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The DEEP

Catch 22

Staying sane in a world gone crazy

Proverbs 3:5-6

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;

In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

 

How is your grip on reality these days? If you are like me, you probably feel that our culture is continually trying to push the limits on credulity by adding more and more incredible things for you to wrap your brain around. It seems that every day you are being asked to test your understanding of reality even more, leaving you feeling mentally like Bilbo Baggins:

“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”–J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Fellowship of the Ring”

From the almost-daily changes in the science surrounding COVID-19 prevention measures (are we still wearing masks?) to the ever-fuzzier definitions of gender, expressing aloud a thought was ordinary and accepted just a year ago may now get you in hot water today. 

Even more is the feeling, perhaps, that you are maybe the only person around with a hand firmly gripped on the wheel while the rest of the world careens off the road into cheerful oblivion.

As this is being written, congressional hearings have been taking place to approve a nominee for the position of Justice of the United States Supreme Court. This nominee, a US Federal judge of many years, seemed to struggle with the reality of a basic concept. This is the exchange between a U.S. Senator and her, as reported in the Daily Mail newspaper: 

“Can you define the word ‘woman’?"

“Can I provide a definition?” Jackson replied. “No, I can't. I'm not a biologist.”

Western culture has now reached a point where, even in the hallowed halls of government and among those who establish and enforce the laws of the land and society, a biologist is necessary to determine whether a man is a man or a woman is a woman. 

Of course, there is almost certainly a political motivation behind this person’s answer, and the judicial confirmation process has become a political and media circus in recent years. However, beyond politicians showboating for cameras and candidates threading the needle of a combative process, this statement stands out–for it stands reality on its ear.

How do you navigate the reality of this world as a Christian and a believer in the truth of the gospel when the foundations of even basic understanding are being challenged so? You are discovering more and more, that to hold to a biblical worldview is to threaten the illusions of those around you-and perhaps make you more and more an enemy in their eyes. 

How can your understanding of anything survive in this acidic environment that corrodes reason–much less faith in the present reality of Christ? 

Solomon warns the sons and daughters of Israel of just these very things in Proverbs chapter 3. He continues to lay out what Tim Keller calls the “marks of a wise person,” as he calls on the young learners to remember and retain the wisdom of God that he has begun to teach them:

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;–Proverbs 3:5

Where the first mark is to trust God, the second mark is not to rely on your own understanding–or submit to God your understanding of life and reality.

All of the talk above about bending reality to suit our personal needs is a form of insanity in a way. Now, I am not a psychologist (nor a gender-determining biologist, for that matter) but the thing about insanity is that one who is insane never seems to realize he (or she!) is actually the one so afflicted. 

Like Joseph Heller’s classic WWII novel “Catch 22,” where airman Yossarian claims insanity in order to avoid combat, but the doctor informs him that if one claims to be crazy he is, in fact, not crazy:

Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.

"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.”  

This is one thing that allows society to go off the rails when it undergoes such intense self-pleasing, navel-gazing as ours appears to be doing. Nietzsche has a prescient quote on the subject:

“Insanity in individuals is something rare, but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule.”–Friedrich Nietzsche

Solomon is revealing that the only way to “keep your head when all about you are losing theirs,” as Kipling says, is to keep your understanding of reality rooted in the wisdom of God. 

“Wait,” you might say, “God gave me a brain and the ability to use it, did He not? I am a man of intelligence, capable of understanding even the most complex things–from quantum physics to which phases of the moon are best for catching bass. Does this count for anything?”

Of course. This is not a call to suspend your education or attempt to use the Bible as a manual to repair your car. It is a call to “make every thought captive to the obedience of Christ [2 Corinthians 10:5].”

Think about this for a moment. What really determines your reality? Certainly your experiences, your upbringing, your education, pop culture, news events, and how you interact with others form a rich tapestry of how you measure your world.C.S. Lewis asks you to consider how you have arrived at some of your strongest opinions: 

Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At College, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause. When, in our whole lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the Supernatural might not in fact occur? When did we put up one moment’s real resistance to the loss of our faith? - CS Lewis “The Great Divorce”

What Lewis is revealing–and what Solomon is teaching–is that you need to continually measure the world and the reality it presents against the truth of scripture and the wisdom of God. 

As Solomon commands to trust the Lord “with all your heart” it means an obliteration of the self and all self-interest that you may have. This is what Jesus calling you to do: 

25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.–John 12:25

Do you see? The only way you can survive in a world that constantly demands that you compromise reality and bend to its insanity is to realize that, like Jesus, you are not of this world (John 18:36).

The prevailing wind of this world–and the Devil, who rules it–seeks to blow you along its own chaotic path. It ironically urges you to question everything, to “question authority,” but quickly clamps down when you question the ungodly things it holds dear.  As Tim Keller illustrates:

Our culture tells us to submit everything to our understanding, to question everything including the Bible. But everyone must choose something to not question. Modern people don’t question their right and ability to question everything. So everyone is living by faith in some ultimate authority. Proverbs makes it Gods word, not our reason and intuition.–Timothy Keller, “Gods Wisdom for Navigating Life” 

This is what God means when he tells you in verse 6:

In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.–Proverbs 3:6 

“Acknowledge” here is more than simply remembering God or giving Him credit for helping you in life. It is a “personal knowledge” gained by trusting in Him. Dr. Bruce Waltke explains what Solomon means here about the deep meaning of this:  

Personal knowledge of God ensues from risking oneself to obey the specific teachings that pertain to all sorts of human behavior in full reliance on God to keep His promises coupled with them. –Bruce Waltke, “Commentary on Proverbs"

When you seek to live as Christ in this crazy world you will undergo trials and begin to develop this personal knowledge of how to navigate its treacherous, deceitful shoals. You may face persecution as you take a stand for the truth–or simply struggle to avoid taking the easy road in a lazy personal decision. You will suffer with the grip of sinful habits and addictions that the world tells you are good, and always the desire to satisfy your own selfish desires looms large. 

When you focus on this world, the twists and turns of life’s path can frustrate, anger and depress you–but when you focus on the next world, on He who leads you, then you can find comfort in His providence. God goes ever before you to make His path yours. The bumps and suffering you endure are His, for this is the path He is leading you. God does not promise it will always be good, but He is always good.

I am reminded of the Darius Rucker song “This.”  The country singer counts his blessings when he considers his family and all he has been given, and marvels at how life’s path led him to this moment, despite all of his mistakes:


For every stoplight I didn't make
Every chance I did or I didn't take
All the nights I went too far
All the girls that broke my heart
All the doors that I had to close
All the things I knew but I didn't know
Thank God for all I missed
'Cause it led me here to this

This is what Solomon means when “He shall direct your paths.” In one way God is your ultimate guide, but a closer translation is “make smooth or straight” your paths. “God writes straight with crooked lines,” an old Portuguese proverb says.  Or as Paul says in Romans:

28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.–Romans 8:28

How is God directing your paths in this world? Do you feel the insanity of this place creeping upon you, pulling you to its easy path of self delusion? The path of this world is the path of fear. The only way to combat the craziness of the world is to focus on God. 

The prophet Daniel dealt with this directly when Nebuchadnezzar was driven insane by God for his selfishness (Daniel 4:28-37). Author Michael Horton explains that when Nebuchadnezzar finally raised eyes to heaven, he was restored, and was no longer insane:

While his eyes were on his own glory and splendor, Nebuchadnezzar had no sense of transcendence. It was only when this transcendence (raising his eyes toward heaven) was realized through divine humiliation that reality finally fell into place. He realized he was not God or a god, that he was neither the center of God's universe nor indeed even his own.–Michael Horton

You and I must fix our eyes on heaven to avoid this same fate, and He will be guide us through the wild, strange country of a landscape of the selfish modern mind. God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable, and He is wisdom deeper than the vastness of the sea. A lifetime of our knowledge cannot begin to compare–or be sufficient to get us through. As Waltke says:

One is a fool to rely on his thimble of knowledge before its vast ocean, or on his own understanding, which is often governed by irrational urges he cannot control.–Bruce Waltke

Like the old hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” reminds you, that when you focus on Him, the things of earth–all its troubles, confusion, and pain–will fade in importance in comparison to His blessed face:


Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace

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The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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