Information can be seen as a set of ideas, propositions, or data. For example, this blog contains information.
Knowledge, however, as portrayed in Scripture, is experiential and involves a learning curve. It’s common to have a lot of information, but no knowledge.
Through good and bad experience, knowledge is what you gain when you act on information—whether the information is true or not.
When God told Adam and Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit, all they had at that point was information or “head knowledge.” Same thing when Satan said they wouldn’t die, only that their eyes would be opened. Some of the information was true and some was false. But Adam and Eve’s knowledge of good and evil didn’t come until they actually experienced it.
Mary asked Gabriel how she could become pregnant without “knowing” a man. Obviously, she had information about men, so she meant her lack of sexual experience.
There can also be a body of knowledge gained by other people’s experiences, but until you yourself experience it, it’s still just information. For example, the body of aerodynamic knowledge says that for an object to fly, thrust must overcome drag and lift must overcome weight.
Anyone who wants to become a pilot must gain this knowledge for himself by putting it into practice. So he “believes” by venturing out and taking flying lessons. He finds a competent instructor, studies the aviation “word,” does what both say to do, and discovers knowledge. Otherwise, although it’s knowledge for other pilots, it remains head knowledge for him.
Now, he could just steal a plane and try to figure it all out for himself, but he faces slim odds of coming out safe and sound. And he’d certainly be a danger to others.
Active vs. Static
Belief or faith, as Scripture means it, isn’t just mental agreement. It means to act as if something were true. So, Christian faith is about venturing on Jesus and his kingdom instead of trying to figure it all out on your own. It’s about trusting him enough to act as though his first-hand knowledge, and what he says, is competent and true.
“If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he’ll find out whether my teaching comes from God or not.” (Jhn. 7:17)
To act appropriately on his information, we need faith, i.e., to believe. Yet faith isn’t the same as knowledge. For example, I can be aware that my car will get me to work each day. That’s a static kind of belief.
But if I never get in, start it up, and put it into gear, I don’t have active faith in my car’s ability, which doesn’t bring me to act in partnership, which doesn’t bring me the knowledge I need for the journey.
Truth and Knowing
It’s interesting that Jesus defines eternal life as knowing God. Many people know about God, but don’t know Him even if they call themselves Christians, Jews, Muslims, whatever.
Jesus offers knowledge of life and the kingdom of heaven. He doesn’t just present awareness of, or information about, how to live, although he does do that. But he also invites experience through practice and knows that mistakes are part of the process.
To gain Jesus’ knowledge, I partner with him, become his student (“like a child”), and act on his information. Salvation is an active journey of learning to live safely in a community of love, racking up experience today that simply carries over into the next life. With Christ, I can know the truth, and the truth sets me free.
It’s not about getting my doctrines or atonement theories correct in order to get to heaven. I realize that’s contrary to popular Christianity, but it’s dangerous because doctrine is information, not knowledge, and doctrine doesn’t save. Jesus does. And God designed us so that not even He can simply hand someone knowledge, even through flawless information.
Bottom line? Despite today’s Information Age, people still perish for lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6). And, someday, Jesus will shock even Christians with, “I never knew you.” (Mat. 7:23) So whenever I read about salvation, wisdom, and knowledge, it helps me to think—aha!—experience.