Seekers welcome

“Knowledge puffs up.” This phrase is customarily pulled out of the rest of 1 Corinthians 8:1 and cast as a slur upon those like myself intrinsically driven to seek more learning and understanding. Even the immediate context of this phrase in 1 Corinthians 8 shows, however, that not only is knowledge necessary, but that it is actually deficient, incomplete knowledge that puffs up, knowledge devoid of love (for more on this, see this great article from bible.org).

A lover of learning is the type of person who, while his eyes pass over the landscape, notices each glint and out-of-place shadow, and is all but incapable of resisting the urge to investigate. Sometimes I really don’t like being the type who questions things. I fear that it appears I’m doing it for fun, or because I think it’s cool to “question everything”, or because I assume everyone is wrong but I. I fear this because I’ve identified those motivations in other people who like the limelight of being unique; yet I can honestly say that I would hardly put myself through the hassle of critiquing views held by the majority or especially by those I love for no other reason than a little self-aggrandizement.

But this Christmas I began to consider the two groups of people to whom the birth of Jesus was announced. The first group was the Jewish shepherds. They were minding their business, faithfully tending to their responsibilities. They weren’t seeking anything except the protection of their livelihood. They saw the angel and heard the voices of the heavenly hosts, and at once left to find the newborn Christ.

The other group was the Magi from the East, from as far away as Persia. These Gentiles were of a completely different faith, being a priestly class from the Zoroastrian religion. They were astrologers whose dedication to the study of their writings and what they thought the stars and planets told them was so great that they trekked up to a thousand miles to confirm it. Chances are great that they did not see Jesus until at least a couple years later. These men were seekers. There was no special annunciation given to them: God spoke to them through their own learning. This gives me no end of encouragement.

Many quarters of the church nowadays, at least in America, hold instruction in and critical examination of our faith at arms’ length; few denounce those pursuits outright, but most look sideways at it, fearful of becoming “puffed up”, afraid that what they learn might make them want to live out the faith even less. They look at academic, liberal theologians and equate the first adjective with the second. What they don’t do is acknowledge that there is definitely no shortage of liberals and libertines from among the unlearned masses as well. The issue is not of knowledge making the truth-seeking Christians “puffed up”, but of satisfaction with an insufficient amount of the truth of God; this is equally a problem with the learned who are distracted by empty truths and with the ignorant who are content with what gets them their next experience. It is the truth of God that saves: belief in Christ’s lordship and confession thereof are what matters, and even the “experience” side of the equation is dependent on antecedent knowledge of the existence of the thing to be experienced.

I sometimes envy the unquestioning, simple-trust sort of believers whom I know. They just believe and that’s it: this sort of belief, while tending too far towards “blind faith” and utterly impossible to pass on to unbelievers, is apparently sufficient for their own lives and helps them worry less over details. Similarly, the shepherds, being Jewish, were privy to the honor of experiencing the angelic visitation; but don’t forget that the point of the visitation was revelation, which is itself knowledge. God wants us to know so that we can experience. For this reason, God wishes to educate even those in the humblest circumstances. Those who seek, who delve deeper and deeper — God is faithful to lead us the whole thousand miles to bring us to the same place. Thank God for that.

Merry Christmas, everyone!


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