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  • Writer's picturePaul Cho

The Implications of Covenantal Epistemology in the Covenantal Cosmos: What Does It Truly Mean to Know?

Last Sunday, I engaged in a deep conversation with a 10-year-old child named Joyce who has been coming to our church since she was very little. I have taught her through Sunday school lessons many times. Now that she is 10 years old, I asked, "Hey Joyce, do you know God? Do you believe in Him?" She confidently answered, "Yes, I do." Intrigued, I further inquired, "How can you be so certain when you can't see Him?" Without skipping a beat, she said, "Just because you can't see Him doesn't mean He doesn't exist." I pursued this further, "How do you know He is real? How is He personally real to you?" Joyce replied, "In the past, I doubted God's existence. However, during the COVID period when I was 6, I pondered the origins of the world, like the Big Bang, the suffering, and teachings of Christianity, and came to know that God exists." Finally, I asked, "What does it mean for your life to know the Lord personally? Does it matter at all in anything you do?"



Lately, I've been pondering the question: What does it mean to truly know the Lord? In 1 Samuel 2, it's stated that Eli's sons, Hophni and Phinehas, despite being priests in the temple and teaching others about God, did not know the Lord. Despite their extensive study of God and His salvific actions throughout Israel's history, somehow, for some reason, they lacked true knowledge of Him. So, what does it truly mean to know the Lord? Does this true knowledge of God have any implications for the way we live and work? Does it matter at all?


In the book Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, Steven Garber explores the concept of covenantal epistemology within a context of covenantal cosmos. According to Garber, the concept of covenantal epistemology is deeply connected to the Hebrew view of the world as a covenantal cosmos. For the Hebrews, God reveals Himself to His people through covenants, as seen with Noah, Abraham, and Moses. Then, Jesus becomes "the covenant incarnate, the covenant made flesh, living for a while among us" (91), embodying God's way of establishing a relationship with His people through covenant creation.


What does entering a covenantal relationship with God entail? Essentially, it involves knowing God. The Hebrew term for "know" is "yada," which conveys a deeper meaning than our usual interpretation. In both Hebrew and Christian traditions, knowing God means responding to His call, revealed through common and special graces. It involves living a life deeply connected with Him in all areas of life. Therefore, knowing God includes both relational and responsibility aspects. It's not merely about knowing things about God, but also loving Him. Loving God entails being responsible and caring for what God cares.


What does God care about? We see in John 3:16, which reads, "For God so loved the world..." The Greek word for the world here is “cosmos.” Not only does God make a covenant with His people, but He actually comes down to the very world, the cosmos, that He has created. Why? Why would He come to the cosmos that has fallen? Well, as the rest of the text reads, to give His life so that we may have life. We live in this cosmos, the covenantal cosmos, where God reveals Himself to us. Although He sees our world with so much mess, He still shows how much He deeply loves and cares for the cosmos. God’s plan for His cosmos is not to abolish it but to redeem it, because He cares for it. What implications does this covenantal epistemology in the covenantal cosmos we live in have on the way we work and live out our lives? In other words, how should knowing God transform the way we live?



One of the most striking dualistic views of life in our modern world is found in our capitalist economy. As I meet investors and interact with entrepreneurs, I often hear the phrase, "business is business." When I began my accounting career as a junior accountant, the firm's owner, a devout Christian, stated that our purpose was to perform the seemingly meaningless work of accounting, make profits, which he viewed as unholy, and redeem these unholy profits by allocating them to fund truly meaningful efforts to help the poor and support mission work globally. I remember questioning from my desk, immersed in an Excel sheet, reconciling the numbers, if that was all there was. I felt very unfulfilled about the work. Can making profits and contributing positively to the world go together? Or, are they mutually exclusive?



This perspective of running a company is significantly influenced by Milton Friedman's "A Friedman Doctrine," published in the New York Times in 1970. He stated, "There is only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits." Under this philosophy, business is purely business, devoid of meaning, purpose, or consideration for humanity and the environment. A company exists to make profits so that they can give to charities who can engage in the real meaningful work of solving the problems of the world created by the companies.


If God profoundly loves and cares about everything within the covenantal cosmos, what implications should knowing God have on the way we manage our companies and generate profits? In other words, given that God creates, sustains, and breathes life into the cosmos He loves and cares for, how should this life-giving care—fundamental to God's nature—be mirrored in the core purposes, processes, systems, and structures of businesses that generate and sustain their profits?


In the book, Completing Capitalism: Heal Business to Heal the World, authors Bruno Roche and Jay Jakub introduce a new business model called the "Economics of Mutuality." This model, developed through a research collaboration between Oxford University and Mars Inc., fundamentally counters the Friedman Doctrine. The project began by posing the question, "What is the right level of profit that businesses should pursue?" This question directly challenges the Friedman Doctrine, which asserts that the primary purpose of business is to maximize profits.


The authors use the biblical concept of Jubilee to challenge contemporary perspectives on wealth accumulation. They argue that wealth should not be amassed and hoarded. Instead, it should be used to serve the economy by investing in creative and innovative projects, thereby improving lives and bringing prosperity - or the biblical concept of 'shalom' - to the world.


This model, the "Economics of Mutuality," encourages a more comprehensive and holistic economic view that considers not just profits, but also people and the planet. To quote the authors, "Business can simultaneously drive both profits and wider mutual benefits to people and planet through understanding and managing multiple forms of capital, namely human, social, natural, and shared financial capital" (112). In the book, the authors show how this concept of the economics of mutuality can be embedded in the core of business systems and structures in a way that simultaneously drives profits and brings prosperity to all stakeholders. They demonstrate that it can work even in certain parts of the world where it is considered most dangerous and difficult to operate.



This new business model surpasses standalone Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) compliance. It fundamentally reshapes the objectives of businesses. The model suggests that a business's aim isn't profit maximization, but rather the prosperity of all its stakeholders, including people and the planet, alongside generating sustainable profits. It demonstrates that the pursuit of profit and care for the world aren't mutually exclusive but can coexist as a unified and coherent way that enhances and completes the current capitalism model in our economy. In other words, for-profit entities are integral to the good care of the covenantal cosmos.


Returning to my work in accounting, as I contemplate the idea of a covenantal cosmos where God has called me to know Him and care for the things that He cares, I see that working with numbers is really about sustaining order in the world. We see in Genesis that God brings cosmic order to the universe. The work of accounting reflects that. Then, with the order, God brings beauty and life into creation. Through accounting, I often bring order to clients' books, providing a clear view of their operations. With this clarity, executives can make strategic decisions that invigorate their business operations and the community they serve. The work of accounting and caring for the world are not mutually exclusive, as my former firm’s owner thought, but rather form one coherent activity that brings order, clarity, and life to the world.


So, I asked Joyce, "What does it mean for your life to know the Lord personally? Does it matter at all in anything you do?" She replied, "Paul, I now attend church not because my parents bring me, but because I love God. Also, at school, when my friends fight, I intervene to promote reconciliation, because I know God cares about peace."


Knowing God means loving Him and caring for the things He cares about. This knowledge profoundly influences everything we do in our lives. Whether it's a 10-year-old working for peace in her school, accountants doing their numerical work, executives running a multinational corporation, or an economist striving to develop new economics for the future world, God invites us all to live out the knowledge of Him in the covenantal cosmos by caring for it within the context of our vocations. In the words of Steven Garber, vocation is integral, not incidental, to the mission of God.


Embracing a covenantal epistemology is not only an invitation to know God rightly, but also to act rightly by caring for the things that He cares about in the context of our vocations. When we truly know God and live out the covenantal epistemology in the context of our vocations, we will find that our life is full of meaning, the coherence that we are all longing for.



Reference

Friedman, Milton. “A Friedman Doctrine‐- the Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Sept. 1970, www.nytimes.com/1970/09/13/archives/a-friedman-doctrine-the-social-responsibility-of-business-is-to.html.


Garber, Steven. Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good. IVP Books, an Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2014.


Roche, Bruno, and Jay Jakub. Completing Capitalism: Heal Business to Heal the World. Barrett-Koehler Publishers, a BK Business Book, 2017.

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2 Comments


bryana.n.russell
Apr 20

This is so good Paul. I truly enjoyed this perspective.

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Paul Cho
Paul Cho
Apr 20
Replying to

Thanks Bryana so much for reading the post! :)

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