Gods of This World: Knowledge
O Timothy, guard that which is committed unto thee, turning away from the profane babblings and oppositions of the knowledge which is falsely so called; which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with you (1 Timothy 6:20-21).
Existence “under the sun” is full of challenges, dangers, and difficulties; humans are actually quite weak and relatively powerless against many of the physical and spiritual forces which exist around them. In the face of these challenges, humanity’s great advantage is the brain and our ability to obtain and maintain knowledge.
Advancement of knowledge has allowed mankind to alleviate many of the hazards of our existence and has given us a level of mastery over the creation. Advancements in knowledge about the nature and spread of disease has reduced the severity and depth of many plagues; advancements in other branches of scientific knowledge have allowed us to harness resources to power time-saving tools. Knowledge seems to be advancing at an ever-faster pace: the amount of information known keeps doubling, and it is now all but impossible to be a true “renaissance person,” having a decent understanding in all realms of human investigation.
While the procurement of knowledge provides many benefits, knowledge itself is not inherently wrong, and humans ought to seek after the knowledge of the truth (cf. John 8:32), humans are often tempted to make knowledge a god in some way or another.
Even though we humans keep learning more about ourselves and the universe around us, we have a tendency to develop myopia about our knowledge and can come to the conviction that what we know and see as we know and see it is what true and all there is. In so doing we make a god out of the knowledge we have, considering it as absolute, and thus fall into error. No matter how much more we may learn about ourselves and our environment, there will be more to learn, and since we cannot easily recognize the shape or form of what we do not yet understand, there is no way we can ever be fully certain of how well what we know fits with the greater picture of reality. This is why we must walk by faith, not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7): we do not and cannot know everything!
Humans have also come to the conclusion that “knowledge is power,” and often for good reason: it is hard to master a craft or skill or maintain an advantage over another if you do not know much about it and/or if your opponent knows more than you. This impulse to learn and know is good and valuable in many respects but must never be made absolute: there are questions we can ask to which no satisfactory answer can ever be given (cf. Ecclesiastes 8:14-17). Knowledge itself always has its limitations, because knowledge is not God, and there is more to existence than knowledge!
Knowledge can also deceive, since not all things called “knowledge” truly inform or truly make sense of the world. There is plenty of false information out there, and we must therefore exercise discernment to understand what is really true from what merely masquerades as truth. Humans like to feel as if “in the know,” and therefore prove easily deceived into following after false religions positing “secret mysteries” that can only be understood by initiates. The incipient form of one such religion, Gnosticism, is what Paul warns Timothy about in 1 Timothy 6:20-21.
We do well to remember that God has given man the ability to learn and know not as an end unto itself but as the means to the end. Knowledge is not God; God, and for that matter, Christianity, is more than a set of true facts to be understood and known. Knowledge is to be gained in order to come to an understanding of God in Christ and to be applied to follow after Him and serve Him (1 John 2:3-6). Let us not be deceived or confused: knowledge is not god and cannot save. Instead, let us gain knowledge about the One All-Knowing God so as to put our trust in Him and thus be saved (2 Timothy 2:25-26)!
Ethan R. Longhenry