KNOWING THE UNKNOWABLE
T. PIERCE BROWN
The New Testament has many thrilling and precious paradoxes, one of which is found in Ephesians4:19, “and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fullness of God.” An in-depth study of the whole sentence would take more space than we have available, but the question of how one can know something which passes knowledge has intrigued me for about 65 years. The third verse of the song of F. M. Lehman, which I think he took from the writings on the cell of an ancient disciple, imprisoned for his faith, expresses something of the thought:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Tho’ stretched from sky to sky.
It might help us understand how we can know that which passes knowledge to realize that the word “ginosko” is the word that means, “to know by experience.” It is not “epiginosko” or full knowledge, but each of us can experience the love of Christ. In some other contexts this might mean the love we have for Him, but in this, it is clearly the love He has for us. It is interesting to note that in verses 17 and 18 he suggests that his prayer is that those who are rooted and grounded in love may be able to grasp or comprehend the height, breadth, length and depth of the love of Christ. This is an intellectual grasp, or conceptual knowledge, which is in verse 19, to grow into experiential knowledge.
However, when one has explored the subject with whatever intellectual powers he may possess, and when one has experienced in his everyday life the fullest extent of the love of Christ which it is possible for the most saintly person to experience, there are still oceans and skies full of love which are beyond our experience.
It should not be hard for us to understand how we can know what cannot be fully known, for it is true even with the ordinary things in life. We know how to use electricity, but anyone who assumes he knows all about it is more ignorant than he realizes. When I was a little boy on the farm, we knew that green grass can be eaten by a red cow and make yellow butter and white milk which would grow hair in some places, finger nails in others and skin in others. We also knew that the process surpassed knowledge. To dwell on any aspect of the length of that love, which reaches back through time and eternity, the depth, which reaches down to the very brink of hell to the most depraved soul, the height, which causes one to die even for his enemies and the breadth, which encompasses all mankind expands the mind, elevates the soul and inspires the spirit to do greater things for God. So we can know and experience that love in some degree, but it still surpasses knowledge, for it reaches in all directions farther than we shall ever know.