The Charleston Shooting, The Information Age & The Need for Knowledge

We live in unique times. But there is nothing unique about the times. The philosopher of Ecclesiastes is prophetic still: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” To think there is novelty in our day is in many ways dangerous and arrogant. People live and people die and somewhere in between there is a struggle for meaning and beauty and something that will last. This is not to make light of our universal plight—it is to make our plight universal.

If the philosopher of Ecclesiastes is right, the shots—real and figurative, from guns and from mouths—that have been fired in our past are still being fired. The chaos and unrest of these times is not a dawning of a new day—it is the repeating of the day that will persist until Christ wins us at last to the everlasting day. Yet there is something different, something new about the shots being fired today—the shots of white supremacist guns or otherwise. Whether fired into the peaceful halls of a historic church house or from behind the anonymity of a Twitter handle, all shots fired today are heard around the world.

Gone is the age of ignorance. We live in times that are inundated with information. We have unfettered access to happenings around the world. Not only do we have access to information, we desire it. Our appetite for information is evidenced by our slavery to our smart phones. We glance at our Twitter and Google News feeds at every spare moment, perhaps just in case the world changes before our eyes. Even if you have escaped the luring pull of your smartphone, we no longer have newscasts without a scrolling ticker at the bottom of the screen so we can watch and read the news at the same time. And here lies a great danger—mistaking information for knowledge. With such a seeming wealth of information, we paradoxically find ourselves in an abundance of un-information.

As the people of God, we cannot afford such confusion. We cannot engage the world with mere information. We need what the apostle Paul calls “knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness.” The information we possess in our day is often times static and distant. We have a lot of information about something, some place, someone or some event while failing to really know (or have knowledge of) that thing, place, person or event. For example, it is easy, too easy even, for me to relay information to you about the tragic event in Charleston last week. I can tell you the shooter’s name, the victim’s names, what type of gun he was carrying and where the shooting happened. But I only have information about these things like I only have information about Abraham Lincoln. My information about Abraham Lincoln is not transformational. And this is where information proves its insufficiency. True, biblical knowledge is transformational. It changes the way we think and act and speak, and it does so in a way that accords with godliness.

Knowledge is transformational because it is more than a learned fact, it is a lived experience. It is does not arise from a distance, it is found in a nearness. It is not a collection of isolated propositions, it is the cohesion of them into a whole. It is not static and emotionless, it is dynamic and felt. It is not found scrolling through a news feed, it is found walking through the streets. It is not quick to speak, it is quick to listen. It is not a friend of arrogance, it is an ally of humility.

So if this is knowledge, who can really know anything? Who can obtain and possess knowledge? Jesus. Jesus alone has truly entered into the world to know it, not simply know about it. And in Him, we too can truly know the world—and the people, places and events within it—in a way that is truer, deeper, more meaningful than before. And the test of the validity of our knowledge is our growth in godliness. If Christ is on display, if our speech is seasoned with salt, if we act in self-control, if we are fueled by joy, then by the grace of God we have been loosed from our bonds to information and freed to knowledge.

Whatever the circumstance but especially in the tension of these times, we as the people of God are called to display Christ to the world, to serve as portals through which the light of the hope of His restoration and renewal shine unto the world’s darkened landscape. If our life in the world and our engagement of it is compelled only by information, we will fail our task. We will think and act and speak in ways that support and accord with our own agendas and not Christ’s. The times are too precious, our mission too momentous. Whether addressing the injustice in Charleston, the meaning of the Confederate flag, the remaining racial tensions in America or any other topic, we must not be content to sit removed and accumulate information. We must, as Christ modeled for us, draw near to know. And in our Christ-like knowing, we will be changed and moved to Christ-like loving. May Christ be gracious to grant His church an insatiable appetite for knowledge of the truth that accords with godliness.

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