Days of Awe, Day Eight, Understanding


“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” So spake Albert Einstein. He ought to know, I guess.

It is certainly true—no doubt you can attest from your own experience—that it’s far easier to know something than to truly understand it. I, for one, used to cram enough facts into my head to ace tests, with no more than the slightest comprehension, let alone retention, of what I had read.

When it comes to building the dominion of God on earth, what is the connection between knowledge and understanding? The Hebrew word here is da’at, which can also mean belief. Interestingly, in English belief and faith have the same sort of relationship as knowledge and understanding.

You can know a fact. Water has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. You can believe that fact with your head. But you’ll have to have better physics than I do to truly understand that fact.

And having faith in it—well, there’s one sense in which we all have a rather blind faith that water will behave as we expect it to. But to do arcane experiments on water molecules and know what to expect (the other Hebrew word, yada, which means to know deeply and intimately)—that seems like a combination of all of the above.

I think that to build our tiny part of God’s kingdom on earth will require all these facets, working in concert together. And tomorrow, we’ll go even further: from knowledge through understanding and all the way to wisdom.

To ponder: What are some things that you know, but don’t understand? What are some things you both know and understand? Are your feelings different about the two categories?

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