May 31, 2004

Thinking Faith
"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 / 
Proverbs 3:5,6).

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 
teaching this.

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, 
teachable attitude.

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.