When Knowledge Becomes Sin

A few years ago, I decided one of my goals was to run a half-marathon. I’d been an avid runner for many years but had never gone above a 10k. Then in the summer of 2018, I suffered a knee injury from which my doctor assured me while, yes, I would recover, my running days were over.

To put it mildly, I don’t like being told what I can’t do.

So in an effort to prove both my doctor and my body wrong, I began researching training methods and slowly trying to rebuild the strength in my knee. I have several running buddies to whom I could have gone for advice but, out of all of them, who do you think I went?

Not the one who runs a couple miles every week. Not even the hardcore one who cranks out a 10k every weekend or the one who had run a full marathon before. I went to the one who had suffered a knee injury like mine and had successfully returning to a regular running routine.

Why? All of my friends knew about running, of course. But this friend knew my particular struggle because she’d experienced it in her own life before.

There is a distinct difference between knowing about something and knowing it. For example, I can know about a new restaurant in town by seeing a billboard. But can I truly know the restaurant until I go there myself? Knowing about the restaurant is as easy as picking up the newspaper and seeing an advertisement; knowing it would involve eating its food, taking in its ambience, and experiencing its service.

Or, let’s take this a step further. Many people know my husband. He has a high-profile job at our Air Force base, one in which he interacts with dozens of people on a daily basis. He’s a boss, a teacher, a mentor, a representative. People know him.

But I know him.

The difference between knowing about someone/something versus truly knowing it/him/her is summed up in two words: experience and intimacy.

I’m a voracious reader. There are many subjects about which I can say I know quite a bit. But can I have the same level of knowledge of, say, escaping from a North Korean gulag as Kang Chol-Hwan? I can read his amazing book Aquariums of Pyongyang over and over and over, but I will never get the same level of knowledge has he has simply because he was there. He lived it. He has intimacy and experience with his subject matter in a way I hope I never will.

The same is true of God.

Most people in the world know about God. Thanks to modern technology and the tireless work of faithful missionaries, there are very few corners of the globe left to which the Gospel hasn’t been preached. Yes, most people know about God. But far fewer know Him. And I’m not just talking about those who subscribe to another faith system or those who reject the notion of God entirely. Sadly, I’m also talking about some self-professing Christians.

Because I used to be one of them.

As I mentioned earlier, I love to read. A lot. And, as I’ve talked about about several times in this blog and other places, I’m also an extremely curious person. When something piques my interest, I tend to journey down the rabbit hole for weeks, months, sometimes even years on end. Such was the case when I discovered Christianity. I wanted to know everything. I devoured Scripture and devotionals, books on apologetics and hermeneutics, pretty much anything I could find that would bolster my knowledge of God.

No, not my knowledge of God. My knowledge about God.

See, coming from someone with a heavily academic background, I thought there was nothing I couldn’t learn from books. Books were how we gain knowledge, understanding, and experience, right? And while all of these Christian books were wonderful and I highly encourage the reading of MANY Christian scholars and especially Scripture, for me, it led to me missing the point of Jesus entirely.

For me, knowing about God led to a sense of self-righteousness and pride. I could quote the Scripture like nobody’s business. I had a rebuttal for any argument an atheist could throw my way. I had all the background information needed to properly interpret the Bible when someone pulled a verse out of context. Yes, I knew all about God.

But my heart was cold, hardened, and far from Him. For all my profession of faith, the fruit of the spirit was not evident in my life. Instead, I was rotten. And when hard times struck–particularly the COVID-19 pandemic–I was able to see my lack all the clearer. All my knowledge, academics, and learning meant nothing when the world itself went haywire.

Because all that information was in my head, not in my heart.

In the Book of Job, we read about the life of another man whose world was upturned in the blink of an eye. A once-prosperous man was reduced to ruin at the death of his family, the loss of his livelihood, and the destruction of his earthly possessions. For 37 chapters, we see Job and his friends try to make sense of his misfortune. While Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar seem convinced Job’s downfall is a result of his unrepentant sin, Job himself wavers between admittance of his own imperfection, frustration at God, and bewilderment at just what sin could be worthy of such devastation. He longs to speak to God and find out why He has allowed this to happen to him. While admitting the greatness and unfathomability of God’s character, he still bemoans his circumstances and questions God’s character in light of His perceived inaction and silence.

And then, in chapter 38, the Lord finally speaks.

Job wants answers but God, instead, gives him more questions.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?” He asks in 38:4

“Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?” (38:12)

“Do you give the horse its strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane?” (39:19)

“Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his?” (40:9)

“Who has a claim against me that I must pay?” (41:11a)

In short, God is putting Job in his place. He is giving him a fresh sense of perspective: He is God. Job is not.

But, to our human sensibilities, He never truly answered Job’s questions. He did not get a reason for his sufferings or a rationale behind all the things he had lost, as he had originally wanted. Instead, the Creator of the Universe took the time to speak to His created and remind Him of His identity.

And how does Job respond?

“I know that you can do all these things. No plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things to wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you will answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (42:2-6, emphasis mine)

At this point, Job’s circumstances hadn’t changed (although they would later in the story). He hadn’t received the answers to the questions he had about God. But now, rather than indignation and frustration, he approaches God with humility and repentance. Why? His attitude was not radically changed by hearing about God from his friends or even his own learning. It was not changed by having his sickness healed or fortune restored. Rather, his change was a result of seeing God. He now had intimacy and experience with Him on a much deeper level.

In short, he had gone from knowing about Him to knowing Him.

The same is true for us today. While going to church and reading Scripture are wonderful disciplines to practice, they are worthless if we don’t take those things and move them from our heads down to our hearts, allowing ourselves to be radically changed by the experience of knowing God rather than knowing about Him. We need to be prayerfully open to His presence, seeking above all else an awareness of Who He is.

Knowing about God will puff us up; knowing Him will bring us to our knees.

Knowing about Him will lead to arrogance; knowing Him brings about the fruit of humility.

Knowing about God demands answers; knowing Him makes us realize He IS the answer.

This is still a struggle in my life. I lean heavily toward the academic side, and it’s in my nature to be a seeker of knowledge. My daily prayer–for myself and for you–would be that, while we never stop searching for wisdom, we do not allow it to block our view of the One who is ALL wisdom.

By all means, know about God, my friends….but, more importantly, know Him. It makes all the difference.

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