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A Love that Surpasses Knowledge?

It has been said that the crafty serpent of Genesis 3 was desperate to keep hidden the truth that God is love, for love, as St Paul told the Corinthians, “thinks no evil.” And in another place, that the love of Christ surpasses knowledge – it leaves knowledge behind, transcends it, makes it superfluous. The point is that if Adam and Eve were to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (which they eventually did), they were to adopt an inferior way of thinking centred around knowledge rather than love. In order to be more like God and align better to his original plan we should therefore abandon knowledge in favour of love, for “[t]he gaze of [God’s] furious love and perfect mercy has made good and evil unseeable to him.”

How do we know that’s right?

The texts offered on behalf of this idea are that God “thinks no evil” (1 Cor. 13:5) and that the “love of Christ surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19). Since it’s possible to quote texts but actually miss what the author is saying, let’s look at these texts more closely.

1 Corinthians 13:5 – That God “thinks no evil”

“[For love] is not injurious, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil, …,” (cf. AKJB)

Reading parallel translations, and with a little context, you get a different picture:

  • Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (NIV)
  • it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (ESV)
  • does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; (NASB)

So this is not a good prooftext to show that God “thinks no evil.” Rather, it is a proof text for God’s love [agape] not being into doing what is wrong in speech, action or thought. Thats the idea. Here you see evil / wrongdoing / unrighteousness [adikia] is contrasted with “truth” [aletheia], which when used of persons refers to those characteristics which make a person of integrity.

From this scripture we cannot affirm from this scripture the idea that evil is unseeable to him.

We can affirm that the God of love desires what is right and will speak and act accordingly.

Ephesians 3:19 – that the “love of Christ surpasses knowledge”

Its always helpful to read things in context:

Eph 3:17b-19

[17b] And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, [18] may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, [19] and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. [20] Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think

Since we are to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, this cannot mean that knowledge is ‘left behind,’ or ‘made superfluous.’ To find the true meaning we’ll need to dig a little deeper.

Here’s the meaning of the word “knowledge” [gnoseos]: the intelligent comprehension of an object or matter, whether this comes for the first time, or comes afresh, into the consideration of the one who grasps it (“to come to know,” “to experience,” “to perceive [again]”) or whether it is already present (“to perceive”). (TDNT, Vol. 1, p. 689.)

So Paul’s prayer for the Corinthians is that to what they already know is added an experience, or a greater perception, or a fuller comprehension (of the fullness of God). God’s love (here in v.19) is analogous to God’s power (as per v.20), which is far more abundant than all we ask or think.

From this scripture we cannot affirm the idea that good is unseeable to God.

We can affirm;

(a) that Christ’s love can be known,

(b) can be more fully known (See also 1 Cor 13:12, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”), and

(c) that knowledge of God’s love is good. Why else would Paul pray for it (v.17) and the Spirit provide the power to grasp it (v16)?

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