Sunday, 9 September 2012

Don't Let Your Understanding Get in the Way of Your Understanding

Christianity is for stupid people!

By that of course I mean that Christianity is for everyone, regardless of intellectual capacity.

As a moderately intellectual person myself though, I like to ask lots of questions and try very hard to reason things through. I have a high degree of confidence in my own reasoning skills which can cause me significant difficulties when I'm confronted by something I can't understand. This can make being a Christian quite difficult - because when it comes down to it I don't really understand my own faith! I like to pretend that I do and I can usually talk fairly intelligently about it in a way that sounds quite convincing to other people (or at least to some other people anyway!), but I always have a lot of questions in my own mind - sometimes nearer the surface than others - which I am not able to answer.

I have often noticed that happiness and/or goodness do not seem to correlate - at least not positively - with intellectual capacity. In fact, if a correlation was discovered, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that it runs the other way! The cleverest people I meet and the wisest people I meet are completely different groups. Just occasionally there is some overlap between the two!

I think there are (at least) two different kinds of "understanding". There is a logical/analytical kind of understanding which can be extremely useful, but can also come to some very wrong conclusions, particularly if it strays outside of the narrow range of problems to which it is particularly suited. Then there is wisdom. Wisdom comes from experience, from making good decisions (and sometimes bad ones), and from an instinctive or intuitive grasp of what is good, right and meaningful - from a deep inner sense of what really matters in life.

But how do you get wisdom? The book of Job (in the Old Testament part of the Bible) has this to say:
There is a mine for silver
and a place where gold is refined.
Iron is taken from the earth,
and copper is smelted from ore.
But where can wisdom be found?
Where does understanding dwell?
No mortal comprehends its worth;
it cannot be found in the land of the living.
The deep says, “It is not in me”;
the sea says, “It is not with me”.
                        - Job chapter 28
And what is wisdom anyway? The book of Proverbs says this:
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom1!

                        - Proverbs chapter 4 verse 5
A recursive definition if ever there was one!

Proverbs also says this though:
Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
At the highest point along the way,
where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
at the entrance, she cries aloud:
                        - Proverbs chapter 8
So wisdom is both elusive and hard to find (according to Job) and shouting out in public to anyone who will listen (according to Proverbs). Both of these things are true - wisdom is sometimes best expressed through paradox! The logical mind doesn't like paradox and tries to resolve it. The wise heart knows how and when to accept it and hold both parts in tension.

I can't tell you where to find wisdom, but I can tell you that it is accessed primarily, not through the logical/analytical mind, but through the heart. Pascal spoke well when he said:
The heart has its reasons, that reason knows nothing of
Pascal also said:
It is the heart which experiences God, and not the reason.
And the quote from Job earlier goes on to say:
The fear2 of the Lord — that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.
Understanding in the sense of "reason" is a good thing and should be encouraged, developed, listened to and taken seriously, but reason will only get you so far. Understanding in the sense of "wisdom" will take you to a deeper level - a level that will show you what reason is for and teach you what to do with it.

Wisdom should be informed by, but not clouded by reason - don't let your "understanding" get in the way of your "understanding"!


  1. Well said!

    I've often struggled in communication as I tend towards intuitive reasoning. I have to accept that I have a responsibility to be willing to analyse and consider why I've reached a conclusion rather than just say it feels right. I still struggle as often it's not at all clear and I've been influenced by so many different situations/experiences.

    I am convinced that humility is a crucial basis for wisdom. I think I know, I think I understand but I am willing to accept I may not have a full appreciation of all the factors and may never have.

  2. Thanks Mark, and I agree with you wholeheartedly about humility, although I wish I was a lot better at putting that into practice!

  3. Proverbs 28:26
    Those who trust in themselves are fools,
    but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe.

    Don't 'let your conscious be your guide'!

    Many today would say that they don't know who to trust but at least they can trust ourselves.

    The truth is that we are only fooling ourselves. We can not trust in our own wisdom. We cannot by our own will even add one hour to our lives. (Matthew 6:27 NIV)

    In the end we have to concede that we do not possess the power to save ourselves or anyone else.

    If we think that we can judge truth for ourselves simply from our own reasoning, we end up placing our faith in our faith in ourselves and our ability to reason out our own faith! Basicly we just have faith in ourselves.


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