"...And to Goodness, Knowledge..."

This month’s article is a continuation of the study of 2 Peter 1:1–11 begun in the previous e-Pistle entry.

In verses five through eight of his second epistle, the apostle Peter lays out a progressive program for spiritual growth. Beginning with the foundation of God’s gift of faith, Peter encourages his readers to “make every effort to add” to that faith which they have received “through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (see verse one). His list of things to “add” to faith presents us with a curriculum, if you will, for our spiritual progress and for our training of our children. Having challenged his readers that, as recipients of God’s gift of faith, they should strive to “add to (their) faith goodness,” Peter continues building this progressive “curriculum” by suggesting that, to goodness, knowledge must be added.

Goodness, the Foundation of Knowledge

One thing that is implied by the order Peter uses in this passage is that goodness is the foundation on which our spiritual knowledge is built. In the paradise that was Eden before the Fall, Adam and Eve possessed a pure knowledge, uncorrupted by the sinful nature. Their knowledge was of God’s creation as they knew it and of God Himself. All within their realm of knowledge was, by God’s own description and declaration, good. It was in this pure knowledge of God’s goodness, the goodness of God’s creation, and the goodness of human community (Genesis 2:18) that Adam and Eve enjoyed unbroken fellowship with their Creator and heavenly Father.

What they did not yet know was that, at some point, there was a corruption of some of God’s creatures – the devil and his fallen angels. Adam and Eve had no knowledge of this corruption and, truly, their innocence was bliss. It is interesting that a key feature of the serpent’s temptation strategy involves the enticement of “knowing good and evil.” This was presented by the enemy as appealing and as a further step toward God-likeness – something surely to be desired.

But, of course, it was a lie. Adam and Eve had the knowledge of “good,” though they may not have known to call it good. In fact, that was all that they did know. Satan was implying that they would increase their knowledge to God-like proportions simply by pursuing their desires in resistance to God’s will. But, there is no knowledge to be discovered, no wisdom to be attained in disobedience to God’s will and in rebellion to His authority. The Scriptures call the knowledge and wisdom of this world foolishness (see Romans 1:18 – 25 and 1 Corinthians 1:18 – 25). It is foolishness because it is not grounded in truth; it does not acknowledge God as God. Although “what may be known” is plain to all men because God has made it plain to them through creation, man has failed to glorify God as God and to be thankful to Him, and though he has continued to add exponentially to his vast store of information, he has indeed become a fool.

Attending a Christian school and college and teaching in a Christian school for nearly twenty years, I have often heard the concern expressed that students are too “sheltered” from the world, and that when they get out into the “real world” they won’t know how to deal with it. The implication is that learning in a Christian environment will handicap the students somehow. It seems that there are those who believe that a learning environment which provides greater exposure to a non-Biblical worldview would better equip young people to live in a fallen world. One might argue that God should have given Adam and Eve some experience of wickedness in order to prepare them for their confrontation with Satan. Though the refutation of this argument is not the purpose of this article – perhaps another time - I believe that this is faulty logic, and worse, it is all too familiar. We essentially heard this argument in the Garden at the foot of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, of which God had forbidden man to eat. We have heard this argument from the mouth of the serpent himself, the deceiver.

It is not being suggested that true knowledge is attained only by remaining ignorant of that which is evil. In a world that operates according to the law of sin and death, it would be impossible to do so. However, as the early chapters of the book of Job teach us, feasting upon the goodness of God is the best and only preparation for accepting the evil with which we are confronted in this world while maintaining the integrity of our relationship with God (see Job 2:9, 10). (Some strategies for “feeding” on goodness were discussed in last month’s e-pistle article.)

Satan’s strategy in the Garden was, in part, to open up the minds of Adam and Eve to more than what God had provided them and to more than what God deemed best for them. He wanted them to be exposed to evil; the evil of the idolatry of Self and all that results from that idolatry. But, as is suggested by the order of Peter’s “spiritual growth curriculum” in Second Peter chapter one, goodness is the foundation upon which knowledge is built. Christian parents cannot protect their children from exposure to evil since the sinful nature is inherent in all of us from birth, and we live in a fallen world. But, by God’s grace, we can and should seek to teach and set an example of a perspective that focuses on the sovereign goodness of God (see as an example Genesis 50:20) and that rests upon the certainty that God is at work for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28) in all things – the good and the bad things. At the early stages of the development our children’s intellectual lives, this foundation of “goodness” provides for them a solid base upon which to build an understanding of reality because it is truth. If anything shifts, the truth will not.

I don’t agree that the shielding of our children from the unrestricted and unevaluated messages of the world will handicap them for life in a culture filled with temptation. There is a big difference between engaging the world for the glory of God and entertaining ourselves with the spirit of the world (1 John 2:15 – 17; James 4:1 - 4). But, at the same time, we can make mistakes in protecting our children. It may be natural to a parent to want to protect a child from hurts and emotional traumas and even some negative results of his/her own actions. We may be inclined to shield them from some of the very unpleasant effects of age and illness and death. And there are certainly some circumstances where it is appropriate. But if we do this all the time, we fail to take advantage of opportunities to build our children’s knowledge upon the foundation of goodness. We need to engage their minds in applying the truths we confess to the realities of life in a world that yet awaits its restoration to God’s creation ideal. We need to walk with them through these difficulties, pains, traumas, and losses and show them how God’s people hold tenaciously to their good God through the greatest hardships with the confidence that “nothing shall separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

The study of this passage (2 Peter 1:1 – 11) will continue in the next e-Pistle entry.