Knowledge and Faith

By Gwen Sellers

"Knowledge is power."

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen...And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Hebrews 11:1, 6).

Each of these quotes has played a guiding role in my life. Yet, on the face of it, they can seem to contradict. Does having knowledge negate faith? Is God pleased by our desire to gain information? As with so many things in life, I think balance is the key.

My parents both hold science degrees, as did the majority of my grandparents. I've been taught to seek after information, to test hypotheses, and that wise decisions are best made when knowledge is most complete. This approach to life has worked for me in many ways. More importantly, I think it is a biblical approach. God does not ask us to set aside our minds, rather He speaks highly of wisdom. A main aim of the Bible is to give us knowledge of God. Second Timothy 2:15 says, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." We're supposed to be able to handle the Bible correctly. This implies having some knowledge and using our intellect. Jesus included loving the Lord with our minds in giving the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-34). Proverbs 18 says, "Whoever isolates himself seeks out his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion...If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame...An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge" (Proverbs 18:12, 13, 15). Clearly God is not anti-knowledge.

Yet, there is danger in holding only a "knowledge is power" approach to life. Such an approach leads easily to pride. We start glorifying our intellect, thinking that those who know the most are the most important. We may also come to believe that as long as we know things, we can control them. Clearly this is unbiblical. Proverbs 26:12 says, "Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him." In 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 Paul talks about God's plan of salvation as foolish by human standards. First Corinthians 3:1823 says:
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness," and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile." So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
Relying on our intellect is not only unbiblical in the sense that it leads to pride, it just doesn't even work. Our human intellect has been marred by the Fall. And God does not always work according to the ways we think He should (Isaiah 55:89). Even aside from any biblical consideration, relying only on a "knowledge is power" approach to life leaves people lacking. There is no way we can ever know everything. Perhaps more convincingly in a visceral sense, just because we know something doesn't mean we can control or change it.

The "knowledge is power" approach can also lend itself to fear. What if I don't know everything about this situation? Should I still act? Can I make a decision if my information is incomplete? What if I think I have complete information but I really don't? If we spend all our time seeking after knowledge, we may fail to actually live life.

Faith, on the other hand, implies some lack of knowledge. Hebrews 11:1 tells us faith is, in part, "the conviction of things not seen." This is not to say that faith is blind or baseless. But it does require trust. There is some lack of knowledge and yet we act anyway. Because the object of our faith is God, we don't need to have all the information. We know enough about Him — through His Word and by the ways He has acted in our lives in the past — that we proceed without all the information. We also know enough about Him to recognize that our intellect leaves us lacking. We realize who we are and how much in need we are. So we give up our desire to control the world and instead respond in obedience to the One who actually is in control.

For me, an excellent example of how "knowledge is power" and faith interact is in dealing with disease. My dad has Huntington's Disease, a neurodegenerative genetic disease. My parents have sought out information about the disease, actively support research for a cure, find new ways of coping with symptoms, and fully trust God in the midst. We have certain expectations of what is likely to happen, but ultimately trust that God will work things out the best way possible (Romans 8:28). We are fighting the progression of the disease with scientific knowledge and with prayer. Information tells us what we are dealing with. Faith tells us we are not dealing with it alone. Information gives us some practical help. Faith prompts us to receive that help as a gift from God. Information alone would tell us to despair — there is currently no cure. Faith tells us there is reason for hope — we serve a mighty God. Information alone would tell us to spend all our energy on finding a cure. Faith tells us the biggest cure humanity needs is one from sin, and that cure has been found in Jesus Christ. In our struggle with Huntington's Disease, my family needs both knowledge and faith. We want to know what we're dealing with and use the full capacity of the minds God gave us to deal with it well. We also want to be aware of the bigger picture and trust in the One who has all the information and who is ultimately in control. Things may look bleak when we have only information. But when we also have faith, there is immense reason for hope.

Image Credit: Unsplash; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Hardships

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Published 1-14-16