Knowledge & Love
Preacher: The Very Revd Adrian Newman, Dean (2005-2011)
19 June 2005, 10:30 (Trinity 4)
No doubt you are familiar with Jesus’ famous statement that every hair on your head is numbered. That saying may be slightly more meaningful to those of us with a full head of hair than for those of us who are, how shall I say, follicly challenged. But it’s a powerful thing to say, nonetheless. God’s knowledge of us is that personal, that deep, that intense. Every single hair on our head is numbered and known. He knows us and values us with an extraordinary intimacy.
But could you place that statement in the context in which Jesus said it? Was it to do with prayer or spirituality; was it to do with valuing others? Listen again and prepare to be surprised..........
Read Matthew 10:26-31. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not 2 sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid........
This wonderful saying, so reassuring, so familiar, is actually to do with persecution. Matthew places this saying in a sequence of observations from the lips of Jesus about dealing with opposition and personal violence. Don’t fear those with the power to do you harm, Jesus says. Why not? Because the length and breadth and height of God’s knowledge of us is so intimate, so close, that whatever happens we can trust ourselves to him come what may. He knows us and he loves us and therefore we need have no fear. God’s knowledge and God’s love go hand in hand.
And this is very significant, because we live in a world intent on driving a wedge between knowledge and love, between knowledge and value.
Most preachers have used the children's talk in which you break the human body down into its constituent parts and value it accordingly. Your body apparently has enough fat for seven bars of soap, enough iron for one nail, enough sugar for seven cups of tea, enough phosphorus to tip 2,000 matches, enough magnesium for one dose of salts, enough potash to explode one toy cap and enough sulphur to rid one dog of fleas. Total value about £5. That’s how much a human body is worth.
But the question of how much are you worth has been transformed over the past generation as human body parts now exchange hands – excuse the pun – for ridiculous amounts of money. I am told that certain blood types sell for £4,000 a pint. A healthy kidney will retail for £20,000 and a single healthy human eye for £40,000. But unfortunately guys, the price of sperm has stabilised at £25 an ounce.
Last year the three biggest US Pharmaceutical companies applied for patents on over 3,000 different genes with a net worth of around one billion US dollars. The human body has become big business.
As the human body is increasingly viewed as a pure machine, our growing scientific knowledge is being linked to a very strange kind of value, one that sees value purely in terms of economics, market value. A long way from the kind of divine value envisaged by Jesus when he talked about numbering the very hairs on our heads.
You can’t turn back the tide of human knowledge. On the day the human genome project successfully completed a draft genetic map of the human body, famously headlined “the genome is out of the bottle”, Bill Clinton said: 'we have learnt the language in which God created life'.
We now have to live with this knowledge and the power for good or ill it places in our hands. But where is the moral structure to be found which allows us to use such knowledge wisely? Where is the value? Where is the love?
Victor Frankenstein, the tragic hero of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, reflecting on the days before his creation turned monstrous, says this, “when I found so astonishing a power placed within my hands, I doubted at first whether I should attempt the creation of a being like myself”.
History teaches us that the inquisitive, exploratory impulse in human beings tends to outstrip the moral maturity needed to use discoveries wisely and well.
But that is a vital link. Christianity places a high price on knowledge but never in isolation. Knowledge always comes hand in hand with love.
We joke today about knowing you in a Biblical sense. That is to say knowledge of another human being is boldly linked to sexual intercourse in the book of Genesis. Knowledge and love, knowledge and value, knowledge and care go hand in hand.
Or take wisdom in the Old Testament tradition. What you discover is that wisdom is personal, it’s not neuter, it’s feminine. It finds its truest expression in practical human relationships whether of an individual or a political nature.
And all of this is an important corrective to a modern understanding of knowledge that values the detached objective and independent nature of scientific data and research. We link knowledge with objectivity, with science; we value knowledge in our culture but rarely link it with love.
God’s numbering of the hairs on our head, his knowledge of our genetic map, his unravelling of our DNA strands. All of this comes hand in hand with love, a love that in the words of the hymn ‘will not let me go’.
One of Christianity’s great contributions to human experience has been the suggestion that God not only knows us but loves us. We are not the sum of our body parts, not just a human machine in the hands of a divine mechanic. Running through scripture, finding its most complete expression in the person of Jesus Christ, is the assertion that the essence of God is love, and the object of his affection is us.
We laugh at the fridge magnet that says “to know me is to love me”, because most of us have enough self-knowledge and self-honesty to realise that the more you really know me – far beneath the superficial veneer of my public face – the less you are likely to love me. If the real you is much like the real me, it isn’t always a pretty sight. How wonderful then, that the God who made us, who knows us through and through, who created the necklace of our DNA, who numbers every hair on our head, who sees every stain and fault-line in our character, from whom no sin is hidden; how wonderful that God yet loves us, values us, cherishes us, beyond all imagining. Christianity is nothing more, nothing less, than embracing God’s intimate knowledge and perfect love, and living our lives in its light and warmth.