Pitfalls for the Mind (5)
Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” John 3.9
The value of reason
Of course, when we think about the mind, we think about reasoning. “Reason” defines a way of knowing that involves making observations, relating observations to experience, analyzing, sorting and categorizing, prioritizing, concluding, extrapolating, and so forth. Throughout this study on a sound mind we have stressed the role of reason in studying the Word and world of our Lord Jesus so that we can gain insight into His mind and press on to maturity and a sound mind.
But the same reasoning that can lead us to greater heights of maturity in the mind of Christ can also be a snare in our path, a pitfall, as it was in this situation for Nicodemus.
Nicodemus had already reasoned within himself concerning Jesus. He’d seen or perhaps heard about the many signs Jesus had done in Jerusalem. He came to Him by night, hoping to learn more about Him. He wanted to fit Jesus into the categories of his thinking, so that he could satisfy himself intellectually about this Man sent from God.
Nicodemus was a man of Scripture. He knew the Old Testament, and, based on what he’d seen or heard, he had already concluded that Jesus was a teacher sent from God (Jn. 3.2). Jesus fit the categories with which Nicodemus was familiar, so he had no trouble accepting this fact. His reason had led him to a conclusion in line with what he already knew. So far, so good.
It was what followed in their conversation that threw Nicodemus for a loop.
The limits of reason
Jesus refused to engage Nicodemus at the level of mere reason. Instead, He challenged Nicodemus, based on what he had already concluded, to go a further step, to learn from Jesus the greatest mystery ever revealed to human beings, and to believe the teaching of Jesus, simply because He was Jesus.
When Jesus explained to Nicodemus that a person had to be “born from above” or “born again” to see the Kingdom of God, He challenged the limits of Nicodemus’ reasoning. But Nicodemus, trapped in his experience and reason, could not process Jesus’ message the way Jesus intended. His absurd follow-up question about entering his mother’s womb a second time showed that Nicodemus was trying to force divine revelation into the finite categories of unbelieving human thought.
Job had wanted to do the same thing. He understood that God was somehow back of all his misery. But he was not content with that and demanded that God explain Himself in ways that would make sense to his reasoning.
God, of course, was not about to do that. And just as He would not do that for Nicodemus or Job, He will not do that for us. God’s thoughts and ways are higher than our thoughts and ways (Is. 55.8, 9). And, while human beings have been created in the image of God, with eternity in our hearts, so that we can know God and His thoughts and ways, still, we cannot know as fully or completely as God does, and so must be content to believe and obey without always having to know fully according to our finite reasoning powers (Eccl. 3.11).
Understanding and trust
In our walk with the Lord, we must differentiate between knowing and understanding. We cannot always know as fully or completely as God knows. Our duty is to receive from God the things He reveals to us about Himself and His will, and to work hard to understand His intentions. And if we truly understand God’s Word, we will believe and obey it, even though we cannot always make sense of it within our frames of reference. Like Peter, walking on the water.
For example, Jesus commands us to be His witnesses, and He has given us His Spirit to empower us for this high and holy calling (Acts 1.8). But we have no experience in being witnesses. In our way of thinking, witnessing for Jesus is not what we do. We are not quick on our feet where words are concerned. We’re afraid of botching the Gospel, or of not being able to answer questions or objections, or of sounding ignorant. We suspect that the unsaved people in our Personal Mission Field aren’t all that interested in spiritual matters anyway, and so, with all this baggage cluttering our frame of reference, we reason that being a witness must mean something other than talking with someone about the Lord, or else it must not apply to us, but to those specially gifted and called for such work.
Or in the church, Jesus taught that the way to make disciples was through shepherding (cf. Jn. 10). But we’ve never seen that done effectively in a church; and our experience in the world, and the frame of reference within which we think about such matters, tells us that the way to get things done is by organization and technique, not by shepherding, whatever that is. So we follow what is familiar to our thinking and experience, and either ignore or redefine the plain teaching of Jesus, rather than work to understand, believe, and obey it.
In many other ways, we block, modify, or simply reject the plain teaching of Scripture by relying on our finite and often misguided reasoning; and we ensnare ourselves in a major pitfall keeping us from growing to maturity in the mind of Christ: insisting that we will only believe and obey what agrees with our reasoning.
A sound mind approaches the revelation of God like Augustine, who wrote, “I believe in order that I might understand.” We must use our reason to understand the substance and intent of the teaching of our Lord; but we must believe the Word of God and set our minds to obey it, even though we might not, like Nicodemus, understand how such a thing can be.
This is the work of faith that shapes our finite reasoning for a sound mind and a strong soul.
1. Why is it unreasonable to think that we should be able to understand fully what God promises or commands?
2. Why is it so that faith and obedience lead to understanding?
3. Can you see any areas in your walk with or work for the Lord where you may be ensnared in finite human reasoning?Next steps – Transformation: What is one area of your life where you understand what God commands or promises, but you have yet to believe and obey Him because you can’t see how this should be so? What can you do to remedy that today?
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
How Can This Be?
- T.M. Moore
- July 4, 2022
God's thought are higher than ours.
Pitfalls for the Mind (5)
T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore