Knowledge* is dangerous. Not only the consequence that ideas themselves have but also the tendency that knowledge has to puff up. Truths that should lay us low in humility often conflate our egos. Paradoxically, knowledge is also the very thing that humbles.† We may not be proud without knowledge but neither will be humble. We will be ignorant. Knowledge is dangerous. Albeit, a necessary danger.
Knowledge is indispensable to live life rightly. We must understand though, that knowledge is not innate within us. It must be pursued. However, the very fact that knowledge is external should press us to pursue it in humility. It is not ours. We do not have the market on knowledge. Also, if we pursue it arrogantly we will miss much of it (Prov. 3:5-6; 15:14, 22). We should realize that not only is knowledge external from us but so is the desire for knowledge. We should not think we are better than the ignorant because our very desire for knowledge is itself a gift (James 1:17).
The desire for knowledge with the goal of being humbled is good. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge and humility comes before honor (Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 15:33; Job 28:28). Jesus pronounces woes upon the Pharisees not for their knowledge, their knowledge is commendable, but on the result that the knowledge had upon them. It did not humble them (Matt 23:5-7, 11-12). The publican had little knowledge but it served to humble him. If we truly understand, if the eyes of our hearts our enlightened, we will praise God and not ourselves. We can have all knowledge but if we have not love, it profits us nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
Thomas A Kempis said in The Imitation of Christ that “On the day of judgment, surely, we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken but how well we have lived.” That is not to say that knowledge is not important, it is. However, knowledge that does not lead to life change and humility is worthless and condemning. The person that knows the right thing to do and does not do it for that person it is sin (James 4:17). Kempis rightly says, “The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you.” God will judge us according to all that He has entrusted to us (Matt. 25:14-30).
As our minds rise to exalted things, our consciousness of ourselves must fall. Truth humbles, or it is not understood to be truth to ourselves.
“What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? …I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God?” (The Imitation of Christ)
Knowledge is vital, we cannot serve or know the LORD without it, but knowledge must always humble.
How do we fight the damning affect that knowledge so often has? It all has to do with our motivation from the outset. As J.I. Packer has said, in his classic book Knowing God, “there can be no spiritual health without doctrinal knowledge; but it is equally true that there can be no spiritual health with it, if it is sought for the wrong purpose.”‡ Do we study the Trinity to be in awe and wonder before the God who is three-in-one? Or do we study the Trinity to look astute before our peers? The choices are not restricted to arrogance or ignorance but we have to fight for the last alternative, humility. If we go the way of ignorance we will never know humility, who or what would we be humbled before? And arrogance is the misapplication of knowledge. It is a pursuit of knowledge with the wrong goal in mind. Do we read science journals and Scripture to merely gain knowledge? Or do we do it to be humbled by the God that formed the furthest reaches of the galaxies and yet reveled Himself to us; yea, atoned for our sins (cf. Heb. 1:3)?
Pursue knowledge. Pursue it in whatever field. But do so in humble worship with your ultimate end being to glorify God. May we be amazed by and enraptured in the truths of Scripture as children. May we continually go to God humbly in awe of Him and His truth that is contained everywhere around us for God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
~Whatever you study or seek to know, do it all to the glory of God~
*I say “knowledge” and not any specific stream of knowledge because I believe that all truth is God’s truth. What I mean by knowledge is knowledge that is true, true truth, as Schaeffer put it. This could be in the realm of science, math, history, etc. All truth is God’s truth because God upholds the universe by the Word of His power thus all mathematical equations are held together by His hand, Science show us the extent to which the glory of God is manifested in His universe (as Johannes Kepler said, “science is thinking God’s thoughts after Him”), all history is a story of God unfolding Himself and is actually a testimony of His grace to redeem such as we are.
†Richard Baxter rightly says, “If we have any knowledge at all, we must needs know how much reason we have to be humble; and if we know more than others, we must know more reason than others to be humble” (The Reformed Pastor, 144).
‡J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 22. He further says, “if we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited” (21). Rather “our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are” (23).