How can any of us be certain that we are not leaning on our own understanding?


Question: I can present anything, especially a verse or Biblical principle and get many different answers, all of which can be “backed-up” and given evidence to support. How can any of us be certain that we are not leaning on our own understanding?

Response: You ask a fascinating question; the study of which philosophers refer to as “epistemology.” That’s the study of how we know anything. And it’s super fascinating in reference to the tree in the middle of the garden–the tree of the knowledge of Good and evil and the tree of life. If I think of Jesus as being the fruit on that tree, a lot of things make sense to me.

The “modern scientific” mind thinks that we can only know things through empiricism, so if I want to know good and evil I subject things to my own analysis, “my own understanding.” That works, kind of, for things that are objects, that is matter subject to physical laws. So, I can lean on my understanding and dissect something and thereby know about it. But if I dissect my wife, I may know some things about her, but I no longer can know her for I’ve just killed her. I think this is the way fallen people try to know God.

Theologians (good ones) have always argued that we can only know God through revelation. In other words, the one that’s hanging on the tree is Good AND is Life. When I seek to know “the Life” with my own understanding I crucify him to me–I turn him into laws and knowledge that I can manipulate. But if I surrender to him and allow him to know me, I know because I am “known” by him. I am known the way a bride is known by a groom. I know in the way that you know a person–they must reveal their heart to you, and you must connect with them in a way you don’t connect with an “object of scientific observation.”

So, I don’t think you can truly know God through your own understanding. You can’t simply dissect the Bible and know God–maybe something about God, but that’s not knowing him. I believe God purposely arranges it this way because he wants us to want him. Knowing that he exists, or knowing about him, is not enough for him. He wants us to fall in love with him.

So, when it gets to theological arguments about the meaning of texts, it is helpful to use our brains and analysis as much as possible, that is to ask all the scientific questions. But at the end of the day, the important question is “Do I want to love God?” I think this is what faith is really all about. It’s not simply your own understanding, but the gift of God given to you.

So have you heard the phrase “faith seeking understanding?” I think that’s less like dissecting my wife and more like saying to my wife, “Tell me about yourself.” I think this is why Jesus said to the Pharisees “You search the scriptures for you think that in them you have life, and it is they that bear witness to me. Yet you refuse to come to me, that you may have Life.”

So, we cannot be “certain” in the sense of scientific proofs, but that shouldn’t be surprising. In the words of GK Chesterton, “It takes faith to believe that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.” So “certainty,” in the sense of scientific analytical certainty, is fundamentally uncertain. One must have faith just to believe that the Scientific Method is true. Truth Himself is not a subject of scientific analysis.

It is not only The Good and The Life that’s hanging on the Tree in the Middle of the Garden; it’s Truth himself. Knowing him is always a gift–and the gift upon which any true understanding must always rest. My own understanding rests on the Truth; the Truth can never rest on my own understanding.

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