Servant Knowledge

knowing-GodTo know God is to know Him as Covenant Lord. God is the authoritative Lord over all, who enters into personal relationship with His people. All our knowledge of Him must coincide with these realities. I call this, in following the theological work of John Frame, “servant knowledge.” Such knowledge leads us to epistemic humility. Servant knowledge leads us to embrace both God’s knowability and His incomprehensibility.

If God is Lord over all we have to ask, what kind of knowledge is consistent with His Lordship? At the outset we must concede that our knowledge of God is subject to His authority, control, and presence. I can know nothing about God except what He determines to reveal to me. Carl F. Henry so powerful communicated this when he wrote:

All merely human affirmations about God curl into a question mark. We cannot spy out the secrets of God by obtrusive curiosity. Not even theologians of a technological era, not even Americans with their skill in probing the surface of the moon, have any special radar for penetrating the mysteries of god’s being and ways. Apart from God’s initiative, God’s act, God’s revelation, no confident basis exists for God-talk. “The Things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11b, ASV). If we are authorized to say anything at all about the living God, it is only because of God’s initiative and revelation. God’s disclosure alone can transform our wavering questions concerning ultimate reality into confident exclamations! (God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 2, p. 8).

Henry rather poetically and pointedly reminds us that God’s self-revelation is “divinely initiated.” We cannot know God apart from His willingness to be known and to aid our pursuit of knowledge. We may say, then, as John Frame does, that knowing God is “covenantal in character” (The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 40).

As Covenant Lord God is the transcendent ruler of the universe. Knowing Him as Lord means knowing and submitting to His divine authority and control. This means in my knowledge of Him I maintain the humble position of a servant. I am looking to Him for help in discerning truth and in interpreting His Word. I can claim no independent knowledge, no epistemic autonomy. All knowledge is a result of His grace. I must also recognize that as the transcendent Lord I can never plumb the depths of God. I can never know God exhaustively. This seems an obvious feature of God’s knowability, but servant knowledge must also concede that we can actually know real truths about God.

As “Covenantal” Lord, God enters into relationship with His creation. As Dr. Frame writes:

God’s lordship is a deeply personal and practical concept. God is not a vague abstract principle or force but a living person who fellowships with His people. He is the living and true God, as opposed to all the deaf and dumb idols of this world. Knowledge of Him, therefore, is also a person-to-person knowledge. God’s presence is not something that we discover through refined theoretical intelligence. Rather, God is unavoidably close to His creation. We are involved with Him all the time. (17)

Throughout the Scriptures God reveals Himself in personal relationship with people. He names himself for them, elucidates His character, and manifests His presence. His Lordship is a personal interaction. He is a personal Lord over a people. Lordship means Covenant Head in Scripture. So God, when He is preparing to enter into Covenant with the nation of Israel He tells Moses:

Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’” (Exodus 6:6-8)

His Lordship is personal. So servant-knowledge is knowledge of a personal God who desires to be known.

To demonstrate epistemic humility is not merely to concede “I cannot know God exhaustively,” it is also to say “What God reveals to us we can surely know.” The complete denial of God’s knowability is arrogant, for God does actually desire to be known and makes knowledge of Himself possible. Servant knowledge submits to this reality as much as to the former truth. Humility is to acknowledge as true what God himself says is true.

Servants submit to God’s lordship over all things, even knowledge. All that we know is a gift of grace, and this is nonetheless true in areas of God-knowledge. We can never know all there is to know about God, but epistemic humility can know the things that God has chosen to reveal of Himself. We know Him as Covenant Lord. We submit to his authority and control, but we also enjoy His presence. God can truly be known, if not exhaustively.

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