The Chair and the Desk, 11/9/15

From the chair:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! 
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; 
you discern my thoughts from afar. 
You search out my path and my lying down 
and are acquainted with all my ways. 
Even before a word is on my tongue, 
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. 

-Psalm 139:1-4

God knows. I find peace in this truth that I find nowhere else. We do not yet know what will become of us, of our present circumstances, of our world. Yet, we know a good and powerful God who knows everything about us, not to mention everything about everything we know nothing about.

From the desk:

“To say that language limits our knowledge of reality because it is historically bounded and culturally particular is like saying water limits our ability to water ski because we cannot also water ski on land or in the air or anywhere we please. To bemoan the somewhat-constraining-precisely-because-it-is-powerfully-enabling nature of language is like deciding ever to own and drive a car because sometimes cars break down.”

-Christian Smith, What is a Person?, p.173

Most people would probably be surprised to find how many academics suggest that we can’t know anything. If we can’t know anything, why spend all day reading and writing? That is an excellent–and as far as I can tell, unanswerable–question. The argument often goes like this: Language is an arbitrary human invention, we can only speak in language, we can only think in language, therefore can’t really know anything (the fact that there are multiple languages and innumerable people using each language in innumerable ways is often made to suggest that we can’t really understand each other either). Smith opposes this idea, arguing for something called “critical realism,”* and I think he does this well.

* “Critical” suggests that it still listens to all the research and thinking out there, i.e., it’s not ignorant, and it recognizes that we can only know imperfectly. “Realism” contends that there is a real world out there, independent of our ability to know it, that we can really know about (if imperfectly).

“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

Leave a Reply