God and Gnosis

“A Leaf in the Wind”     W. Zeitler


In the last Music Box I discussed the difference between two Greek words for ‘knowledge’: EPISTĒMĒ and GNŌSIS. (Greek has many more words for knowledge than just these two.) EPISTĒMĒ is knowing all about something, while GNŌSIS is direct personal experience. If EPISTĒMĒ is about knowing all about the theory and physiology of swimming, and the hydrodynamics of water, etc. etc., then GNŌSIS is getting in the pool for yourself. They both have their place.

This has its analog in religion in general, and Christianity in particular. EPISTĒMĒ would be theologies, creeds, and such. But GNŌSIS is about a personal experience of God. Theologies have their place — they help us not go off the rails. But the goal has to be GNŌSIS: theologies aren’t much comfort in facing the vicissitudes of life. I liken it to EPISTĒMĒ/theology is the bowl, and GNŌSIS is the wheat.

So far I’ve been talking about US understanding GOD. What about the other way around — God knowing US? Of course God knows us intimately. “For you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb…” (Ps 139:13ff.) Now, when we talk about God, we have to use human language — the only language we humans have. So, metaphorically speaking, one could say that, yes, God knows us thoroughly, but wouldn’t it be from the perspective of His Infinitude? Being all knowing, loving and powerful, isn’t there a sense in which His knowledge about us is EPISTĒMĒ? Knowing us from the outside, so to speak? That the only way He could REALLY know what it’s like to be a finite human is to actually jump into the pool of Humanity by becoming human Himself? Wouldn’t that be God going beyond EPISTĒMĒ and gaining real GNŌSIS of what it’s like to be a frail, mortal human being? Isn’t that precisely the Christian message?