by Aaron Edwards.
One of the ever-present dangers of our digital age is not only the extent to which it makes us thoughtless, but also the extent to which it overwhelms us with thoughts, and the potential for more thoughts, ever threatening to destabilise our ability to handle the rapidly underdeveloped thoughts we currently have in our heads. We are more readily aware of what we don’t know than ever before and our digitised selves yearn not only to be known but to be in the know of all that can be known.
Wesley encouraged his ministers to read books for at least five hours a day. In our thoughtlessly bureaucratic age, the average full-time academic – let alone the average minister[!] – is lucky if they get to read a book for 5 hours per week. With our time ever-squashed by the weight of our inboxes, we are painfully aware of all we’d like to know, but never will. There are books that stare down at us from our shelves, judging us for our perpetual neglect of their thoughts. To buy books, said Schopenhauer, would be a wonderful thing, if only we could also buy the time to read them. One of the problems of this is that in our perpetual grasp of more thoughts, we lose sight of the point of thought itself. We pursue a kind of intellectual wholeness, or peace – but we forget that intellectual peace is contingent, and is less about how much we know than about how we know.
The trouble is, there are always more thoughts to think. And because there are always more thoughts to think, we can never be satisfied with our grasp of what we currently pertain to know. Nobody is ultimately satisfied with their thoughts, with their intellectual grasp of reality and ideality. There are gaping voids in our mosaic, most of which we don’t even know about because we can only see one small part of the mosaic and we tend to think of it as ‘complete’. There are always more thoughts to think.
All this might be cause for intellectual despair, as swathes of twentieth century philosophers, in one way or another, led us to believe. And yet intellectual peace is not actually impossible, precisely because it is not located in our comprehensive mastery of all that can be known. Our mistake is to think that if only we grasped the true depths of Dostoevsky, if only we apprehended the historical nuances of the French Revolution, if only we understood the forces behind economics, if only we had a firmer grasp of this or that doctrine, then suddenly all would fall into place and we would reach that zen of intellectual peace. But alas! There are always more thoughts to think.
Indeed, God has precisely designed this problem for us. Of the making of books there is no end, said Solomon. The more we know, the more we need to know. And yet God does not discourage our pursuit of knowing. Rather, he calls us to have ‘a theology of knowing’, to desire Him in the midst of our knowledge of all the reality and ideality that we might find. If we seek knowledge in the hope that it will make us happier or more in control of our grasp of reality we are making a fatal mistake. You rarely meet a satisfied professor. There is always another article to research, another book to write. They never simply “retire” from thought. Even at the apex of their powers, as conference acolytes gather around them wide-eyed in the hopes that some crumbs of their vast expertise or wisdom would drop down from the table, you often sense they themselves are yet troubled by all that they know they don’t know, all they are yet to know, all that they do not know as clearly as they once knew. And so the thinking goes on. And if we’re not careful, we can lose our way along the way.
We need a thoughtfulness to our thinking; we need to know why we ought to think, and what relationship thinking has to discipleship and worship. God is the greatest thinker of all, the most attentive scholar of all of reality and ideality, the One who is truly in the know. We too often begrudge him his supreme professorship and seek to dethrone him by becoming ‘like him’ in our knowing, which is a supremely thoughtless thing to do, as Adam and Eve well knew. But there is something we know, as surely as one can know anything: the One who knows all has made Himself known to us in Jesus Christ, who in turn has sent us his Spirit as our guide and counsellor, as the one who will lead us into all truth. What can this mean? Will we know ‘all truths’ that are knowable? We groan here in our earthly tents, in our earthly heads, knowing in part, waiting for the crumbs of manna to drop from the Professor’s table.
But these crumbs do not drop accidentally. For He not only knows all reality, but orders all reality and calls a people to his purposes. As we give ourselves to His purposes instead of our own, He gives us what we need to know and guides us in our knowing; He calls us after Him in perpetual thoughtful worship of all He is and all He has made. This means we will undoubtedly need to think more thoughts, to pursue more knowledge, to love him with more of our mind. But it means we will think thoughts far less thoughtlessly, far more peacefully, far more theologically. And in doing so we will find our thoughts go farther than they ever could when we were stressfully scrabbling and haggling for yet another shard for our hapless mosaics.