Knowing Our Limits

We can't know everything. But God does. 

A Celtic Christian Worldview (17)

…we are forced to admit we do not know half the working of the sea. But in this and many similar matters nothing else is granted to our knowledge except to proclaim the power and greatness of the Creator Who has disposed everything in number, weight and measure, and in the mean time to say with the illustrious teacher of the nations: we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when what is perfect comes, then I will know just as I am known.

  - The Book of the Order of Creatures IX.7, 8[1]

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.

  - Ecclesiastes 3.11

A worldview is like a map. It’s also like a compass. As a map, a worldview lays out the terrain through which we must travel in life, including all the important points and referents we’ll need to know as we journey. As a compass, a worldview helps us navigate through the terrain on the map, so that we can accomplish our objective in an efficient and timely manner. The clearer we are about our worldview, and the more faithfully we read and follow it, the more fruitful will be our journey in life.

We can select from a wide array of frameworks within which to organize what we know. Celtic Christians preferred a framework that went from things unseen and uncreated – that is, God – to things unseen and created (angels and heaven), and then to things seen and created (the beings and stuff of the cosmos). Within that framework, Celtic Christians appealed to Scripture, the wisdom of their Christian forebears, certain secular thinkers, and careful observation, to flesh out their view of the world. Superimposed over the various worldview summaries we find from this period are an arc of time, culminating in the new heavens and new earth, and the superintending grace and power of God, most clearly demonstrated in the work of Jesus Christ.

This is a useful worldview framework to guide Christians in their discipleship and mission. Contrary to what some might suppose, this is an open and expansive worldview, not one that is closed and unwilling to learn. Chapter IX of the Liberoffers a fascinating presentation of water and its various locations, forms, and usages. A central part of that discussion relates to the regularity of the tides, which the writer – like all his contemporaries – understood to be linked to the moon’s course through the skies. They observed that the moon affected the water’s rising and falling at the shore, but they made no attempt to explain the phenomenon. It would be another thousand years or so until Newton (also a believer) would explain the workings of gravity.

Celtic Christian worldview thinkers could observe many things, but they felt no compunction to have to explain them all. When they got as far as they could in their observations and conclusions, they were quite content to leave the rest to God, giving Him thanks and praise for knowing everything and doing everything well. This didn’t make them passive or quiescent in continuing to learn; rather, it spurred them on in study, which, in turn, spurred them on in worship and service to God.

The modern secular scientific worldview, unlike that of Celtic Christians, is a closed and confining worldview, because in his hubris, the natural man insists that he can know and explain everything apart from any reference or deference to God. This is the fruit of Enlightenment thinking, and as it is pursued, it chases out of the cosmos all need for or mention of God, the soul, the spiritual realm, and even the human person. Everything is molecules and forces, according to the secular scientist, and all knowledge must be obtained, processed, and used without any need to say, “God only knows”. The fortress of secular education has done an outstanding job inculcating that perspective for several generations now, and the effect of such thinking, even on Christians, has been to limitour ability to know life as God intends, and to contractour view of the world to what we can see, hear, feel, taste, and touch only.

Our writer concludes this chapter by noting that it’s not possible to know the exact number of species of birds, whether they are more or less than the species of fish. He writes, “even if there are some who make an estimate, they are neither to be followed nor rejected because they cannot verify this on sound authority.” A good bit of what supports the secular scientific worldview cannot be verified using the criteria for truth and knowledge on which the scientific endeavor bases its work. The secular worldview, like every worldview, is an “estimate” only, and is based on a foundation of assumptions which cannot be proved but must be received by faith.

As it happens, the foundational assumptions of the secular and scientific worldview – which it cannot prove but without which it cannot function – have their origins in the worldview of our Celtic Christian writer and, beyond that, in the plain teaching of Scripture: that the cosmos is knowable, orderly, and available for our use, for instance. We do not deny or decry the work of our secular scientific compeers, except when their estimates and intentions overstep the bounds of Scripture and lead to conclusions and applications that endanger the wellbeing of people and the earth, and sow insult to the sovereign majesty of God.

At present, a veritable vacuum of worldview thinking on the part of most Christians means that the secular worldview fills the niches and interstices of all thought, such that “the spirit of the naturalism of the age creeps into our thinking, unrecognized” (Schaeffer). Thus, lacking the vibrant, expansive, God-focused, and Biblical worldview of our Celtic Christian forebears, we are neither “saving civilization” nor adding much benefit to it.

But there’s no time like the present to set our minds on Christ and take every thought captive for obedience to His rule (Col. 3.1-3; 2 Cor. 10.3-5).

Questions for Reflection
1. Why should all believers work to develop their Christian worldview?

2. What are the best ways of growing your Christian worldview?

Psalm 33.6-9 (Truro: Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns)
God spoke and heaven came to be, and all its hosts His Spirit wrought.
He heaps the waters of the sea; the deeps their dwelling place are taught.

Let all below now fear the Lord; let all in awe of Him abide!
The worlds exist by Jesus’ Word; let all on earth in Him confide.

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T. M. Moore, Principal
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[1]Davies, pp. 15, 16

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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