Recent years have highlighted our yearning to know the difference between reality and fakes. Conspiracy theories surged as friends and acquaintances came to radically different interpretations of reality. Deep fakes such as the viral TikTok videos of Tom Cruise intentionally highlighted the existence of deeply disturbing frauds. Teens claim their own share of epistemological challenges, believing they can shift to alternate realities and experience other worlds just as real as the one we all share.
It’s easy to laugh off our teens’ absurd pseudo-science. We’re tempted to dismiss any idea that doesn’t fit our preconceived view of the world.
But in our most honest moments, we still feel a tingle of fear. When you're the one who's been duped by a power-hungry leader--or by your own anxiety and OCD--it's easy to start asking those questions. Is anything knowable? How can we really prove that the world and all our memories weren’t created last Tuesday? And how can we be sure we have actually come in contact with reality?
Logic serves us to a point, but it has its limits. If knowledge is nothing but a stiff, dry correspondence between truth statements and reality, it easily shatters under pressure. The most basic of truth propositions—for example, "The apple is red"— can be doubted by a skeptic who wonders if we both define color in the same way.
Skeptics explain away history by citing fabrications and frauds. Historical documents could be fake. Videos could be falsified. Evidence could be twisted.
When almost anything can be doubted, reality must be boiled down to what we trust the most: our five senses. Yet even our eyes can play tricks on us. Our senses can be deceived. How can we prove that life is not just one big dream?
Even as we ask these questions, we know deep down that reality exists. In our practical everyday routines, we act as if knowing makes a difference. We have a deeply felt sense that something exists and that we can access this reality.
Rather than limiting knowledge to dry logical propositions, we need a robust, living version of knowledge that can handle the complexity of everyday life.
Esther Lightcap Meek’s book, Longing to Know, challenges the idea that knowledge is a lifeless, one-to-one correspondence between stated truth and the real world.
She believes the traditional method of attaining certainty through verbal logical postulates falls far short of the way God meant the world to be experienced.
Instead, she says that through trusting wise guides, we can learn to interpret what we see, shaping a 3-D understanding of reality that is even greater than words can describe.
Know whom to trust. In our quest for knowledge, we must do more than accept verbal statements of truth. We must develop an active relationship with a wise guide whom we trust.
For example, music is more than an assent to verbal facts and definitions. While it may be helpful to know that pitch is "the property of a... musical tone that is determined by the frequency of the waves producing it," the true value comes from a musical expert who can help us develop a felt sense of this truth, one we can replicate repeatedly.
It may be beneficial to read an X-ray guide that instructs us on the "recognition of a pleural reflection or edge of a... mediastinal shift." But it's even better to have a skilled teacher who can show us repeatedly how to interpret what we're seeing.
Our five senses aren't sufficient to guide us. Nor is mental understanding. We need a wise guide to help us synthesize all of life to come up with a coherent whole.
As we act on the words of these guides, their trustworthiness is confirmed. We accept the treatment plan that our X-ray specialist recommends, even though we can't make heads or tails of the picture they show us. This is called faith. Completing the doctor's instructions, we feel better than we have in years. This is called obedience.
Know how to interpret what you see and feel. As we repeatedly rely on our guides, we eventually develop a strong, internal sense that continues to steer us in the right direction. Not only do we form mental patterns through which we filter the world, but we also internalize the body sensations reinforced by our mentors. Through our teacher's repeated verbal corrections of our pitch, we learn to change our muscles ever so slightly to achieve harmonic tones.
Even in the absence of direct instruction, we learn to automatically achieve the correct musical pitch, balance a bicycle, or gain an accurate gut feeling of what is going on in a social situation. These senses are beyond words, but they were shaped and formed by countless repetitions of words from our guides. The constant commands of our teachers have become embodied, creating internal guides that can propel us forward into the future.
Relying on what our guides have taught us, we gain an intangible body sense that contributes to our felt awareness that we have truly and accurately accessed reality. Hebrews 5:14 says that through constant practice, wise people "have trained their senses to distinguish good from evil." (BSB) This is more than a mental assent to a fact. It's a lived sense that helps guide us in difficult, complex situations. This sense is not arbitrary; instead, it's developed in close communication with a reliable, expert guide. This is called wisdom.
Encounter a reality that is greater than words can describe. As we rely on guides and train our senses for discernment, we arrive at a brilliant and breathtaking view of God and the world. This knowledge is mediated through words, but it also reaches into a holistic realm that words can only point to.
Words have unfathomable power, and they are excellent tools to help us understand and experience reality. Without words, we would not be able to understand the life-giving truth of Jesus’ salvation.
At the same time, Jesus explained that the words themselves are simply indicators that point towards a greater reality. In John 5:39-40, Jesus rebuked the leaders who reduced reality to words on a page: “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” NLT
Jesus wants to know us personally, and he wants us to encounter his reality through the words of Scriptures. Rather than fixating on the words, he wants us to look through the words of Scripture and see Him. As we do, we will discover that Jesus is the best and wisest knowledge guide of all.
When we trust Him as our wise guide, we will learn how to interpret Scripture alongside the complexity of lived feelings, emotions, and sensations. We will embrace logical proofs while also rejoicing in the loving God they point to. The world, and God’s word, will speak to each other as a coherent whole that gains our total confidence.