Yesterday was All Jeremiah Wright, All the Time on cable TV. My perception of him differed greatly from the secularized commentators.
I found him to be personally engaging, funny, and intelligent. I don't agree with him, but I know lots of people like him, white and black. But then, I'm a clergyman.
The most disturbing thing he said didn't get much response, perhaps because the idea is too complicated to deal with by talking heads shouting over each other. When asked if he really believed that the US government created the AIDS virus in order to kill off people of color, Wright cited the Tuskegee experiment on black men suffering from syphilis -- an authentically awful episode in American history -- and went on to say that he believed the US government was capable of anything.
I called on an old lady in a nursing home this afternoon. We were looking at pictures of her family, but she can't remember most of the people. Nor can she remember how old she is. She still knows herself, and she can carry on a coherent conversation, so it's not Alzheimer's -- she just can't lug around all those facts any more.
I felt sorry for her -- and worried for myself. Will the time come when I don't know the important people around me or important facts about myself? And what about the time when I no longer have the immense store of facts ready to hand that I have spent a lifetime accumulating -- all those hoarded walnuts of wisdom that are my stock in trade?
Then a word came to me: as for knowledge, it will pass away. Now, I'd always thought of "knowledge" (gnosis) as something hi-falutin' -- after all, it's mentioned along with prophecy and tongues, and that's fairly rarefied company. And perhaps Paul was talking about something major, like knowledge of the mysteries of God. But the meaning rings true, even if we're talking about remembering your grandchild's name.
Knowledge is a good thing. It is a source of pleasure, and it is useful -- to support oneself, to do ministry, to glorify God. But it will pass away, if you live long enough. That doesn't mean the elderly live empty lives, just because they can't remember all that stuff that seemed so important once upon a time. Nor does our eventual death negate the value of all that hard-won knowledge we've accumulated from a lifetime of study and reading and quiz shows and what-all. It's just in the nature of things that knowledge doesn't last.
What does last are faith, hope, and love. Faith: when I don't know my own child's name any more, Christ knows mine, and that is what I'm counting on. Hope: when every day is the same, and only death will relieve the sameness, Christ says he prepares a room for me. Love: when everything else is over and done with, I shall be loved, for ever. That is Christ's promise.
So let knowledge go, when it's time, and with it the burden of knowing. There are more important things that won't go, and they're what matter.