Three Ways of Knowing
Sometimes I seem to know things. I’m not talking about names and dates and places, the kind of knowledge we learn in school. Nor am I referring to how to cook or fix a fence, the kind of practical knowledge we gain from life. Sometimes I know what’s going to happen.
That doesn’t mean I’m psychic. I’ve noticed three ways that I know things that, in theory at least, are unknowable.
I’m on the autistic spectrum. I’m functional, though I have difficulty in social situations and I’m sensitive to stimuli. And my brain works a little differently. Some autistic people talk about seeing the world in pictures. I see it in processes. If I can understand how it works, I can grasp it. Otherwise, I find it confusing. I don’t do well with abstract ideas.
Recently in a class our professor was talking about the First Crusade, which Pope Urban II called in 1096. We had just covered the Investiture Crisis (1075-1107), in which the Pope sought to consolidate power and place himself above secular rulers, including the Holy Roman Emperor. I asked whether the Crusade might have been an effort by the Pope to reduce the chance of military action against him. After all, if the knights and armies of Europe went to the Holy Land, they couldn’t interfere with the Vatican.
Everyone looked at me strangely. But it remains a valid question.
I mention this because I seem to make connections others don’t make. At the time George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, I told everyone what was going to happen: a power vacuum that would lead to chaos within Iraq and increased terrorist activity elsewhere. This wasn’t a prophecy given to me by any non-earthly power, it was just the obvious (to me) outcome of a series of predictable events. Yet when these things actually happened, they seemed to surprise a lot of people.
This same ability helped me to create a paradigm for the war in Sri Lanka that helped us stop the fighting. It was the most written about war since World War II, yet apparently no one had thought to ask, “What makes it tick?” To me, it was the most obvious question, and answering it led (indirectly) to a lengthy cease-fire.
This ability to see connections is (I believe) entirely biological. And it’s fairly reliable, but not perfect. I was wrong about the election. That wasn’t the first time, and doubtless it won’t be the last.
There’s another way of knowing that I’ve experienced, which I would describe as when God puts something on my heart. In 2007, I knew with certainty that God wanted me to go back to Sri Lanka. I didn’t want to go. But I knew I had to. The result was s surprisingly productive trip.
In the same way, I knew two years ago that I was called to attend seminary (and yes, this seminary), even though that seemed to make very little sense and at the time, and my wife told me that was absolutely not going to happen. Yet here we are.
This way of knowing has always been personal, relating to my own path or that of someone close to me. And it is very reliable. Even though the results aren’t always what I think they’ll be, they are always positive, and sometimes amazingly so. The trick is to know what is from God and what is not. My rule of thumb is this: If I think God is telling me to do something that I already think is a good idea, I am very, very suspicious. Most often, God is telling me to do something that sounds absolutely crazy, and/or that I really don’t want to do.
The third way of knowing is relatively new to me: visions. These, I believe, are given by God and therefore inerrant. But they are also filled with symbolism, which means that my interpretation is subject to error. There are times when I ask what something means and I get an answer. For the rest, I have to try to put it into context myself.
Most of my early visions were very personal in nature. It’s only been in the past three months that they’ve become prophetic. The early ones have generally come true. (There’s one that hasn’t yet, the birth of a daughter, but I still have hope.) This leads me to believe that the newer ones are also reliable. But they’re complex and difficult to understand, so what they mean is not always clear.
Except when I’m told what they mean.
I had only shared these visions with a small number of trusted confidants. Then came the vision in which God gave me instructions. “Tell them!” he said.
I didn’t know what was going to happen. If I’d told them to a psychiatrist, I would have gone home with a handful of prescriptions– if I’d been allowed to go home at all! Instead, people have listened to what I have to say. Some of them nod, accommodatingly. Some roll their eyes. But some take the message seriously, and that’s encouraging.