The thoughts of man are vain. The thoughts of man are carried around in a bone case, five or six feet above a couple of ground pounders (with ten pink toes splayed on the ends of them) that pack those thoughts around from place to place. In order to keep those thoughts going, a man has to suck air in through his nose. Not only that, he has to cook things over fires, stick them into his mouth, chew them up, and send them down the gullet toward their noble future existence as neuron firings and correct answers to math problems. Such a man, standing at the shore of the sea, looks out over that vast expanse of things unknown. But his head is only six feet above sea level, and if that head is at all swollen, he thinks he knows something.
Not only are man’s thoughts dependent in this way on physical supports, and hedged in by multiple physical boundaries, there is the additional complication of how he was taught to think from the time he was a wee bairn. The great thinkers of mankind, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, Nietzsche, Bob Dylan, the lot, all used to fill their diapers on a regular basis. Their mothers all wiped their noses, and fed them mashed peas. They all got spankings from time to time, although Nietzsche didn’t get enough of them. All of them were taught to speak the languages that the adults around them spoke. All of them were surrounded, totally and completely, by particular cultures and thought-forms, in which they continued, or against which they issued the mildest of protests — disguised sometimes, to be sure, as thundering repudiations. They were all situated. They were all planted in one part of the world’s garden, and not in another part. They all thought the way they had to think. They all ran in the grooves established beforehand.
Do I exempt Christians from this? No, of course not. But I do say that the best of Christian thinkers have recognized it, and have quite reasonably said that if we are to know anything at all, just as if we are to have anything at all, it must come to us from the hand of God. In God we live and move and have our being. If He did not put eternity in our hearts, well, then, it isn’t there. God has given us rain and sunshine, grain and beer, wheat and bread, so that we might grasp the most obvious of all untouchable and objective truths — our obligation to be grateful. God’s eternal power and majesty have been clearly displayed through the things that are made, and every man who ever lived has had a moral obligation to acknowledge the Godness of God, and his consequent need to be profoundly grateful. Every man who has ever lived has been told by God, every moment of his life, that he is receiving. Constantly, completely, totally receiving. And what do you do when you receive like this? You are to say “thank you.” To whom? To the one giving all these things to you, and you don’t have the right to pretend that you don’t know who it is. Even if the pretence is in the name of some philosphical school, and is accompanied by big words, and a thoughtful stroking of the chin.
There are three basic schools of thought on how a man can know something. Empirical experience is one. “I have sucked lots of air into my lungs! I have chewed up lots of peanut butter sandwiches! I have experienced a large number sensory tingles, inbound from the surface of my skin!” Rationalism is another. “I have rolled thoughts around in my brain, like three marbles in a glass canning jar. Oh, the thoughts I have thunk!”
The third is the epistemology of gratitude. The triune God has revealed Himself to us. We are to recognize this with simple-hearted gratitude (which is anything but simple-minded), and we have a basic moral duty to not be ingrates. The only alternative to the confidence that comes from saying “thank you” is a pretentious and sophistical attitude that wants to known as a deep thinker. But I don’t want to be a deep thinker. I want to be a deep thanker, which in rural Georgia amounts to the same thing.