The bounds of knowledge and what God wants us to know

As regular readers will know, I not so long ago came off twitter. You can search this blog, if you’re bothered, to find out why. I much more recently decided to jack in Facebook too. I haven’t said specifically why and, frankly, don’t intend to either. But I am away from them both.

Particularly with twitter, much less facebook which I was on much less, I sometimes find myself wondering what I am not seeing or hearing. I don’t worry about that for long because, frankly, I remember what I was seeing when I was on it. FOMO being what it is, you wonder what you’re missing and then, when you find out (or just remember), wish you hadn’t bothered. Clickbait is built entirely on this principle and twitter is not far behind. What of significance on twitter won’t eventually make it to the usual news channels? What that isn’t significant do I really need to know?

But this led me to thinking about something else related. The bounds of what we can know. Or, rather, the bounds of what we should know. Is it the case that there are things that we are just not meant to know? Things that might, in actual fact, be deeply unhelpful and problematic for us to know? The Bible is unequivocal that the answer is yes. There are things we cannot know and there are things that are not good for us to know.

Job, in his reply to God, says:

I know that you can do anything
and no plan of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, “Who is this who conceals my counsel with ignorance?”
Surely I spoke about things I did not understand,
things too wondrous for me to know.

There are things we don’t know that are simply too big for us to comprehend.

Indeed, Moses – speaking to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy – makes clear, ‘The hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law.’ There are things that God purposes for his people to know, and things that are hidden from them and are not for them to know. King David, speaking of the knowledge of God and how he knows the innermost thoughts of mankind, says ‘This wondrous knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to reach it.’ Trying to get to the bottom of the knowledge of God is not possible for us.

Despite there being things that we cannot fathom, that are beyond our ken, we know that God withholds nothing good from his people (cf. Psalm 84:11). We know that all things work together for the good of those that love Christ (cf. Romans 8:28-30). We know, therefore, that even the things we don’t know, God has withheld from us for our good. Which tells us we were not created to know everything and what God keeps hidden from us he does so for our good. It is a mercy to us that we do not know everything because we would not be able to comprehend it, live with the weight of it nor act at all uprightly in the face of it. These things are too high for us and God, specifically caring for our good, keeps us from such things.

There is a story that Corrie Ten Boom tells in The Hiding Place. She says this:

And so seated next to my father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, “Father, what is sexism?”

He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case off the floor and set it on the floor.

Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said.

I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.

“It’s too heavy,” I said.

“Yes,” he said, “and it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”

Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place

God treats his children this way. There is some knowledge too heavy for his children and we have to trust him to carry it for us. There may not ever be a day we are strong enough to carry it. God, in his goodness and mercy, says he will carry it for us. There are bounds on our knowledge and God sets them in place for our good.

That, of course, is not an excuse for a lazy mind. Sometimes, we jump to claim “mystery” far too early. Sometimes, we jump to say “it cannot be known” when God has revealed more than enough for us to be able to know. Recognising that we can’t know everything is not an excuse to suggest we can know next to nothing. God has given us a sound mind and expects us to use them. We may not be able to know everything, we are certainly not created to know everything, but there is a lot we can nevertheless know and there is much God has revealed if we are prepared to spend the time thinking about such things.

There is so much God has revealed, so much he has to say, that we could devote our lives to finding those things out and still not get to the bottom of it. Not that all those things are unknowable, but that we simply don’t have capacity to know them all. But what I can know, I want to know. What I can discover I want to discover. At least, within confines that I can cope with. Even the things of God that he has revealed, I suspect no one of us will ever know them all. They are knowable, but I doubt anyone of us will know them all at once. The depths of God and his word are too deep – even the things he has revealed in his Word – for a finite mind to grasp all in full. And yet God has revealed himself in his Word, we can know what he intends for all men to know, we can grasp – any one of us – the essence of what he has chosen to reveal. We may never know everything, but we can all know what God wants all of us to know.