Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

Religious Knowing

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Is God really known?

I. Introduction

  • The most direct answer to this question is "No"
  • When speaking about the essence of God, we, humans, can never understand the fullness and the mysterious truth of God's essential reality.
  • However, this does not mean that we cannot know things about God, or that we cannot be in knowing communion with God.
  • God is the One that reaches out to His creation to commune with it. We refer to this reaching out as "Divine Revelation"
  • This means that God goes out of Himself to relate to what He had created. It is the motive of love with which God relates to His creatures.
  • If we active participant and respond to this Divine Revelation, we become in communion with God. This very communion is the "knowledge of God".

II. The Value of Knowledge

  • Knowing is important to human beings.
  • To Know is to have some idea about how things are, and consequently to be able to deal with reality appropriately.
  • Example: To know that it is raining makes it possible to dress appropriately
  • What we know forms us, gives us a view on the world and influences our character.

III. How Do We Know Anything?

  • There are several ways that we can come to some knowledge about things:
    1. Intuition:
      • It is the unmediated perception of some condition or reality.
      • It is your "gut feeling".
      • The problem with intuitive knowledge is that it is difficult to share it effectively with others.
    2. Deduction:
      • It is drawing on our logical abilities to reason from one premise to another.
      • Example: A > B and B > C therefore we deduce that A > C
    3. Experiment:
      • It is a method by which people test ideas. We call these ideas "Hypotheses" which are mere assumptions about how things work.
      • Repeatedly verified hypotheses provide us with "scientific knowledge"
    4. Experience:
      • We say, you do not really know what it means to be (....) until it has happened to you.
      • To know what it means to be a "mother" is to experience it.
    5. Revelation:
      • It is a way of knowing something when someone tells us what we could not otherwise know.
      • When the doctor asks you how you feel, you "reveal" to him your aches and pains.
      • The listener depends on the accuracy of what is said and the trustworthiness of the person who reveals it.
      • Someone could lie to you. You may then use some of the other means of knowing mentioned earlier to assess the trustworthiness of the source.
  • The point is that we can "know" many things but our knowledge is never "absolute"
  • We may know something about many things and many things about something but never everything about anything.

IV. How Do We Know About God?

  • We know about God in the same way we know about other things, but the mix and emphasis is different. Because not all the methods are applicable to the reality of God.
  • The experimental method is an excellent method to know about material and physical things. However, it is unreliable when dealing when non-measurable, non-tangible realities.

V. Ways of Knowing God

  1. Knowing God intuitively
    • Throughout the ages, people have had "intuitive" knowledge of divine things. Nearly every culture and race of people has had some sense of the divine.
    • Scholars call this the "numinous sense" or the "transcendent'
  2. Knowing God deductively
    • People may argue for the existence of God on the basis of deductive reasoning. Yet most theologians hold that one cannot adequately "prove" or "disprove" the existence of God.
  3. Knowing God by experience
    • Many people have had a profound personal experience of the presence of God in their lives.
    • These experiences are subjective in nature that they can be shared with others only with difficulty.
  4. Knowing God by Experiment
    • The hypothesis is that God exists and loves us, the experiment is to conform one's life to His ways, the proof is found in the results it produces.
    • But since so much of this is subject to personal values and experiences, It cannot be considered as fully objective verification of God' existence.
  5. Knowing God by Revelation
    • We know God, also, when God makes Himself known to us.
    • The Scriptures are a record of God's self-revelation to His creatures.
    • In the New Testament period, the most striking divine revelation was Jesus Christ Himself, the incarnate Logos.
    • But like all other ways of knowing, it is not "absolute knowledge". It points to much truth about God but does not exhaust it.

VI. Why No Absolute Knowledge of God?

  • God wants us to be free to accept Him and to freely respond to what He has done for us.
  • Only then can we become what we really are, the image and likeness of God.

VII. Divine Revelation

  • These experiences of Divine Revelation were not seen by those who experienced them as private and subjective intuitions or insights.
  • They understood them as unique reality, distinct from any other form of knowledge.
  • Eventually this revelation and knowledge were written down into Scriptures. And a point in time was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
    • "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor...To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord... And He began to say to them, 'Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'"(Luke 4:18-21).
    • "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son" (Hebrews 1:1-2).
  • Therefore Divine Revelation was made manifest in the person, life and work of Jesus Christ.
  • The Apostles were witnesses to this revelation and conveyed it to the Church.

VIII. Conclusion

  • In conclusion, our response to the Divine Revelation and sharing in this revealed "knowledge" is extremely pivotal and essential to our being.
  • The Scriptures tell us that with faith and virtue we need to add knowledge.
  • "But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge" (2 Peter 1:5).

    Or else...
  • What good is it to have faith and the desire to love (virtue)?
  • Unless we know where to ground our faith and channel our virtue?

Glory be to God Forever

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