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We Murder to Dissect

John Frame begins his volume The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God with the observation that knowledge depends upon its object:  what we can know, how we can know differs with the object of knowledge. For example, today I read story of a “photograph” of a hydrogen atom. That photograph provided a kind of knowledge obtained in a specific manner. Such knowledge is true – but it is not comprehensive. Moreover such knowledge differs fundamentally from the knowledge I have of my family members.

Even the barest consider will demonstrate his point, “Our criteria, methods and goals in knowledge all depend on what we seek to know” (9).

To confuse the appropriate form of knowledge for a particular object would be to miss the object altogether. Wordsworth drew this out in his poem, “The Tables Turned”:

         UP! up! my Friend, and quit your books;

          Or surely you’ll grow double:

          Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;

          Why all this toil and trouble?


          The sun, above the mountain’s head,

          A freshening lustre mellow

          Through all the long green fields has spread,

          His first sweet evening yellow.


          Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:

          Come, hear the woodland linnet,                             10

          How sweet his music! on my life,

          There’s more of wisdom in it.


The ‘friend’ who seeks nature in his books – in scientific study, if you will – will miss the beauty and wonder of nature in his study of nature.  Wordsworth contends that the friend has brought the wrong means to study the object. Thus, in “studying” the friend misses everything of importance – in fact he destroys the object in his search:

          Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;

          Our meddling intellect

          Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–

          We murder to dissect.


          Enough of Science and of Art;

          Close up those barren leaves;                               30

          Come forth, and bring with you a heart

          That watches and receives.


This same principle applies to theology, “Knowing God is something utterly unique, since God himself is unique” (9).  Much of the argument about God hinges upon this plain proposition: God is not known the way knows the batting average of a baseball player; a wife cannot be known the way one knows a spider. God cannot be known the way one knows types of coffee. And yet, we often grow frustrated with a personal God who will only be known personally.

Now God – as all things and all persons – is not and cannot be known absent the knowledge of other objects.  God is known in his relationship to his creation – just as a child is known in relationship to a parent: the relationship is a fundamental aspect of the knowledge[1]

This implies a much broader understanding of knowledge, “So we cannot know God without knowing other things at the same time”. We cannot know God as Creator without knowing (in some manner) creation. [2] Now this problem of knowledge of God becomes all the greater when we think that we are within the scope of God’s creation – there is not some unbiased place from which to observe. It is as if one seeks to know about a person, but only after the relationship is established – as a child has no potential space to know the parent except from the vantage of being a child.

[1] Wallace Stevens gets at some of this in his poem “Theory:

I am what is around me.

Women understand this.
One is not duchess
A hundred yards from a carriage.

These, then are portraits:
A black vestibule;
A high bed sheltered by curtains.

These are merely instances.

[2] Wallace Steven’s poem, “Theory” illustrates this fact of relatoin