The quest for knowledge has defined the Western world for the past 250 years. Ignorance, the philosophers of the day said, was the great evil of the world; if only we could purge the world of ignorance, we could be able to finally advance as a civilization. Knowledge, in such a view, is power; what we know allows us to master, and if we can master, we can overcome obstacles and compel the creation to submit to our dictates.
How successful this quest has been is most astonishing. In almost every pursuit of study human knowledge has greatly been increased since the 1700s, a time of “renaissance men” who could have a working understanding regarding most fields of study. And yet the early twenty-first century is the age of the “expert,” a person part of a small tribe who has spent their lives dedicated to one ever narrowing field of study. Such an “expert” can barely keep up with the advancements in knowledge in his own field, let alone be knowledgeable in the fields of others. Anyone who wishes to know anything about that particular field must consult the “experts” involved. We have come to trust these “experts,” for we have all specialized in our knowledge.
Humans like to believe their use of knowledge is toward the ultimate good. But humans are easily deceived; they have been thinking this way for millennia, and to what end? No doubt those people who worked together on the plain of Shinar thought they were working together and using their knowledge to some good when in reality their tower was being built as a monument to their own greatness (Genesis 11:4). Humans, made in the image of God the Creator, have great potential with their abilities to learn and form and mould (Genesis 1:26-27, 11:6); nevertheless, they end up using that knowledge, more often than not, to advance their own purposes, not the glory of the God who made them.
The modern pursuit of knowledge is primarily designed, like the Tower of Babel, to build monuments to man’s “greatness.” We vainly seek knowledge where knowledge cannot satisfy, for we are mortals and there is much we cannot and will not understand (Ecclesiastes 8:14, Isaiah 55:8-9). We presume our knowledge is used for good, yet that same knowledge is often used for evil: we harnessed the power of the atom, and can provide power and medical technology, but instantaneously used it to create a weapon that could destroy humanity itself, and we continue to live under its dangerous cloud. We like to imagine that our knowledge permanently advances humanity; far too often our insights are like we are, as a vapor and the grass of the field, and future generations end up learning from mistakes just as we did (James 4:14, 1 Peter 1:24-25).
All too often knowledge has puffed people up, just as Paul warned in 1 Corinthians 8:1. People gained a bit of knowledge about the workings of the universe, and now many presume that they have no need for God. Many an “expert” thinks he or she has solved great mysteries and can provide the final answer to difficult philosophical problems because their faith is in what they know; in reality, there is far more they have missed and neglected than they would like to admit. Those with knowledge feel smugly superior to those whom they believe have no knowledge.
Knowledge is neutral; it can be used to beneficial or detrimental ends. Above all, we must remember that all pursuits of knowledge are only possible because God has so made the universe to be somewhat understandable (Romans 1:18-20); anything that is true is only true because it accurately reflects the universe which God has made and continues to sustain (Colossians 1:16, Hebrews 1:1-3). As Christians, all we think, say, or do must be done by Christ’s authority and to God’s glory, not our own (Colossians 3:17); thus, our pursuit of knowledge must always be directed so as to better love God and man made in His image (1 Corinthians 8:1). May we seek knowledge in the right way for the right reasons, not to add to a monument to our greatness which will perish, but to God’s glory which endures forever!
Ethan R. Longhenry