Question: Should We Use Our Own Wisdom or Lean on God?
I was thinking about how you always teach to seek wisdom and understanding about God and knowledge. But then I was reminded of Proverbs where we are constantly counseled to not lean on our own understanding but to seek God. So sometimes God directs us in a way that doesn’t seem wise. I’m trying to understand the limit of understanding…
Good morning David and thank you for your thoughtful question.
Well a few things can be said regarding that. It seems that at face value someone might be tempted to say that scripture teaches that we should neglect our understanding and wisdom when we seek God. Before I get to a response let me first quote a few verses that oblige us to grow in wisdom, understanding and knowledge.
Psalms 53:2 “The LORD looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.” It seems here that seeking God requires a level of understanding about reality, which requires knowledge about reality.
Proverbs 3:13 “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, and 2:4 “Search for them [wisdom and understanding] as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures.” Once again we are told to seek these things and it is given in the context that in seeking these things we are equally seeking God.
So we seem to have a conundrum for the person who wants to assume that Christians should NOT use wisdom/knowledge/understanding in seeking God and the scriptures that clearly (and these were just a few mentioned out of the many) show that we SHOULD seek wisdom/knowledge/understanding. In fact, it even implies that in doing so we are seeking God in the process as well. After all, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10
So a few options could be taken at this point:
1. Say that this alleged assumption of some Christians (not using wisdom/knowledge/understanding in seeking God) contradicts itself against the bible and ignore it.
2. Re-evaluate our interpretation of scripture and see if perhaps such Christians are mistaken in what they think the role of the Christian intellect should play in their life, rather than the thinking the bible is mistaken
3. Attempt to harmonize the verses in their context (like “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” proverbs 3:5) and avoid the false assumptions of fideism-the assumption that knowledge depends on a blind, illogical “faith“.
Also it is important to understand a few things (no pun intended) and it is:
1. We must not take an entire doctrine from one single scripture.
2. The bible is to be interpreted as a whole, not as one single verse.
3. We must know the genre from which we are reading and understand the literary styles that the biblical authors employ such as poetry, metaphors, hyperbole, etc. For example, when Christ said that you must hate your mother and father for my sake, did he really mean we have to hate them? Or was he speaking in hyperbole for emphasis as most teachers of that time did because it was customary in illustrations for them.
When we read scripture we must read it and understand it as someone who would have read it at the time it was written. For example, know a days we use the term, “piss poor” , but why in the world would we use that kind of figurative language? Because a long time ago people were so poor that they had to sell their own urine for money. Hence the term, “piss poor”. But if someone read that and had no idea what the context was or what the illustration was referring to then it could easily be misunderstood.
Also, the verse you quoted says to lean not on your own understanding. That literally means to not rely solely upon what you unjustifiably take to be true. Just like me telling a 5 year old to not believe everything you hear based on your own understanding but trust your parents because they know better. Does this mean I am telling the child to never think for themselves? Of course not. I am warning them that their knowledge is not infallible.
And lastly we must really understand what a self defeating statement is. This is a logical fallacy that is false by definition and any conclusion drawn by using this logical error is not true. (In video 3 I talk about avoiding logical fallacies because they are errors in reasoning). So an example of a self defeating statement is something like the statement, “There is no truth”. Well if there is no truth then by the very definition of that statement, the statement itself can not be true even though the person telling me that wants me to believe that statement to be true. Therefore it is self defeating and false. That being said, it seems someone who holds the view that we should not use our understanding is implying that we should not use our understanding when it comes to the things of God. The problem with this is that they are using their understanding to come to the understanding that no one should use their understanding. Therefore it is a self defeating statement because in order to even make a statement like, “don’t use your own understanding”, is one in which you arrive at by using your understanding. So again, when reading poetic books that use figurative language,illustrations, metaphors, hyperbole, etc, we must understand the context and purpose of what is being said and to whom it is being said and for what reasons it is being said.
So in conclusion:
1. We should use our own understanding and gain more understanding to get better at growing our knowledge. To think otherwise is self defeating.
2. We shouldn’t see this as an “either or” kind of option. We should see this as a “both and” kind of thing. That being said, we lean on God AND use our understanding of the things He and Scripture teaches us.
3. The context of the verse you quoted (Proverbs 3:5) was in warning to people who refuse to examine their own beliefs because they feel like they can’t be wrong. Not a command to never use your understanding as a Christian.
4. Other verses with in the same book of proverbs clearly command us to seek understanding (even entire chapters on understanding).
5. The greatest commandment tells us to use our understanding (love God with all your mind. Matthew 22:37)
6. Jesus Himself engaged in understanding and took people to be capable of using their own understanding to come to truths about God. He clearly was for people using their understanding.
Hope that helped.
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