I would like you to imagine a scenario with me. Let’s say you’re conversing with some of your friends. There are real issues you’re facing. It’s something your church has been wrestling with and you aren’t sure how you should feel about it. Or maybe it’s something personal, like issues in your family, career choices, or special relationships. As you find yourself searching for answers to deep questions, you start tossing ideas around. There’s some predictable banter, because you’re dipping into controversial territory; the conversations most worth having will often be controversial, after all. Most people in the conversation seem well-intentioned. But difficult conversations beg for clarity. It isn’t pleasant to have important matters left open-ended. It’s easy to shortcut this process, coming up with mediocre explanations that bring temporary satisfaction, so we can neatly shelve the issue away.
So in the middle of this discussion, someone tries to bring resolution. “Well”, they say, “only Christ has the answers. Our thinking is limited; we just need to trust Him.” Suddenly the conversation fizzles out. “Yup, you’re right,” someone else concludes. After all, who could argue with the idea that God knows more than we do?
But this doesn’t help you. Your problem isn’t an unwillingness to trust God. You just genuinely want to know how to process the situation. The questions remain, but you begin to feel a little guilty because you might be overthinking. As the conversation ends, you wish you could share your friends’ ability to seem enthused about moving on and not worrying about it. Are you just making life too complicated?
No, I don’t think you are. You need answers; you need to know what to think. But this scenario is actually quite common. If you’re like me, you hear these kind of sentiments pop up repeatedly. There seems to be tension between trusting the Lord and thinking deeply. We’re all familiar with the verse in Proverbs that says we’re to trust the Lord and not lean on our own understanding. But should we think less when we’re trusting in the Lord?
It’s a fair question. Let’s look at this passage in the greater context:
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. Proverbs 3:5-7
At first glance, this could be taken as proof that our friends were right in our imagined discussion. We shouldn’t rely on our own wisdom or think highly of ourselves. Our duty is to depart from evil, trusting the Lord. But we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about what this means. This passage is clearly a critique of self-assured, arrogant thinking. As we acknowledge the Lord, asking for direction, we humble ourselves and admit our own fallibility. So if anyone is taking pride in their thinking in the middle of a spiritual discussion, that is wrong. This can certainly happen, so perhaps our friend is sensitive about this; he doesn’t want a know-it-all to dominate a discussion. Fair enough. The problem, though, is that our friend didn’t give us a solution when he told us to “just trust God”. If you want to engage all of your heart in trusting God, how is this accomplished? Are we going to be better off if we just shut down our minds? In other words, is trust mindless?
If we keep reading in Proverbs, maybe we’ll be better prepared to answer:
Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. (verses 13 and 14)
And a few verses later:
My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion: So shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck. Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble. (Verses 21-23)
So we’re actually instructed to seek after wisdom. It will bring us great happiness; we’ll be kept from falling. The problem with leaning on our own understanding is that we rely on our thinking to the exclusion of humility and trust in God. It’s the self-assurance that’s being critiqued, not a search for understanding.
Finally, there might be one last objection. While we are happy to gain wisdom and understanding, could this be something bestowed directly from God, not a process of our own thinking? Could the pursuit of knowledge itself have limited value? To answer, I think we’d do well to look at the prior context in Proverbs. Solomon starts out by personifying wisdom: she is crying out in the streets. At the end of this monologue, we read the following:
My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:1-6)
This passage totally blows apart the improperly constructed dichotomy between thinking and trusting. On the one hand, we’re told that it’s the Lord that gives wisdom; knowledge and understanding comes from His mouth. At the same time, we are instructed to have an attentive ear and to pursue understanding. The imagery in searching for “hid treasures” clearly indicates we should be fully engaging our being in our pursuit of understanding. It’s through this very search that we find the knowledge of God. Far from being a passive case of “just trust God,” this demands everything we have.
I suggest that a humble, resting trust in God will fuel a more diligent search. So when you’re having these difficult conversations with your friends, you don’t need to feel bad about thinking too hard. Yes, you need to make sure you aren’t trusting your own reasoning. We always do well to assume there are things we don’t see correctly—we’re hopelessly naive if we think otherwise. But we want to know more; we don’t just throw up our hands in exasperation.
So you should encourage your friends to think more so that they can trust more. It’s unavoidably Biblical, even though there are popular sentiments to the contrary. It’s okay to have discussions that are challenging, likely to produce a host of different opinions, and hard to resolve—as long as we’re seeking for true wisdom.
Trust God with all your heart. Don’t lean on self-assured and arrogant thinking. But engage all of your heart and mind to pursue wisdom and understanding. It’s the key to the knowledge of God.