The art of knowing

From a sermon by the late great Dr. John Claypool

I think one of our big problems is that we’ve never really understood clearly the nature of faith. As I was growing up, I thought that faith was the opposite of knowing. I was like the little boy that C.S. Lewis talks about who says, “Faith is having to believe something that you know ain’t so.” That is, it’s embracing something that’s contrary to all of the ways that you encounter reality.

But faith is not an alternative to knowing. Faith rightly understood is yet another avenue to knowing. By the grace of creation, we have been given so many ways of interacting with the outside world. We are, as someone has said, a wonderfully porous creature.

When I was in the second grade, my teacher said, “I want to teach you this afternoon about the different ways that you have of perceiving the many splendored world all about you.” She said, “You have an eye gate through which all the wonder of color and shape enters into your experience. You have the ear gate through which the wonder of sound comes, the nose gate through which odor comes, the tongue gate which is where taste comes into your experience, the skin gate that enables you to feel and to perceive. You have these five ways of interacting with the world outside yourself. There are many kinds of reality out there, and you have many different ways of perceiving.”

I want to say to you that what the eye is to color, what the ear is to sound, what the nose is to odor, faith is to the divine dimension of reality. Faith is the capacity that we have been given by the grace of God to perceive that which is essentially spiritual, which is sacred and holy by nature. You reach religious conclusions the same way the scientists reach conclusions in the laboratory. The difference between the knowing of science and the knowing of faith is that the object that we are perceiving is spiritual in nature and not physical.

The point is that when we enter a search for religious reality, we need to sit down before a fact like a little child, exactly as the faithful scientist does. We need to recognize that we have the capacity of faith, which is God’s way of helping us perceive the divine dimension of reality. We know things of the spirit in that same kind of humility that we know things with our eyes, our ears, our nose. Those organs perceive things beyond themselves and allow them to enter into our experience.

Faith is yet another avenue to knowledge; it is not an alternative to knowledge. Therefore, in making up your mind about the great alternate questions, I invite you to a kind of openness that believes that truth is more important than anything else, and that God is the source of all truth. If you will be honest in your asking, seeking and knocking, if you’ll open the windows of your soul 360 degrees and know that God has ways of making God’s own reality known to us through the capacity of faith, there will come …God’s moment when God will make God’s own reality known to you in ways that are profoundly authentic. It will be something from the outside in and not from the inside out.

I believe you would agree that one of the great Christian converts of the 20th century is C.S. Lewis. When he was ten years old, his mother was afflicted with cancer and died. As a little boy brought up in the church, he had prayed earnestly to God that she would be healed and not die, and when she did, it was a terrible disappointment. Because children are so concrete in the way they see things, he concluded that his prayer was not answered because there was no answerer, there was no such thing as a God who cared for His people. In his grief, he made up his mind that there must not be a God.

He was tremendously intelligent. He was sent away to private schools almost immediately, and for years he assumed that the universe is empty, that there is nothing divine, nothing purposeful behind all reality. He collected all kinds of evidence to support this opinion he had developed in childhood that there was nothing, nothing behind it all but great random emptiness. When he got to Oxford and became a brilliant student of philosophy and medieval English, he began to encounter individuals who were believers in a God. He was amazed to find out that they were careful in their scholarship, that they were very, very truth-seeking people just like he intended to be. He also found books that began to raise the possibility that maybe there was a mystery behind it all, that maybe what he had decided at ten years of age was not the deepest truth.

Lewis says in his autobiography that as he began to realize that there just might be something real behind all that corresponds to this word, God, his honest feeling was not– I hope Christianity is true, but I’m afraid it’s not. He said his real feeling state was– I’m afraid it’s true, and I hope it’s not. He had 20 years invested in atheistic arguments. He did not want to admit that perhaps all these years he had been mistaken. There was this great prejudice in him against having to embrace something that for years he had railed against.

But … because of his love for truth above all things, there came a time, as he writes in his autobiography, when alone in his room in Maudlin College in Oxford, that God literally entered into his experience. He could not in the name of truth deny the reality of this power that was breaking in from beyond. Because he loved truth more than anything else, he sent up the white flag of surrender. He said, “I was the most reluctant convert in all the isle, in all the isle of England.”

Religion for him became discovery and not invention. Some days later, people who knew him began to hear him talk differently and asked, “What on earth has happened to you?” Lewis said with great humility, “My God has happened to me.”

You see religious truth is event. It is the mystery breaking in from beyond and authenticating that there is, beyond it all, this incredible and wondrous and mysterious reality.

Therefore, as you ask the question, “I, why? Why do I believe what I do?” I invite you to realize that authentic truth is of the same cloth no matter where you find it. It breaks in from beyond. It is something that exists apart from our desires and apart from our needfulness. It is what it is. If we are committed to embracing that above all things and willing to ask, seek and knock, if you will in openness say, “I want to know the truth and I want to know it whatever shape it takes,” if that is your spirit, I have every confidence that in God’s good time and in God’s own mysterious and inexplicable ways, God will have His hour with you.

You will see truth for what it is, discovery and not invention. When God comes, I hope you will respond with that God-given capacity, that sixth sense, that power of faith which enables us to know and to receive and to be engulfed with truth. In your intellectual journeys, I wish each of you a brave and honest and hopeful destination.


15 thoughts on “The art of knowing

  1. Thank you Bryan,

    This sermon by John Claypool is wonderful. I recognise it as the ‘Shepherd’s’ Voice. Notice how very different it is to the ‘New Age’ Voice.

    “If you will be honest in your asking, seeking and knocking, if you’ll open the windows of your soul 360 degrees and know that God has ways of making God’s own reality known to us through the capacity of faith, there will come God’s moment when God will make God’s own reality known to you in ways that are profoundly authentic. IT WILL BE SOMETHING FROM THE OUTSIDE IN AND NOT FROM THE INSIDE OUT.” Spot-on!


  2. Reblogged this on Hunt FOR Truth on wordpress and commented:
    I’ve actually never met a person (adult) that would speak with me for more than just a few minutes and then reject that my faith (for me) is real (for me). I’ve only convinced one person that God is real and that is because his very own experiences were the proof (for we both). I’ve helped plenty of people keep their faith – and I mean that there is a God of some sort – a source that exists independently of creation and that there is a source for all energy and matter and anything in between.
    On a few occasions I’ve discussed that God may possibly or even probably be independent of the creation source.
    I’ve met plenty of people that reject their churches and religions – especially Christians.
    I’ve never met anyone that can show me that knowledge isn’t about making choices. Knowledge is something that we acquire by making the choices that we do. In fact, I have been shown on areas of my knowledge that I am wrong – clearly and simply wrong. am not all knowing but I do understand that the knowledge that we believe to be true may in fact be faulty, lacking, or even all wrong.
    C. S. Lewis certainly spent a great deal of time exploring beliefs and faith and he put into his work ways for readers from children to adult to explore faith and the wonders of the creator from within the creation.
    Lewis discovered for himself, the source of his thinking. He discovered for himself that he was a director of sorts; directing thoughts by choices that he’d make. He apparently discovered for himself the depth of feeling that took him from one perspective to another. He warned about feelings: “Don’t bother too much about your feelings. When they are humble, loving, brave, give thanks for them; when they are conceited, selfish, cowardly, ask to have them altered. In neither case are they you, but only a thing that happens to you. What matters is your intentions and your behavior.” and he made his choice: “Feelings, and feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead.”
    Knowledge is not the director and neither are the senses. We use these but feelings are the director of our thoughts.
    When Lewis made his decision known about how he believes about feelings, I believe he laid bare his greatest flaw as a spiritual teacher. He wasn’t in my opinion surrendered to God. Feelings are the basis for everything that humans think. Asking to have them altered when they are unpleasant (self-help) isn’t in my opinion a realistic approach to dealing with troublesome feelings. The senses are helpful to perceive differently. The desire to change is helpful as well.
    However there needs be a solution for living.
    We need spiritual manuals for living.
    Mostly our Christian services do not address this need.
    I am all for reading the Bible, going to Church, knowing about the lives of the Biblical figures, and worship, praise, and prayer. I add for myself meditation as well. I add for myself getting to stillness of my brain and body. Mine is getting old and I was somewhat abusive to myself for most of my youth – so, I am sure that younger fitter people may even have much more profound experiences that I. However, my experiences are profound indeed.
    I rely most upon a solution for living – it is love – it is a feeling, a belief, a skill, a knowledge, an imagination – it is authentic, and it sharpens balance in me.
    Explore faith or science and both – but look for something. It is by having a goal that we may direct the thoughts and have the experience of authentic feelings that make thinking joyous and freeing.
    Freedom from rigid beliefs is more necessary today that ever before in history, I think. The explosion of access to information and ideas is confusing modern cultures. If people take up thinking and reject feeling, I shudder.
    I’m sure that rebelliousness is not a thing only of the past.
    The fragmented understandings of reality that groups of peoples follow are dangerous to all of humanity in this age of technology – not just as an isolated rebelliousness – globally.
    We’ve come to the time of globalization and we are yet primitive.
    Humans do not have a course for globalization.
    The future is something that we shape in each moment. The past is something that holds for us great lessons.
    If we as individuals are ruled by any negativity, we will miss the mark.
    The mark is in the solution – it is love.
    There is nothing greater than love.
    God (source) is Pure Love.
    This is where I say we must place our faith.
    Science, religion, individual teachers of various faith messages, and so on – do us some authentic good. Be love. It takes only giving some to find more.
    ~ Eric


    • Don’t want to rain on your parade, Debbie, but isn’t said ‘resonance’ based on your faith that you do, indeed, have a spirit?


  3. ….And here I thought YESTERDAY was Sunday….

    Isn’t this:- “But faith is not an alternative to knowing. Faith rightly understood is yet another avenue to knowing.” an assertion of faith? ie:- I have faith this is true because I have faith this is true.
    ….particularly when you (or your ‘teacher’) then go on to explain the five senses ALL creatures have…and none of which have a sense of ‘faith’.

    Each of those other five sense are entirely dependent upon a physical capacity to ‘receive’ and interpret other physical realities. eh ‘Colour’ doesn’t exist: what we call colour is no more than a description of the reaction of light (waves/particles) upon different physical objects. A person blind from birth can have no ‘perception’ that colour exists, but MAY have faith that it does.

    If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is within earshot then it CANNOT be heard; but we may have faith that it made a noise.

    Faith is absolutely ‘an alternative to knowing’ ~ and the terms are mutually exclusive, what’s more: if you have one the other is irrelevant.



  4. Once I felt a great need to learn the Truth, regardless of how painful that might be. Slowly I was shown that truth can be very subjective, there are many truths, just as we have many paths in life and never know what might be ahead, different for each of us.

    Somehow this was a great comfort to me, I no longer had the craving to search for Truth. Instead I could say, with Emma Wheeler Wilcox,
    ”I know as my soul speeds onward in its grand eternal quest,
    I shall say as I look back earthward, Whatever is – is best,”

    That is, regarding my own life. There is no way I could look at someone else’s misfortune and think ‘It’s for the good of their soul, and in God’s ordering.’ Compassion I think is the over- riding requirement in this life.


    • Whatever Is – Is Best

      by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

      I know as my life grows older
      And mine eyes have clearer sight —
      That under each rank wrong, somewhere
      There lies the root of Right;
      That each sorrow has its purpose,
      By the sorrowing oft unguessed,
      But as sure as the sun brings morning,
      Whatever is – is best.

      I know that each sinful action,
      As sure as the night brings shade,
      Is somewhere, some time punished,
      Tho’ the hour be long delayed.
      I know that the soul is aided
      Sometimes by the heart’s unrest,
      And to grow means often to suffer —
      But whatever is – is best.

      I know there are no errors,
      In the great Eternal plan,
      And all things work together
      For the final good of man.
      And I know when my soul speeds onward
      In its grand Eternal quest,
      I shall say as I look back earthward,
      Whatever is – is best.


    • And again you make my point, Strewth. Religion deals with ‘Truth’ ~ science doesn’t: it deals with facts.
      There’s a world of difference.


    • Strewth,
      “Slowly I was shown that truth can be very subjective”‘

      Well, what FEELS true is certainly very subjective, but that means everyone has a different “truth”. Yet truth is defined as that which can be verified, that which is a FACT, not just that which feels true to anyone.

      If you had an auditory hallucination you could think that you had heard God speak your name. That would FEEL true for you but it would not be the truth.

      If something fits in with your educational experience it will feel “true”, but if your education involved being inculcated with all sorts of supernatural stuff then another supernatural claim will very likely feel true to you.

      When faced with competing truth claims, the only way to sort out the wheat from the chaff( or the truth from sincerely held lies) is to apply commonsense, logic and critical thinking. It is particularly important never to accept a supernatural explanation as a first resort.Always look for a natural explanation first. If you cannot imagine a natural explanation for a claim, then examine the claim to see if it could possibly have been mistaken or made up.

      As Sam Harris has said,” Billions have been coerced into believing to be normal what only a lunatic would believe by himself.”


  5. I seem to see faith differently from many of you. For me it is a surety that something that science has not yet labelled is in fact true, and will get a label some day. I feel sure, as a small example, that telepathy and prayer are linked, and one day science will describe this.

    Science has already shown us the method God has used to perform many of his wonders. Why should we think this will stop? Faith to me is what I’ve experienced that science has yet to explain, not a different category.


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