THINK OR BELIEVE?
The scientifically minded people of the world say that they cannot believe anything unless it is tested and proved. The thinkers of the world cannot accept anything unless they understand and approve of it. Seemingly as a reaction to such demands, many Christians try to believe what they believe without testing them or thinking them through. They sometimes misquote Jesus who said that those who believed even though they could not see were blessed people (Jn.20:29). There are those who insist that reason is the enemy of faith and refuse to take even a step in the direction of reasoning. Did God make a mistake in creating man with an ability to think rationally (one of those things that distinguish him from animals)?
False teachings, prophecies, signs and wonders are abounding. Jesus asks us to judge false workers by their fruit. Can we just sit down and swallow everything that is handed down to us in the name of Jesus, or should we check everything according to the standards of the Bible? If we were to check everything, can we do that without thinking deeply about different aspects of what we see around us and what is given in the Bible?
Some Christian leaders with charismatic personalities demand unquestioning submission from their followers. Cults and cultist followings are the result even if they seem to be preaching from the Bible. Can we protect ourselves except through questioning their teaching or practices based on the values and principles in the Bible? These are days when we cannot afford to simply accept whatever some famous preacher or writer tells us, just because he is well known, without checking with the word of God ourselves.
When we read the Bible for ourselves (which very few people seem to be actually doing these days!) don’t we need to think about what we read? Can we take every word and sentence that we see there as words of God for us and act on them? If only we would stop and think a little about the meaning which the author intended, the context, to whom it is addressed, its relevance or application for us, etc., would we not be protected from much folly?
Certainly there is a reason to hesitate to use our reason freely when it comes to Scripture. Though man’s ability to think and reason was very good when God created it at first, we do recognise that it was greatly defiled and distorted as a result of the Fall. Now we tend to think as if we know the difference between good and evil without reference to God, and we have this strong confidence in our opinions as being right and reliable even when they go against the Scriptures. Now we people have some natural behavioural tendencies which are really strategies that we take in life in order to protect ourselves—from God’s opinion of us, taking responsibility for our behaviour, acknowledging the bitter truth about ourselves, having to change our opinions and behaviour, etc. It can be easily seen how our reason would work to ward off the pricking impact of the word of God and to keep from accepting what we cannot understand naturally. Then it is easy to see why some Christians try to keep reason entirely away when it comes to God’s word. They say we should only believe.
But what we have described above as characteristics of our reason all begin to change when we are regenerated by the Spirit of God, don’t they? When we acknowledge Jesus as our Saviour and Lord we also come to see that His word has authority over us. After all, the Creator of the world has given His word to us created beings so that we can know what is good for us and what is not. The more we come to trust in God, the more we trust in His word too. Then we make our natural abilities such as reason to become subject to the final authority of God and His word. The Spirit of God also begins His work in us so that little by little, as we submit to Him in our thinking, our reason gets transformed to get in line with God’s own mind (Rom.12:2). It is with this renewed attitude and mind that we can use our reason in dealing with the things of God.
One saying that has become very popular is, “God’s word says it; I believe it; that settles it.” If only it were that simple! Even though this has a tone of someone submitting his reason to the word of God, the devil is in the detail. If we do not use our reason to understand rightly what the word is saying and its relevance and application to us, what we ‘believe’ may be wrong. In other words, if we have not understood God’s word properly we can completely go off the track. For example, many times what we read in one place in the Bible has to be seen along with what God says in another part in order to understand the true meaning. How many ‘sincere’ Christians go astray because they refuse to use their reason at this point but ‘just believe’!
We do recognise that there are many things of God that are beyond our reason, in the sense that we cannot understand them merely with our reason. This is only natural because God is God and we are only creatures with limitations in every way. The beauty of faith is that we can trust in God and His word even when we cannot understand with our reason the things God reveals to us about Himself or His ways. Blessed indeed are those who can rise above their reason and trust God in such situations, to paraphrase what Jesus said above. At the same time there are many things within the scope of our reason that we cannot afford to avoid thinking about.
God wants His people to think. He needs leaders who will think about what is best for the people in God’s eyes and He wants people who will examine everything so as not to receive anything unless it agrees with His word. As we subject ourselves under the authority and leading of the Holy Spirit, we can all use our reasoning to understand the true meanings of the different parts of the word of God and see what is applicable to us. God wants us to think, not with high thoughts about ourselves or our abilities, but with sober judgment about ourselves (Rom.12:4 NASB). We must not forget how Jesus asked people many times, “What do you think?” when He addressed different subjects (e.g., Mt.18:12). God’s people have been held far too long in the bondage of ignorance and under the tyranny of leaders whom they have blindly followed.