June 7, 2023
I found myself thinking this week about how we assess knowledge. If you pursue an advanced degree in a scientific field (and maybe others), you start by learning general knowledge - basic tools and foundational building blocks, that can be applied to a multitude of different situations and problems. As you advance in the curriculum and move to the higher levels, the knowledge taught and developed is more specialized. As you move deeper, you, by necessity, narrow the scope. We used to joke in graduate school, that we were learning more and more about less and less. If this trend continued, it would not surprise us to wake up one day and find out, that we now "know everything about nothing." One of the interesting things about this development of knowledge, however, was the fact, that as you learned more, you also became aware of how much more there is to know. And it truly seemed, that the rate at which your awareness of what you do not know, grows far faster than the accumulation of things you do know. Almost as if the more you know, the dumber you feel. And then there was the class that seemed totally oxymoronic. It was a class on estimating error. It was a recognition that every piece of data was flawed - that buried within was a mistake, a lack of precision, a failure to account for an unknown variable - the end result of which, was that the original data, on which we wanted to base our next decision was wrong by some unknown amount. So, we went about trying to develop techniques for essentially estimating that, which we did not know. And then, of course, every physics student learns the Heisenberg "Uncertainty Principle." It specifies that at the atomic level, there is a fundamental limit to the accuracy with which we can know certain pairs of physical quantities. The example most often given is that you can know the location of an electron, or its velocity, at a specified time, but not both at the same time. The joke that routinely makes the rounds is:
An electron is driving down the highway and is pulled over for speeding. The police officer walks up and says to the electron, "Did you know you were going 80 miles an hour?" The electron, responds in horror, "Oh no, now I am lost."
All of this is a way of dancing around the idea that there is a body of knowledge that we know; and most of us have a fairly good awareness of what we know. But, there is also a vaster body of knowledge that we do not know - and worse, may not even be vaguely aware that it exists.
This reminds me of the poster, that makes its rounds every generation or so, that reads,
"Teenagers, Go Get A Job Quick, While You Still Know Everything!"
It comes from the view that as infants, we know nothing, and realize it. We are hungry for knowledge and soak it up like a sponge. At some point, however, we start to think we are pretty smart, and may even be pretty close to knowing "everything we need to know." And then as we age, reality has a way of humbling us, pointing out, sometimes in a harsh and rude fashion, that we do not know as much as we thought we did. And finally, when we reach the point of a life well lived, we have a hard won appreciation for the magnitude of things we do not know, and probably will not live long enough to ever know this side of heaven. Interestingly enough, the life cycle of how we perceive our parents' knowledge is just the reverse. When we are very young, our parents seem all-knowing - possessing a working knowledge of just about everything. But then as our world expands and we move into adolescence, the limitations of our parents' knowledge start to show, and some teens have been known to declare that their parents are "dumber than a bag of rocks!" It is only as we get older, that they once again seem more knowledgeable and wiser than we once perceived. Of course, key to our new understanding is the fact that we too have finally lived long enough to have been taught some lessons "the hard way," and realize some of those lessons could have been avoided, had we been willing to listen. Back in 1968 Paul Simon wrote a song entitled, The Boxer. In one of its verses it has the line,
"A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."
It speaks to the fact that we all filter what we hear. Some filtering of all the stuff that bombards us on a daily basis is necessary to even function. But sometimes our "spam filter" also blocks out the very knowledge we need to take the next step in our maturation. And if it is God's voice we are blocking, what will He do to get our attention? History is littered with examples, including our own, but let us consider the case of Saul.
Acts 9: 1-9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," He replied, "now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus.
I am pretty sure this was not the first time that God tried to speak to Saul. But Saul chose to block it out - leave His entreaties in the spam folder, so to speak. As a result, God had to "knock some sense into him" the hard way.
Jesus once told the Pharisees,
Luke 19: 20 "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."
If God's word is silenced or blocked, He will resort to more drastic means to deliver his message and get our attention.
Most of us who have tried to ignore Christ at some point in our walk on this earth, bear the scars of the more drastic action God used to get our attention. A friend of mine used to say,
I try to pay attention when God taps me gently on the shoulder, or whispers in my ear, because it is so much easier to take than when He whacks me up side the head with a two-by-four to get my attention.
Just because you are not hearing God, does not necessarily mean He is not speaking. Check your spam filter. Let our prayer this week be along the lines of Bob Cull's 1976 praise chorus,
Open our eyes Lord, we want to see Jesus to reach out and touch Him and say that we love Him Open our ears, Lord, and help us to listen. Open our eyes Lord we want to see Jesus.
Your Brother In Christ,
Please feel free to share this DeacoNote with a friend. and / or post a related thought in the comments below. Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester