Two kinds of knowing — one informs me, the other transforms me

“The boy was frightened, and tried to say a prayer, but he could remember nothing but the multiplication table.” — Hans Christian Andersen, The Snow Queen

I am a child of the information age. I have been schooled and graduated schooled. I have as many letters after my name as in my name. And I have an entire world wide web of information at my fingertips. I know much and can know almost anything else I want to, for it’s all just a thought away.

But so much of this knowing actually contributes to an un-knowing, an unknowing of God and life and soul stuff.

The quote above from The Snow Queen is such a chilling example of how one kind of knowing can lead to another kind of un-knowing. The boy Kay can’t remember how to pray. He’s lost that kind of knowledge. All he can remember is the multiplication table.

James Houston on several occasions has said, “We spend all these years going to school in order to learn how to think. Who is going to teach us how to feel?” To that, I’d add, who is going to teach us how to know God? To pray?

These two kinds of knowings — knowing information and knowing God — are at the heart of Hans Christian Andersen’s story, even if it’s not apparent until the end. Knowing only facts and figures, the boy Kay becomes a willing vassal of the Snow Queen. But his friend Gerda hasn’t lost her ability to pray and it’s her prayers which eventually free the enslaved Kay. (If you haven’t read the story, click here and read it now. It’s worth your time.)

There is something in the child’s heart that enables her to engage in both kinds of knowing at the same time and Gerda exemplifies this double knowledge wonderfully in the story. It’s Kay, with his grown-up heart, who loses the knowledge of God while retaining the knowledge of information.

The knowledge of information is about control. I learn things in order to master them, in order to use them. I learn things more to stand over them than to under stand them.

The knowledge of God is about dependence. I learn the things of God in order to be mastered by him, in order to enter into his purposes. I stand under him instead of trying to be my own god.

The knowledge of God is not about naiveté, but about innocence. Naiveté is ignorant of the way things work in the world. Innocence knows how things work and is yet untainted by them.

One way of knowing leaves me informed but stunted of heart. The other way of knowing leaves me transformed as I grow in the knowledge of God, my Father and my King.

Lord, restore a child’s heart within me. May I know the multiplication table, but may I not forget you. May my knowing of you be the most basic knowing in my life. Move me from a desire for control to the humble peace of dependence upon you, my Father-King.