On my first day at seminary, I met my husband in the cafeteria. We were married a year and a half later. What I remember about our first meeting was my husband’s long, black hair tucked neatly under his New York Yankees baseball cap. The bits and pieces of our first conversation have faded quite a bit. But I do remember, as we dined on institutional fare, that we spoke of our favorite movies, places we had visited, and our plans after seminary. I learned enough about my future husband that night to know I liked him and hoped I would be able to dine with him again, preferably over better food.
On that night, many years ago now, I skimmed the surface of the depths of the man who would become my husband. Real knowledge of who he was, and who we were together would be an unfolding process. Certainly, learning facts about my husband helped me to get to know him, but simply knowing facts about him did not encompass knowing him. Knowing him emerged as we forged a life together—a life filled with ups and downs, challenges and opportunities, ‘for better and for worse.’ Real knowledge emerged when I stopped looking at the ‘facts’ about my husband, and began to look through him, understanding the world through his perspective, seeing the world through his eyes. Knowing him and loving him became inseparable.
The knowledge that can arise in the context of intimate relationship offers a helpful picture for understanding the declaration of Jesus that he “is the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Truth is a person and is not simply arriving at all the right facts about a subject, nor is it exclusively contained within the world of philosophical systems, theological constructs, or clever argumentation. Truth is inherently relational and is bound up in the knowledge of persons. When the author of Hebrews explains that “in these last days God has spoken to us in the Son,” there is the underlying assumption that this person is God’s definitive Word to humanity—God’s truth revealed in the person of Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-2). When we know Jesus we know the truth, and that truth is bound up in relational knowledge.
The temptation, of course, is to equate knowledge with facts about someone or something. When we think we know certain things about someone, or certain ideas about something, we think we know the truth. This kind of knowledge breeds arrogance, as the apostle Paul suggests in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3. “If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” How does one come to love God? Is it by accumulating doctrines and principles and ideas about God? Or is it by living in relationship—coming to know the God revealed in the person of Jesus? Knowledge, Paul suggests, is bound up in love for God. More than knowing the facts about the God revealed in Jesus, true knowledge flows from relationship; relationship colors our vision, informs our living, and penetrates our very being so that we begin to see truth through knowing Jesus. And as we truly know Jesus, just as in any relationship, we begin to see the world through the eyes of the beloved.
As I remember my husband now, I think of a shared life together and not simply “facts” about him. Events, memories, impressions, and feelings all serve as the lines and colors of the picture of him in my mind. Even though he is gone, I find that I often think about how he might see something now, what he might think, or how he might respond if he were still with me.
In some similar ways, becoming a follower of Jesus encompasses personal and intimate knowledge based on love for the God who gave Jesus as a love gift to the world. As we love God “we are known by God” in return. In this sense, we have a new understanding, and are on our way to a new definition of knowledge as love. This kind of knowledge does not pre-empt study, learning or ‘facts.’ Rather, as N.T. Wright has written concerning the study of Jesus, “We might perhaps expect that in studying Jesus himself we would find the clue to understanding not only the object we can see through the telescope, the voice we can hear on the telephone, but the nature of sight and hearing themselves. Studying Jesus, in other words, might lead to a reappraisal of the theory of knowledge itself.”(1)
Indeed, real knowledge occurs within the context of relationship since knowledge is relational in character. Therefore, real knowledge involves love and is greater than simply the pursuit of an object. It is the pursuit of a relational subject. Viewing knowledge as love allows one to stop looking at someone, and start looking through him or her. For people who claim to follow Jesus the same is true: we stop looking at Jesus, and start looking through him.
Written by Margaret Manning
(1) N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 96.