Teaching, learning and research in a biblical way of knowing

In Hebrew terms, “knowing” is “yada.” Yada is a versatile word, and has several meanings depending on the context. One of the essential meaning of yada is depicted in Genesis 4 : 1, 17, 25:

“Adam knew [yada] his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain… Cain knew [yada] his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch… Adam knew [yada] his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth.”

The nuance of yada here is about faithful and intimate relationships, as in marriage, covenant, between two subjects. In that metaphor, yada may also refer to intimate sexual relationship. But, yada itself is not directly equal to, and thus cannot be reduced to sexual or physical relationship. More precisely, yada points to the deep affective quenching we long for; a (faithful) engagement.

To know, then, is essentially an active-ity of our heart, of the core of our personhood, our love of a subject. Knowing is thus a physical but transcends the physical. To know, in biblical view, involves our soul, affection, emotion, feeling, faith, hope and love. It is about engaging and relating with others authentically. Authenticity is a symbol and the way of true commitment between two subjects. No secrets, and nothing held back.

Another meaning of yada is simply captured in the title of Savage Garden’s song: “I knew I loved you before I met you.” To know in biblical ethos is a pre-seeking attitude. There is a quest, a search, a longing in our being before the actual encounter and engagement happens.

Heidegger’s concept, “being-in-the-world,” captures this biblical way of knowing. He notes that there is always already an affection, or mood, or basic inclination, that “assails us,” that move us, in our unreflecting devotion to the Being, to the world, whatever is the Being. There is a pre-reflective force, or commitment, that precedes and transcends our actual encounter and reflection on a subject.

To grasp the meaning of yada here, try to intuit it as “before love.” Before love, before actual knowing and encounter, there is a long of a subject, a vision, a yearning and seeking for a subject who does not yet there to reciprocate this love.

So, knowing, or a quest, or search and research, is a pre-seeking activity, a pre-reflective activity. It is a faith seeking understanding activity. It is a consummative and eschatological practice. It is an act of fulfillment. Fulfilling the love and desire into actual reality.

Every human, including children, as created in the image of God who is love, loves. We (want to) know. We quest for something. We search and research. Human is simply (re)searcher. We’re all (re)searching for meaning, for truth, for happiness and shalom.

Researcher (scientists, philosophers, theologians, and each person) do research in his way because he wants to know and understand what he love to know, what gives him meaning.

Knowledge is actually just tip, an effect, of a research. Knowledge is not the primary goal of a research, but meaning. To search is to know, and in other words, to deepen our relationship with the subject we learn.

“Research” itself is hence a relational terms. To search is to seek and to know what we want to know. Researching, learning and teaching is thus really personal issue. It is not as objective, disengaged activity. On the contrary, it is an act out of personal affection with a subject.

This “personal” element of knowing is essential for true learning. It is how true learning can really occur.

How does one research? Why, when and where? How is knowledge gained and grows? The answer of these questions should provide a typological framework of schooling itself.

In this perspective, what needs to be redeemed at first, is our relationship, our knowledge, with the known. This applies to both teacher and student.

If teacher is to be a good mediator or representation of a subject, then he should know the subject really well. He should have a good and right relationship with the subject. He should yada the subject as personal.

As a teacher loves the subject he teachers, he keeps learning about the subject: What is the nature of a subject? How did it come to exist? What was the force, the historical, social, political, or religious context of a subject occurrence? How is the subject related with the other subjects and today’s context? How should we learn and teach? And so on.

Mathemetics, for example. Who and what is it as a subject? What is its subjectivity, its kernel? How was it born and grows as a subject and becomes very influential in modern life? How is it related to the socio-political and religious context? How is it related to other disciplines? What is its role and how can it enhance our life and service to God and the others? Is math beautiful and fun? How is it related to the Creator and our faith and life? How should we relate with it? How should we know, understand and rightly live with it? How is God’s greatness reflected in math system? Is the one who invent “mathematics” thought that mathematics is just number? And so on.

So here we see that in fact, a subject or discipline is born out of a trans-disciplinary quest-ion. There is a quest, a search, before the actual encounter and engagement happens, before logical reflection begins. Before the actual encounter and reflection, there is pre-scientific dynamics that moves us to search meaning in terms of the science itself.

When mathematics is reduced to mere logical numerical symbols, symbolic manipulation, objective facts, formulas, it has already been misused, misunderstood. It is just seen as body of knowledge enslaved to serve human desire. Knowledge without love will just be a free slavery.

Government standards, on the other hand, also pushes us to teach and get the gist of a subject over a quick cup of coffee then immediately rush off to teach and apply it. In this way, we do not take time to relate, to know and understand the subject as a subject before God. We do not regard how it relates with our life and faith, we are likely to use the idea out of religious/cultural context without interpreting and embracing it in the framework of our purpose as a community.

The existence of a subject is thus cut off from its Creator, from its cultural integrity and challenge. It is reduced to mere objectives on the board.

So, teachers must redeem his/her relationship with the subject (s)he teachers and with the Creator of the subject; learn to relate with the subject as it is creation of God that needs stewardship, and give respect to as it should be.

Teachers need to reimagine the subject in the image of God, unlearn the previous reductionistic imagination. Teachers need to re-search the subjects they teach more holistically and faithfully, and never stops growing in the relationship with the subject before the Creator.

In short, knowing in essential sense is a matter of relationship. True knowledge starts from covenant, from right relationship. Right relationship is the platform to produce right knowledge.

Disengaged, disinterested, impassionate knowing that comes up from broken relationship produces broken/reductionistic knowledge.

And so we need to know how to relate with a subject justly, rightly and appropriately. We need to engage with it. If right engagement is the way of right research and knowledge, then right methods of research is also the way for us to build the right relationship.

So true knowledge cannot be imposed to others. Basic knowledge is not abstract formula or hard objective facts, but yada. It’s (inter)subjective, and personal, communal.

Christian learning should be practiced as such. We are consummative being. Each of us seeks, longs, loves something so strongly. We should embrace it and authentically talk, dialog, converse about it.

Indeed, education is not really about what we know. It’s about what we love.

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