal capabilities and even the professional field. Equipped with both the how and the why, one through training becomes an expert. Interestingly enough, experts at times do not know the why of their actions any more—they might give you lots of theory on it trying to explain—but do things because they are so familiar with the field, they know. Out of the belly.
In church we know that the ultimate goal is to have a deep personal relationship with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But church history and a Greek view of the Bible has stolen so much and distorted our world view so much that we often fall short—especially in what I am talking about today.
A Look at History
Church history, after the golden age of the apostles, started out with a church that limited their members to wisdom, I might say. And again, you probably, with your Greek understanding, get into your fighting position and say: wisdom as the driving force of the medieval catholic church?
For the members of the catholic church in the early days it was paramount to belong and to do what they were told. Obedience and work. But you sure did not, and in the belief system of priesthood were not capable, destined, or meant to, understand why you had to act that way. Wisdom in the Hebrew sense.
It was not before the reformation that knowledge became an integral part of faith again. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin wanted the people to know why they were doing what they were doing. Luther’s revelation of the necessity of a personal relationship with God through Christ made it necessary to define something that has become very dear to us, unthinkable that it had been lost and unknown for so many centuries: the individual.
If we are individuals and individually responsible for our faith and fate, we are to be given the means to do so. Out of the reformation therefore sprang public schooling, scientific endeavours, economical thinking, enlightenment, modernism, materialism, and without the concept of the individual, we would not have the answers to these movements either, such as ecology, esotericism, communism, post-modernity. And the big elephant in the room: humanism. Most of those movements in the second group by the way try to recover what was thrown out with the baby from the proverbial bath tub: the importance of community as a counterpart to individualism, the importance of spirituality as a counterpart to a knowledge driven realism.
You might have guessed it by now: the reformation concentrated on understanding. And frankly, it often happened that they let go of wonderful wisdom because they did not understand the why of it. Thus letting go of much of the foundation of faith.
Reformed churches in some cases even let go of the necessity of the cross because it did not make sense to them, becoming the people that Paul is talking about: the cross is foolishness to them. This was recovered by the evangelical churches, but they still focused on understanding primarily. Thus we have great evangelical systematic theology.
Along came the pentecostal movement. What I am going to say next might shock you, so I have to open a bracket first. The restoration of the gifts and the work of the Holy Spirit within us is meant by God to bring us deeper and further in our journey from wisdom to understanding and finally knowledge of Him. But…
We tend to react to over-emphasis by stearing the car into the other ditch. When the reformation had ended up over-emphasising understanding and focusing on the brain instead of focusing on the personal relationship with God and getting to know him better, the reaction was to deny the importance of knowledge, even discourage people from learning and asking the question “why”. This movement was greatly helped by an eschatology that expected us to be raptured any minute, thus knowledge was superfluous. An eschatology, by the way, developed by evangelicals with lots of brain power and reasoning.
Let me introduce another term we redefined over the years. Apologetics. It used to mean to defend ones position or ones faith with reason, and now became to apologise for ones believes. Suddenly, individuality took on the meaning and the extreme position that there is no objectivity, only subjectivity. Especially faith and truth were define as very subjective and therefore you could not defend it any longer and more or less had to apologise for it. Personal subjective experience became the best argument for our faith. Maybe because we ourselves started to understand our faith as something good and not the truth.
Pentecostalism and charismatics withdrew from knowledge, taking a step back into wisdom. “Let the Holy Spirit guide you” became an excuse not to think instead of a pull to have a deeper relationship, misunderstanding verses that talked about the belly and the heart as the seat and origin of our guidance. The belly is the place were we have butterflies when in love, and cramps when in fear. The heart is the seat of our emotions, we say. Thus, applying the metaphor of the natural to the supernatural, we became those believers led by emotions and misinterpreted our emotions as the spirit. Where the word translated as belly or heart means the inner-most being, the mind, the heart, the will, the emotions, the inner organs, the real me.
Where reformation and evangelicalism overemphasised reason and understanding, pentecostals and charismatics did the same with emotions. Where one despised wisdom, the other despised understanding. But both are necessary steps to knowledge.
A Call to Redemption
As a child, you do what you are told, and you are secure in this because you know. As you and your world grow, you have the natural urge to understand, while—often by imprint—you still do things just because. Wisdom and understanding. And what was there in the beginning—this wonderful trust out of knowing your parents—is tested and tried. As you most likely get betrayed and let down, your understanding of relationships has to grow as well.
That way, wisdom, obedience, trust are paired with understanding, search, thrive. Both help to deepen the relationship with God and lead to knowledge. To know Him intimately and personally.
Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be like adults. 1Co 14:20
How is this done? Seek a relationship with God, starting with your imprinted, faulty, error prone faculties for emotions and thinking. Use wisdom as in obedience out of trust, and understanding to grow exactly this relationship, and then turn around and redeem your emotions and your thinking. Work out your redemption daily, changing the way you think, feel, will. Using all three: wisdom, understand, and knowledge. Since as you know Him, you gladly obey, whether you do understand or not, and you clearly understand, even though in part, as He wishes to reveal his plans to His friends. And do not do this on your own, sit with the wise.
Let me know what you think about all this. Assuming, you dare to think.