September 10, 2014

"Do not lean on your own understanding"

One of the memorable features of my boyhood home was that giant set of books, stretched neatly across a book case that seemed tailor-made for its girth, called the World Book Encyclopedia. Enclosed within brown and beige covers, the set must have run to something like 20 volumes. And blessed is the child who grew up with such a resource at his fingertips! For, if fancy or curiosity posed questions about JFK, or the Ming Dynasty, or the North American Moose, one could simply pull down the appropriate alphabetical volume, thumb through the pages, and read a well-written article to slake the thirst.

But the book case, and the earth tone binding, and all those thousands of pages seem a bit superfluous today, don’t they? After all, I have access to far more data, about many more subjects, in the tiny cell phone in my right-side pants pocket! And, should any research be required for an article such as this one, I can simply click over to my internet browser … and voila, my laptop becomes an encyclopedia par excellence!

And again, blessed is the person who has such easy access to learning of all kinds. Wikipedia is one of my go-to browser bookmarks! And, what with Google, and various newsfeeds, and message boards ... one can instantly find out all sorts of information about almost anything! And so you might find me sometimes tossing into the conversation some out-of-nowhere fact about the Prime Minister of Iceland, or the sheep industry in New Zealand. Information is everywhere! And it’s often quite interesting … and occasionally, even helpful!

But having access to so much information comes with an inherent danger. Because, as we have access to more and more understanding, there is a natural tendency to begin to "lean on" that understanding (Proverbs 3.5); to begin to think that knowledge really is power – that if we simply know enough about X, Y, or Z, then we can handle it. And, if you need an example, ask yourself how many times you have noticed some possible little symptom of ill-health (either in yourself, or in a loved one) … and immediately run to the computer to read half-a-dozen articles (and, even worse, message boards) on the subject. As if reading a few pages enables you to accurately diagnose what physicians have spent years studying! And (more to the point of this article) as if understanding your disease will invariably help you better cope with it. Sometimes that may be true (especially when an actual doctor, or maybe a fellow sufferer, helps you understand it). But it seems to me that, when we go a-researching on our own; when we feel this compulsion to find out all the facts about why there might be a lump on the roof of our child’s mouth … we usually end up working ourselves into more and more of a tizzy! Haven’t you found that to be so? And the same is true when we begin researching tax laws, or trying to privately investigate someone online, or even going into all sorts of deep queries about Bible prophecies. When you give yourself over to these things, you can begin, perhaps subtly, to “lean on your own understanding" ... which is a very faulty prop indeed!

Because “your own understanding” cannot rescue you, can it? First of all, as I have already alluded to, “your own understanding” is often woefully limited! Neither Wikipedia nor World Book qualifies you (or me) as an expert on anything! And second, even if you do have a good grasp of some subject, that knowledge alone will not save you, will it? Knowing all about cancer won’t cure it. Being able to chart your own version of the end-times chronology is no guarantee that you’ll actually be safe when Jesus comes! And knowing more about your co-worker’s life by scouring through her Facebook posts will not usually help you love her with the love of Christ.

For all these things, we must ultimately turn to God … not to research! He is the one who cures cancer, and makes us ready for eternity, and places love in our hearts. He knows more about where America is headed than any political prognosticator ever could. He is the one who can give us peace when our country’s convoluted tax laws have us turned inside out with frustration and fear. And so it is to Him, and not to the internet (or the 20-volume encyclopedia), that we must ultimately turn our attention!

Do not misunderstand me. I am not decrying education, or knowledge, or understanding. I wouldn’t have Wikipedia bookmarked if I thought that were the case! And I’m incredibly thankful for doctors, and accountants, and theologians, and engineers, and lawyers who really do understand certain things in ways that are actually helpful! But Solomon is so wise when he urges us to:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding”
Proverbs 3.5

Understanding is not a bad thing. But leaning on that understanding, instead of on God, is! Trusting in your own understanding is dangerous. And I am simply saying that, the more information we have at our fingertips; and the quicker our knee-jerk reaction to turn to Google when faced with a dilemma, the more prone we are, not simply to understand, but to think that understanding will solve all our problems. But it won’t. In fact, it often just makes us more neurotic! I know from experience!

So the next time you are worried about a lump on your breast, or some snag in your taxes … call your doctor or accountant, yes. But resist the urge to try and be a doctor or accountant yourself. And, above all, resist the idea that the information you might turn up on the search engines and the message boards is the key to calming your heart’s anxieties. Turn, rather, to the book of Psalms, or to the gospels, or the epistles, or any one of the 66 books in which we hear the voice of God. Engage your mind and heart in an attempt to trust Him! “And do not lean on your own understanding.”

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