From Genesis there unfolds the picture of two modes of knowing and two objects of knowledge. God was at the center of human understanding prior to the Fall, and with the Fall human language, in the knowledge of good and evil, simply referred to itself, serving to displace the role of God (as life-giver and as the center to the determination of ethics). The lie of the Fall is that knowledge of a certain kind holds out life and defeats death. Note the necessity of dialectic, difference, and the real-world alienation and murder this produces. The reality is that this sort of knowing is death dealing in its immediate experience and in the experience of those who take it up. The feeling of exposure and shame experienced by the first couple (the picture of what it feels like to die), the murder of the second son by the first, and the rise of a generation of psychopathic killers, can all be traced to a trade in knowledge. Here is the experience of entrusting oneself to human power and human language.
The question of how and what we know is not set aside in Scripture but is thematic and it is a theme taken up in the New Testament. The Gnostic tendency, which the Gospel of John and several of the New Testament epistles address both directly and indirectly (in its proto or incipient form) seems to be a particular manifestation of how a certain form of human knowledge is interwoven with evil. Gnosis or knowledge as the direct experience of the absolute might seem harmless but it is associated in John with the anti-Christ. Knowing as an end in itself apparently cuts one off from the love and knowledge of Christ in a very similar manner to the way in which knowledge of God was traded for the knowledge of good and evil.
The modern psychological and philosophical experience of this failed knowing reduplicates the problem and might be described in the same manner. G. E. Lessing’s divide between the eternal truths of reason and the contingent truths of history seem to reduplicate the Platonic divide between the absolutely transcendent forms and the world of time and matter. But it also might describe the psychological divide between the law of the mind (static, unchanging, impossible) and the law of the body (subject to the contingencies of embodiment). The philosophical divide reduplicates the psychological predicament and this can be traced throughout human experience and philosophy. The tendency of failed human knowledge is to work one side of this divide against the other: the subjective or the objective, the immanent or the transcendent, the historical or the eternal, the social or the universal, the inductive or the deductive, ad infinitum. In the theological realm the historical Jesus is pitted against the eternal Christ, natural theology is detached from revelation, and personal piety is pitted against realism (as in Niebuhr’s political realism). This has resulted in a split Christianity, which in one form is focused primarily on going to heaven and in the other on the Social Gospel. In each instance, there is a discord between thought and practice or ultimately between God and the world.
Deism may simply describe the experiential reality of living in a secular world in which belief in God is not integrated into the realities of the everyday world. It is not simply cosmology and science that are free of the necessity of God but psychology, sociology, human sexuality, economics, and politics are presumed to be self-ordering arrangements. Christian belief often fails to engage the realities of the secular world as it is presumed the secular is an adequate ground in itself. The cutting loose of the world from the constraints of God is not reversed by an intensity of belief or piety. That is, the evangelical, the theological liberal, the agnostic, or the atheist, seem to breathe the same air and experience this “freedom” as a sort of trauma. The angst, mental illness, violence, and sexual perversion of the age are of epidemic proportions inside and outside of churches. This form of freedom seems to generate new forms of enslavement and it is not clear yet that this same angst will not bind itself to the worst sort of political tyranny (in the name of freedom).
This divide, if we understand that it is of the same order as the problem addressed in Scripture, is simultaneously identified with evil (sin and death, violence and hostility) and is what Christ rescues us from. Paul pictures it as the “dividing wall of hostility” in which humanity is pitted against itself in an enslavement to the law of sin and death. The history of murder (Matthew 23:34-36), hostility among people, self-directed violence (Romans 7), and the ultimate evil of crucifying the son of God are all pictured as flowing from this same divided knowing. But the enmity which resulted in the death of Christ is also transfigured – “abolishing in His flesh the enmity . . . that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity” (Ephesians 2:14-16, NASB). The great mistake of a Christianity captured by modernity is to picture this abolished enmity, this new humanity, this defeat of death, as if it is occurring in a world that is still divided. That is Christian thought is often not cosmic or Christian enough in its proportion. Ephesians depicts the closure of the gap as occurring between heaven and earth and resulting in a restored cosmic order and a new form of humanity through which this restoration work is channeled.
At the same time, evil as arising from a divided humanity, a divided knowledge, a divided social order is exposed in the manner of Christ’s restoration work through an alternative community, a Temple community. The Jewish Temple was representative of the coming together of heaven and earth, and Christ as the true Temple accomplishes what the earthly tabernacle represented. The hope of Israel was that God, who had abandoned the Temple at the time of the Babylonian exile would come back. The post-exilic prophet Malachi said, ‘the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple’ (Mal 3:1). The story of creation culminates in Christ coming to the Temple (John 1, Ephesians) as the Temple always pictured this cosmic reconciliation, accomplished in the incarnation. The living God and the living human – Christ, and a new form of humanity constituting the body of Christ – the Church, bring together what was separate and give rise to a new form of knowing and a new way of being human (re-creation). Christ appearance in the Temple inaugurates the accomplishment of this final reconciliation and New Testament theology is predicated on the belief that this primary promise has come true in Christ.
Christ’s death and resurrection can be seen as achieving this reconciled knowing and being if it is understood that dividedness and death work hand in hand. Resurrection is where Christ takes control of the principalities and powers (1:21-22), as cultural and political powers are founded on hostility (antagonism, dividedness, and death). “Through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the principalities and powers” as they are now disempowered – denied the power of death and dividedness. True wisdom is not dependent on division as it is from and “in the heavenly places” (3:10). As in Romans 8 so in Ephesians, the inheritance is heaven and earth come together. Both depict something like the fulfillment of Isaiah 11:9: “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” Now there is the hope that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (1:18) as in Him is “the message of truth” which has been made manifest (1:13). This was realized when “He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (1:13). The resurrection power of Christ is now being shared, as one age is breaking into another as in the Temple community are those “raised up with Him and seated . . . with Him in the heavenly places” (2:6). Heaven and earth are bridged in the resurrection power of the body of Christ. Where resurrection power is put into place the power of death, the orientation to death, is undone and this constitutes a new order of knowing and a new sort of community.
Ephesians depicts this community as foundational and perhaps, counter-foundational, as this foundation takes precedence over world-historical foundationalism: it is “before the foundation of the world” (1:4). The mystery hidden since the foundation of the world has exposed the inadequacy of the immanent foundations constituting a world divided. The clash of foundations may be most evident in the common sense treatment of Christ’s resurrection. For conservatives the resurrection is a miracle disconnected from cosmic recreation and for liberals it is not to be taken literally and is inconsequential to the faith. But in the New Testament resurrection is the inauguration of cosmic redemption as it is a reversal of cosmic failure. God affirms the goodness of the created order, making it over, starting with the physical body of Jesus Himself.
Step one in appreciating the all-inclusive ramifications of both evil and its resolution in resurrection, is to recognize the peculiar social and cognitive working of evil, countered in resurrection community. Evil is corporate, social, cognitional, and thus we cannot think ourselves free of the world, the history, the culture, or the knowing that binds us where death reigns. As Bernard Lonergan has noted, common sense is not up to the task of thinking on the level of history as it is itself a product of a particular history. The surd nature of “common sense” is made evident in the continual irruption of war and violence in human history and in the story of decline of Western civilization and every civilization. Death reigns in multiple senses in this sort of knowing. God is not going to show up on the wings of human progress. Though it has brought an abundance of blessing, it has also given rise to holocausts, global destruction, and the possibility of omnicide (the obliteration of the human race). It is inherently dependent on violence and death. In gnostic thought, or maybe just human thought, this is no cause for abandoning the course upon which we are set, as escape through the possibility of total destruction, or death and dividedness, are the sole means to life. Christ, in addressing this culture and knowledge of death, sums up (in the depiction of Ephesians) all things.
There are many approaches to summing up the failure of human knowledge (psychology, religion, sociology, philosophy) but the summing up that frees from any particular historical moment is found in Christ: “the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth” as all things in a world divided are brought together (Eph. 1:10). The incapacity for any other mode of summing up (any alternative epistemology), gets at Paul’s holistic depiction of the new Temple community found in Christ. Knowledge of him is revelation and the foundation of an alternative wisdom and knowledge (1:17). A new power has been unleashed as “you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (2:1). The new Temple community, the Church, is a direct challenge to the Temple of Diana of the Ephesians, the temple culture and wisdom at the Areopagus, and the modern temple of secular knowledge. It is a challenge to every order, sacred and secular, derived from the immanent frame of dividedness.