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February 28, 2022
March 21, 2024

The Nuance of Knowledge

No one seems to enjoy being told, “You don’t need to know.” Something in our human nature bristles against such a paternalistic and minimizing statement. Even in perfection, our forbearers Adam and Eve didn’t exactly respond well to being told the tree of the knowledge of good and evil wasn’t made for them. I mean, they seemed good with it at first, but all it took was the counsel of a slick conniving serpent to shift their response. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) slid into the desires of their hearts and they bit into the belief that knowing more would be better. Turns out they were wrong.

This is not at all to say knowledge is bad. No doubt there is a baseline of knowledge required for growth and maturity. We should be growing daily in our knowledge of God, His design, our neighbors, and various other things in life. Without this general baseline of knowledge and steady growth in understanding, we will be lacking. However, from the beginning, there have always been things we were not built to know—and that remains true today.

Our Present Reality

It strikes me in our current age of smartphones, the world wide web, Alexa, Siri, and Google, that we have access to more information than ever has been possible in human history. At our fingertips, contained in shiny black rectangles, exists a total volume of knowledge that no human mind can hold. Simply knowing we have access to so much information has created its own problems. It has implicitly taught us we should be able to figure everything out while also engendering the feeling that we have a right to know pretty much everything. In other words, in a new way, people today are reaching for digital omniscience and believing that knowing everything will make things better.

Does this sound familiar? It seems all too consistent with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Humanity's tendency to reach out for what will destroy it is shockingly consistent. The belief that knowing more is better remains steadfastly part of the human condition. Scripture, however, offers a different, more nuanced understanding of knowledge.

The Cost of Knowledge

"For in much wisdom is much vexation,
and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow." (Ecclesiastes 1:18 ESV)

I imagine all counselors can connect with what Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 1:18. The more clients we meet with, the greater our breadth and depth of understanding become regarding the harrowing and haunting consequences of sin.

I often caution people considering a career in counseling with this passage—reminding them that once you hear certain things you cannot forget them or go back in time. You must know that God has called you into this work if you are going to endure the weight of painful knowledge that will come your way.

Knowledge adds vexation and sorrow to our lives. This is, again, not to make knowledge unworthy of pursuit, but rather to give caution to the endless pursuit of knowledge for its own ends. Later, in the concluding chapter of Ecclesiastes Solomon follows up with these instructive words:

"The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." (Ecclesiastes 12:11-13 ESV)

Solomon warns us about the endless pursuit of knowledge and instead encourages us to simply fear God and follow His design. Once again, this counsel feels as old as creation.

Knowledge and Pride

"Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that 'all of us possess knowledge.' This 'knowledge' puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know." (1 Corinthians 8:1-2 ESV)

Knowledge pursued for its own end tends to produce pride. Knowledge is not inherently beneficial. Knowing the right answer does not make you a good person. In fact, we tend to find insufferable know-it-alls, well, insufferable. Instead of being puffed up in knowledge, we are invited to build up in love. These are not mutually exclusive, but love is preeminent to knowledge.

Again, this is not to say that knowledge is unimportant, because it is. Rather, the right knowledge paired with love is indispensable for growth in life. If we are properly calibrated to our nature and limitations, we will also find the more we know the more we understand how little we know. This, by God’s grace, invites us into a proper posture of humility and faith.

The Knowledge We Need

"Thus says the Lord: 'Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.'” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

More often than not, our clients come to counseling believing they need new knowledge. They need insight into themselves or an understanding of the mechanics and reasoning behind their struggles. They are looking for an instruction manual that will show them how to identify and rectify their problems. And, no doubt, sometimes in counseling this is what is needed, but it is never all that is needed.

We find our healing not by knowing ourselves or our struggles more intimately, but rather by knowing our God more intimately. Knowing God more and more reorders what has been disordered in our lives. Knowing Him allows us to lean into faith for what we cannot comprehend. Knowing Him and His perfect love allows us to lay anxiety aside and trust that stepping into the unknown always means stepping into what God already knows and has prepared for us. Because He knows, we don’t have to.

So, may we have the faith to trust God’s boundaries for us. May we be thoughtful not only in the knowledge we pursue, but also in the knowledge we offer our clients. May we be careful to not unduly burden our clients with knowledge that is ill-suited for their current circumstances. May we avoid leading our clients into the belief that more knowledge of their problems is the solution. Instead, may we help them grow evermore in the knowledge of Him who made them and Him for whom they were made.

  1. Why is it so tempting to believe if we knew more that things would get better? Is there an area of your life where you are finding this feeling particularly present?
  2. What knowledge are you currently pursuing that you probably shouldn’t? What streams of knowledge do you perhaps need to shut off?
  3. In what ways are you currently growing in your knowledge of God? Is your love of God growing with your knowledge of Him?
  4. Solomon sums up the Christian life as properly fearing God and following His commands. In what ways is your life lining up with this? Where is it not? What needs to change?

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Andrew Dealy
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