Originally composed May 27th, 2012
Today, my priest’s sermon was about being filled with the Holy Spirit, of course a propos given where we are on the liturgical calendar (Pentecost Sunday). I had been discussing with my very gracious Sunday school class issues of epistemology as we overviewed what we have learned over the past year, specifically issues of faith-making propositions. Should we be rigorous analytics, or empiricists, or presuppositionalists, or what? These thoughts were still in my mind as Father Doug began his sermon, and as I watched him, by way of illustration, overfill a cup with water, a verse from Matthew 6 came to my mind: “But seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness, and these things shall be added unto You.” I was thinking about the many debates of epistemology I have had, through college as I double majored in English and philosophy, debates with friends in my master’s program, and debates I have with friends here on Facebook and elsewhere, and for the first time, I thought about this verse not only in terms of being satisfied with your material situation, but your epistemological one as well. Here is the full context from Matthew 6:
30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Jesus is not speaking here of confidence in theories of knowledge, but something much more practical – confidence that you will have enough. If you let yourself be filled with the Holy Spirit until you are overflowing with it, if the Creator of the universe deigns to let you live in His presence in this special way, then you need not be concerned that you will be provided for. Of course, this comes with all the usual caveats – we mustn’t act as if it is owed to us, as if it is because we are special or as if times won’t get really tough. They will. But you could, in a sense, map these concerns on to the concerns of the philosopher. Indulge me a little creative play here:
If that is how God gives ontology to the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more sustain your ontology, O you of little faith? So do not worry saying, “What shall we rationalize,” or “How shall we empirically research,” or “how will we presuppose?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Of course, the philosopher will say, but this seems to favor a philosophical position, doesn’t it? But that is to have missed the point here, I think. God isn’t telling us not to go out and work so we can have food, and he isn’t telling us not to think about all the various modes of epistemological inquiry. They all matter, and they will all be added unto us. I have observed that many thinkers tend to take a particular personality trait of their own that they admire and map it on to how they make knowledge – the person filled with mistrust becomes a skeptic, the person with confidence becomes a rationalist, the person who tends towards realism becomes an empiricist, etc. Speaking even only among Christians, I think we tend to take these personality traits of ours and secretly, or without even realizing it, think that this is the method which God loves best. Or, we are so scared to let go, that we cling to our method, like a person clinging to a piece of driftwood and refusing to let go when the rescue boat comes, because it is all we’ve had for so long. But God is not asking for us to give up our means of epistemology, any more than he is asking us to give up our means of putting food on the table. He is asking us to loosen our grip that creates the illusion of control, of self-sustainability that none of us have, especially not those of us interested in the life of the mind. I think that when we can relax, and let go of our synthetic judgment a priori and our sympathetic imagination and our common sense and our rationalism, our deconstructive tools and our structuralist defenses, our skepticism, and all our other hardnosed or soft-hearted means of trusting in ourselves and not in God, and instead surrender, and let the one who really knows run the show, then, I believe, all these other things will be added to us. To repose upon the gift of the Holy Spirit is not to abandon critical inquiry, but to give it up to a greater life than we could ever achieve in the defensive struggles of a little faith.