Facts, knowing, and mystery

How do we know something? Do we know it when we have all the facts? Or, is there a more significant knowing? For instance, I might have all the facts about lemonade, but that doesn’t mean I know what it’s like to drink lemonade. It doesn’t describe the purpose of lemonade or why I would want to drink it in the first place.

Here are the basic facts about my wife’s chemical makeup: she’s 65% oxygen, 18.5% carbon, 9.5% hydrogen, 3.2% nitrogen, along with other trace elements. But we know that this doesn’t describe who she is in the least bit. I may even know a lot of personal data about her, but that doesn’t mean I actually know her as a person. My love for her could be described as chemical reactions in my brain and various hormones in my body, but that doesn’t really describe what love is, does it.

What’s my point? As I said here and here, facts don’t always lead us to truth…or in this case, knowledge. As others have observed, in our zeal for scientific explanation in Western culture, we seem to have reached a crisis of meaning. While science has delivered the goods on technology it has left us cold and uninspired as human beings. And it can really do no other when we look to it for life.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If I need medical treatment, or for something to be better, faster, safer, cheaper, easier, give me science and technology! But it’s not what I want when it comes to the things that really matter and give my life meaning…like love, romance, family, friendships, adventure, bliss, and a sense of purpose.

The best that technology can do in this regard is distract us when we lack those things.

A weakness is just a strength used indiscriminately. And it seems our technological prowess has made us  existentially impotent.

While science can tell us how things work, it doesn’t address why they should work. Science is a good method for discovery but it cannot provide ontological meaning. It cannot explain our lives.

You see, ice-cold lemonade is meant to be enjoyed on a hot summer day. And what makes life meaningful is being with those we love. It’s found in our friendships, when we experience joy, when we’re moved by the noble, the beautiful, the sublime, or when we see compassionate self-sacrifice, when we laugh and even when we cry…as long as we don’t have to do it alone. This is the stuff of life. Science and technology can only serve these things, they cannot replace them.

One more thing. There’s something in us that wants to be part of something bigger than ourselves. And the good news is, we were born into a great transcendent mystery! One that’s unfolding before us as we traverse through time and space. It eludes our dogmatic certitudes and need to stay in control. No matter how we try to snuff it out, it ever haunts our soul.

But I like what Richard Rohr said about mystery. It’s not never knowing, it’s ever knowing. Beloved, we’ve been born for a glorious purpose; it goes ever onward, ever unfolding.  And we ultimately find that purpose when we accept Christ’s invitation into His life.

11-12 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. (Eph.1:11-12 MSG)

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 42 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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10 Responses to Facts, knowing, and mystery

  1. John Branyan says:

    Things get out of balance when we insist on “understanding” everything before we “know” it.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Exactly. This is the problem when we dismiss the experiential as a way of knowing. We think we know something when we really don’t. Academic facts are like the “Nutritional Facts” on the back of the lemonade carton. They describe what’s in the box but not much more. This is the problem with historical criticism. Skeptics revise and readjust history to suit their a priori conclusions (about miracles, etc). The truth is, they weren’t there. They cannot disprove anything. They have no knowledge, just scattered bits of data. To be dogmatic about it is a bit silly.

  2. Great analogy with the lemonade, Mel. It kind of reminds me the sci/fi notion of having simply “ingested my nutritional wafer.” That’s not exactly “eating” is it? We eat with our eyes first, and then our taste buds, then the company we’re in, some good conversation. A whole lot goes into shaping a meal and how we experience it. I love how Jesus knew that already, how profound the significance of the Last Supper is,how much more is going on then meets the eye when we have a meal with Him.

    • Mel Wild says:

      “I love how Jesus knew that already, how profound the significance of the Last Supper is, how much more is going on then meets the eye when we have a meal with Him.”

      Another great example. It’s not about the Passover event or even the significance that it’s their last meal together. These were types and shadows, nothing more. In the Middle East, sharing a meal was the way covenants were made, it was a sign of acceptance and inclusion. The message is, it’s no longer about slaughtering lambs in order to appease God like the pagans, which was not God’s intent in the first place. This bread and wine is about covenant and intimate communion in the life of God in Christ! A totally different order of priesthood.

  3. Neil Rickert says:

    While science has delivered the goods on technology it has left us cold and uninspired as human beings.

    It has not left me cold and uninspired. If anything, it is those Sunday sermons that leave me cold and uninspired. Or a trip to the art museum can leave me cold and uninspired.

    We humans are a diverse lot. What motivates and inspires one person might not be what motivates and inspires another.

    • Mel Wild says:

      So, what makes you feel most alive?

      • Neil Rickert says:

        Learning new interesting things.

        • Mel Wild says:

          So, discovery makes you feel alive. That’s a good motivator. I’m also motivated by that myself. And that was my point. I’m not making a case against science or technology and I agree with you that we are diverse and motivated differently. But that what makes our lives full and meaningful is not the “stuff,” but love, relationships, adventure, etc. The “stuff” can only serve that end. It cannot give our lives meaning.

          Btw, I’m not motivated by boring sermons either. 🙂

  4. Pingback: “Or God will be pissed” – intolerant tolerances | Just me being curious

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