Our second podcast episode is up! It is with philosophy professor Dr. Jeff Dudiak. One part of the conversation that sticks out to me is Jeff’s reflection on his parents. In particular, the story about how his father became a Quaker is really beautiful. This part of the conversation begins at around 31:30, so skip ahead if your time is limited.
Please leave a reply to this post with your thoughts or things you appreciated from Jeff!
At the end of this podcast we get an update from former King’s chemistry student and member of The Translators, Darren Binnema. He tells us where life has taken him and a little about the song, Detonation, which I have been using for the intro to the podcast.
Download the Episode here: Dudiak Interview
Stream it here:
At the end of the interview I refer to a reflection that Jeff wrote for chapel years ago. He gave me permission to post it here. (I typed it up from his manuscript, so any errors are mine!)
To know as I am known – 1 Corinthians 13:8-13
Dr. Jeff Dudiak
To encounter the Gospel is to be surprised. The Good News, as the name suggests, is something new,specifically not the same old thing, specifically not what is expected. In order, then, to hear the Gospel, to really hear it, with ears to hear, is to expect the unexpected.
When confronted by the man with the withered hand, planted by the Pharisees to trip him up, Jesus does not follow the straight line of the law and refuse to work on the Sabbath, but rather heals the man. But this Jesus does not refer to as breaking the law, as do the Pharisees who see only two options at this point, either to keep the law or to violate it. Jesus claims, instead, neither to have kept nor broken the law, but to have fulfilled it. The Pharisees didn’t see that coming! Expect the unexpected.
When present with the woman caught in adultery, another trap to see if he would condemn her, as any straight-laced and straight thinking Jewish rabbi would be compelled to do, Jesus slips the question of condemnation altogether, ignores the line that runs from sin to condemnation, and then, and only after that, and only with grace, to forgiveness. Rather, Jesus begins at the end, with forgiveness, which changes not only the expected chronology of events, but transforms the events themselves. For here, where forgiveness is pronounced independently of confession, prior to confession, confession becomes possible because it is no longer the sinner’s participation in his or her own condemnation, but the possibility of taking a fuller responsibility for the life now restored. The Pharisees didn’t see that one coming either. Expect the unexpected.
When the disciples informed Jesus of the hunger of the crowds by the sea of Galilee, the disciples sage counsel was that the multitudes should be sent away to seek sustenance. But Jesus took and blessed and broke the contents of a boy’s boxed lunch and transformed them into a feast for five-thousand, with more to spare. The miraculous is the unexpected, the unanticipatable, and the unexpected itself is a miracle, a break with the necessary, which, far from being mere magic, is rather the deeper structure from which even the dreams of magic takes it bearings. The line stretched between the options of staying and being hungry and going for food is transformed into neither, but the filling, the fulfillment of all. Even the disciples didn’t see that coming. Expect the unexpected.
For in the Gospel, it is not merely that roads do not lead to anticipated destinations, they may not lead to destinations at all; premises not only do not necessarily lead to logical conclusions, they sometimes lead to something entirely other than conclusions; and it is not only that even straight arrows do not hit their intended targets, arrows and the targets are frequently configured into something else. Water becomes wine; one is not baptized with water, but with fire and the Holy Spirit; and swords are beaten into plowshares – which, before it is a task for the blacksmith, is a supreme exercise in imagination, in miracles. The supposedly straight lines that should lead from expectation to realization, the seeming logicality that draws us – perhaps inexorably – from anticipation to consummation, when exposed to the Gospel, are often not always (for that would make the unexpected expected again), but often, transformed into something else.
How do we envision this? It is not exactly that the line that leads from A to B is eliminated; the law is not erased by Jesus. It is not that the expectations are disappointed exactly; it is more that they are reconfigured. It is rather that what is – the law, forgiveness, loaves and fishes – are revisioned in the light of a new perspective, are recontextualized to the point of becoming something entirely new. “Behold, all things are becoming new.” Paul writes elsewhere. The Gospel is revolutionary to the point of transforming, re-new-ing, reality itself; which is perhaps why in Acts there is talk of turning the world upside down, and perhaps why Paul can speak of being in but not of the world, not capitulating to the inevitabilities imposed by what is “real-istic.” The Gospel calls for expectation, hope, realization of what is not the case. And perhaps “the world” that Paul opposes to the Gospel is our inability or unwillingness to see and live expansively, to imagine a bigger picture; perhaps “the world” is a narrowing, a reduction, the monotony of the same that always follows the same, the “all is vanity” of Ecclesiastes, over against the Gospel that re-forms, that incited and excites; perhaps, that the Gospel opposes itself to the law. Not constrained by the expectations provided by the Sabbath legalities, nor by the psycho-juridical order of confession and forgiveness, nor by the physical laws of loaves and fishes – the Gospel is the promise of renewal because it is “true to life,” and life itself is unpredictable, and requires for living it well (that is, faithfully) imaginative work. If this were psychology, we’d be talking about a paradigm shift. And we are talking about all of these, and more.
Now, present circumstances suggesting the contrary, I am no preacher. I am sanctioned by no ecclesiastical body to preach, no am I called of God to do so. I am a mere philosopher, a mere teacher of how to ask better questions, and so while I am honoured to share with you on my gifts, such as they be, I do best to stick to who I am and what I do. And as a philosopher I would like to have you join me in asking a few questions about something of perennial fascination to philosophy, but something that also plays a key role in Biblical testimony, namely, I would like you to think with me this morning a little bit about “knowledge.” What I want to suggest is that when it comes to the Gospel’s treatment of knowledge we should not be surprised if we are surprised, should not be surprised if our conventional expectations regarding knowledge are not also undermined and transformed in the light of the Gospel. This is, I want to suggest, precisely what we find, for example in 1 Cor. 13. Now, I understand that Tom Oosterhuis spoke to you on this text just last week, and employed this text, as per convention, and most appropriately, to address the issue of love. I apologize for the repetition, but want to use this text not to speak of love, but of knowledge, …at least, that is, initially.
Let us look in particular at verses 8 to 13, with a focus on the function and fate of knowledge, and I will quote the familiar locutions of the King James Version.
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, (that is “love,” agape in the Greek) these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Now, we are dealing here (in verse 9) with a knowledge that is partial, which is opposed (in verse 10) to that which is perfect. We are dealing (in verse 11) with an immature knowledge, which is opposed by a subsequent maturity. We are dealing (in verse 12) with a “seeing” (which is at least a kind of knowledge) that is “through a glass” (the Greek word is “einigmati,” from which we get our word “enigma”), seeing in darkness that is, a seeing poorly, which is opposed to seeing “face to face.” We are dealing yet again (in verse 12) with a partial knowledge, which is this time opposed to a knowing “as I am known.”
We are dealing, in short, with a movement, cast eschatologically, that is, from what is the case to what is to be accomplished. On the side of “what is the case,” we find: partial knowledge; childish understanding and thinking; seeing enigmatically, that is, in obscurity, and in darkness; and, again, partial knowledge.
Now, on our normal way of thinking, according to our expectations, we should expect these examples of insufficient knowledge to be completed by a fully sufficient, or complete, knowledge. We would expect partial knowledge to find its completion in full knowledge. We would expect seeing through a glass darkly to find its completion in seeing clearly, and seeing in darkness to find its fulfillment by a seeing in perfect light. We would expect the repeat of partial knowledge to again find its fulfillment in total knowledge.
But listen to what we do get; and notice that (with one exception, which we will have to discuss) that word “knowledge” does not appear in the list: in the place of partial knowledge we do not get full knowledge, as we would normally expect, but becoming a man; in the place of seeing enigmatically, and seeing in darkness, we do not get seeing clearly, and in the light, as we would normally expect, but seeing “face to face,” in the place of partial knowledge mentioned here for the second time, our normal expectation of full knowledge again is not promised, but rather, knowing “as I am known.”
That is, the expected trajectory, running from partial to full knowledge, from knowing in part to knowing perfectly, is, in this text, subverted. Incomplete knowledge is not completed, fulfilled, perfected, in more or more perfect knowledge, but in something else altogether, something that is not knowledge at all, and doesn’t have to do with knowledge, at least not directly. The perfection of knowledge is not a supreme knowledge; rather, the whole task of knowing is subverted, and displaced, by something that is not in its turn a matter of knowledge at all. Allow me to put this as startlingly as possible: the perfection of knowledge is precisely in its being overturned! As a philosopher, I didn’t see that coming! But as readers of the Gospel, as ones prepared to expect the unexpected, we should not be entirely shocked, since already in verse 8, right before this new and unexpected trajectory is given, we were already told that knowledge would pass away.
And if there was any question as to what it is knowledge, under the auspices of the Gospel, would evolve into as it comes to perfection, we are surly given the response in both the verse that precedes this revisioning of the trajectory of knowledge, and in the one that follows: in both verses 8 and 13 the passing away of knowledge has as its context the non-passing away, the non-failure, of love.
And if this is the case, then two phrases in our passage can be more fully understood: what it means to see “face to face,: and what it means to “know even as I also am known.”
For recall that in lieu of our present, enigmatic knowledge, the promise, the goal is seeing “face to face,” which I am suggesting is not just another way of saying “seeing clearly,” but a revolutionary revisioning. Now, we are all familiar with the difference between knowing about someone, having knowledge about them and actually meeting them. I could take several hours to tell you everything I know about my mother, and then have my father come in and do the same, to tell you things about my mother that would surprise even me, but even after several hours of instruction, if I were at ask you: “Do you know my mother?” most of you would have to say: “Well, I know a lot about your mother, but I don’t know her. I’ve never met her.” A face to face relationship is not one qualified by the knowledge of facts. It is not the relationship between a knowing subject and a known object. A face to face relationship is personal. It is a relationship between subjects, a two-way relationship, and one wherein the “knowledge” of each other is not about facts, but about intimacy. Face to face is the posture of intimacy, the posture of lovers, of interlocutors, and also the posture of combatants: which is why we can love God, speak with God, wrestle with God, as we can love our intimate, speak with our intimate, and wrestle with our intimate, things that are impossible to do with mere things that we know about, because all of these require someone who will love, and speak, and wrestle back. And it is this relationship that the Bible refers to as “knowing” when it is using that term in its most important sense. When Adam “knew” his wife Eve and they conceived a child, they were not engaged in an intellectual exercise! This was a face to face relationship; this was intimate familiarity.
And that is why the passage continues: “At present I know in part, but then I shall know fully, even as I am also known.” The final goal, here eschatologically cast, is “to know as I am known.” And so “knowledge” is not entirely destroyed, even if the only knowledge that survives the passing away of knowledge is the kind that correlates to the knowledge of God for me: and this knowledge in turn is best understood as the knowledge of the face to face, as a knowledge that is love – and why this discourse on knowledge is not out of place in Paul’s great hymn to love. Yes, God knows the number of the hairs on my head, but not in the manner of some supercomputer, coldly and impassively tabulating and calculating, knowing for the sake of knowing. Rather, God knows the number of hairs on my head to glory in my development through infancy, to embrace me in my insecurities at balding and aging, and to love me through the chemotherapy that reduces the count to null. The facts, by themselves, are enigmatic, pointless, meaningless, passing away, open to any sense we might choose to project upon them. They only become “knowledge,” in the only sense that the Bible cares about on my view, when they are personal. The fullness of knowledge, its perfection, or fulfillment, is not more facts, but intimacy, the personal, and an intimacy that transforms the very meaning of the facts themselves.
And this is why not many wise will enter the kingdom of God; they are looking in the wrong place. And this is why Christian education cannot be the mere learning of more, or even different, facts – but a knowing differently, in a different mode, by an entirely different measure. It is not the “knowledge as knowing about” is irrelevant, at least not at present, but we only participate in the Gospel when the end, that is the purpose, of our knowledge, is Biblical knowledge, knowledge as love. And this is why neither theology, nor science, and above all not philosophy, can be the key to the knowledge of God – all of these are a part of the “in part,” are what will pass away, in deference to the knowledge that is, in the end, love itself. And if we don’t know that, if we don’t know in that way, then, it seems to me, we have become, as the first verse of this chapter informs us, but a sounding brass or a tinkling symbol.