“I Only Know in Part”

When you want to delete an ad from your FB newsfeed, a screen pops up giving several options so that you to check one. My two favourite options are “irrelevant” and “knows too much.” When it comes to ads, “knows too much” is my choice more times than not! So, what’s this got to do with “all things biblical”? So glad you asked!

One of my favourite biblical passages attributed to Paul is found in 1 Corinthians 13. No, not vv. 1-8a, 13. While those verses will always be at the top of my list, as I’ve gotten older, and spent more time in both informal and formal study of “all things biblical,” vv. 8b-12 have become especially meaningful.

“But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

One day, knowledge will cease, I think, because according to Paul’s view of the eschaton and beyond our knowledge of God will be replaced by experiencing God. However, until then, “we know only in part…for now we see in mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part…”.

For me this humility is reflected in Paul’s comments in 1 Cor. 8:1-3,

“Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that all of us possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.”

Knowledge in and of itself is not the problem. But knowledge that is not held or spoken in love is arrogance and to those Paul says, “Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge.”

To my shame, for the first two-thirds of my Christian walk, I claimed to know some things, but did so without the humility of admitting that “I only know in part, because I am looking into a mirror, dimly.” Since then, I have come to deeply respect those people, who still have certain convictions about God, Jesus, and the Bible, yet who share those thoughts with the humility that even if they have true knowledge, they only know in part! Thus, they are not proclaiming that they have the corner on the truth. Also, they do not impugn the motives or intelligence of other seekers of knowledge with whom they disagree; no disparaging or demeaning FB posts/comments, no generalized labelling, and no sarcastic memes!

Is this easy? No! It really is quite difficult to hold to your convictions and not come across as disrespectful of those with whom we disagree. But it is not impossible, especially if we truly believe that whatever we think we know, we truly believe that we know only in part as we can only see dimly.

At a time when the world is so hatefully and disrespectfully divided, l plead with those of us who claim to have faith in God to set a radically different tone. Let us not, in arrogance and pride-filled self-righteousness cast stones and build walls but instead work to construct bridges where we can meet with others “from the other side” (of any issue) and engage in true dialogue. Even though we may still disagree, let us not impugn their motives, demonize their characters, and/or disrespect their intelligence or faith.

Especially for those of us who claim theologically that the essential quality of God is love, let us take some time before responding to those with whom we disagree and contemplate, my most favourite words of Paul:

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4-8a)

Then, maybe, just maybe, the example of our loving God will inspire us to express our disagreement in a way that shows patience, kindness, humility, empathy and respect. As Paul challenged the Corinthians, may he also challenge us, “But strive for the greater gifts…And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 12:31a; 13:13).

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