May 31, 2004
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on
your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge
him, and he will make your paths straight" (Mishlei /
Years ago we used to have a plaque in our dining room
with these above words from the Book of Proverbs. My
wife and I have preferred not to display much in the
way of religious items, but this was a gift from some
friends, and we really liked what it said.
One of our reasons for not displaying many religious
items has been for the sake of certain ones of our
family and friends, who have not shared our beliefs.
While we are very happy to share our faith with
others, we didn't think it was helpful for them to be
confronted with religious objects. This plaque was one
of very few exceptions.
We had thought that this particular plaque would not
be offensive, and so we were surprised one day when
one of our close relatives, who had been to our house
many times, took great exception to it. What bothered
him was how he understood these verses. To him they
were saying that believers in God were not to think.
I was shocked to hear this. First because I knew that
faith and thinking are not contrary to one another,
and second that I had never thought about these verses
in this way. But once I heard our relative's
perspective, I could see why he thought they were
To my relative these words were saying that we should
not pay any attention to our own thoughts and
opinions, but only do what God says. Since God and
religion are completely intertwined in the mind of my
relative, doing what God says actually means doing
what the religion dictates.
I once met a man with whom I was discussing
foundational matters of faith. He said to me that when
he was very young, he had asked his religious teacher
similar questions. The teacher's response was, "Shut
up or I'll kill you." I don't for a second believe
that the young student's life was in danger. What his
teacher was trying to do (consciously or
unconsciously) was create an emotional response in the
student, so that he would never forget what his
community would allow him to think and what he would
not be allowed to think. The student quickly learned
that to contemplate certain matters would result in
complete rejection from the community. The resulting
fear forced him to conform to the status quo.
I have no doubt that my relative must have experienced
something similar to this when he was young, and
wanted no part of it. So when he saw our plaque, he
was reminded of this, and flatly rejected what he
thought it meant.
A careful look at these verses reveals something very
different from what these two people had been led to
believe. Our minds are not themselves in opposition to
matters of faith. At the same time we need to be
careful that our understanding of life and situations
should not be our main guide.
Just like an athlete relates to his coach or an
apprentice to the craftsman, we need to remember that
God is more experienced and wiser than we are. He sees
life from an eternal, infinite perspective, while we
see things according to our relatively narrow
viewpoint. That doesn't mean we should not grapple to
understand what is right and true. It only means that
as we grow up, we need to do so with a humble,
We also need to learn that our understanding will
never be sufficient to deal with life effectively. No
matter how much we learn, no matter how skilled we
become, we need to rely on God. For it is he who holds
the whole universe in his hands.