Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Advent 2A (December 5, 2004)

The vision recorded in chapter 2 of Isaiah is remarkable. The prophet appears to envision a restoration of the harmony between human and non-human creation that existed in Eden:

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;

But the prophet’s vision is not just Eden restored but Eden amplified. The tree of which Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat was the tree of the KNOWLEDGE of good and evil and after they had eaten, the Holy One acknowledged that they had “become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” But the world of which Isaiah dreams is one in which humankind will be saturated with divine knowledge “for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”

Knowledge of one kind was the exit from paradise; knowledge of another kind is the way back into the garden. Henry Kissinger once remarked that the problem that the problem with some students was that they knew everything. “But, unfortunately,” he continued, “they don’t know anything else.” Apparently, his enigmatic remark referred to the kind of person many of us know: a person who knows all about a vast range of subject but who lacks spiritual depth.

The English language has only one word for knowing but most other languages have at least two. The French have savoir and connaitre; Germans have wissen and kennen. In both cases, the first word refers to intellectual and scientific knowing; the second to personal, intimate knowledge. The first is the word we would use to say we know the multiplication tables, and the second is the word we would use to say we know someone whom we love with all our being.

The knowledge of good and evil that Adam and Eve acquired from the forbidden fruit was good as far as it went, but it was only knowledge about. The knowledge of the Lord that will cover the earth when God restores paradise is of a different kind altogether. As Paul says in First Corinthians 13.12, “Now we know in part, but then we will know fully, even as we have been known.”