Sunday, 4 July 2010

Do not use your own understanding?

We're continuing our effort to correctly understand Bible passages accused of being anti-intellectual and today we're looking at Proverbs 3:5,

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding

Some would claim this passages instructs Christians to not think for themselves or question their faith in any way. This reading is unlikely to be correct given how at odds it is with various passages that do encourage believers to be critical (Glenn Miller from rounds up a few here). So how are we to understand this passage?

Likely, we are to understand it in much the same way as the Hebrews 11 passage that we looked at in the previous entry. We should consider our knowledge that faith is loyalty to God based on the evidence of his trustworthiness (see here) and see how this fact illuminates the text. And illuminate it does! Simply put, when we have evidence that God is trustworthy based on the things we do understand, we can trust him for the things we don't.

We use similar principles all the times. If I talked to an astrophysicist and knew she had a P.H.D., I'd have good evidence based on my understanding that a P.H.D. is a high level qualification, to trust her judgment on astrophysics which I don't understand much about myself. Similarly, once God has demonstrated his trustworthiness to a believer, he/she is rational to trust him in things that they don't understand themselves. For example a Christian may not understand exactly how forgiving his parents for hurting him will be beneficial, but he knows that Jesus commands it, and that Jesus demonstrated his loving nature by dying on a cross for him. Based on this the Christian can trust Jesus' judgment on the matter.

In conclusion Proverbs 3:5 should not be used by either a Christian or a non-Christian to try and demonstrate that Christianity is anti-intellectual!


Anonymous said...

Would you concede that the basic premise of Christianity, could be put simply as: "The Bible is right, and all your native culture is wrong..." ?

If you agree with such a premise, how would you justify such a belief?

Also, how would a deity demonstrate its 'trustworthiness' to a mere mortal, such as ourselves? What would constitute this so called 'trustworthiness'? Isn't it likely, that if the deity in question did not produce the goods, so to speak, if god did not help in a time of difficulty or crisis, it could quite easily be put down to a 'divine test'?

Martin said...

Hello whoever you are and thanks for the thoughtful questions! I have a reply for you but it's actually exceeded the length that you can post in this space. I'd like to email you it instead, so could you either post your email here, or, if you prefer, send me your email address using the form at the very bottom of this page? Thanks very much.

Martin said...

Just realised that I can break the response down into two posts. Duh. So here goes:

I disagree that the basic premise of Christianity is as you state it. The essentials of what one must believe to be a Christian are often debated but historically one must believe of themselves that they are in some sense guilty before God for their actions, that Jesus is fully divine and that he died on the cross to atone for your-wrong doing, being raised to life again three days later. A Christian is not committed to believing that the Bible in its entirety is true although there may be good reasons to do so.

As for native culture being wrong, that depends what you mean by native culture. If by that you mean beliefs about God which are logically incompatible with Christianity, then yes, clearly Christianity couldn't be true at the same time as those beliefs, so if one accepts Christianity, rationally one ought to reject those beliefs. But you need to reject everything you've learnt through your culture. In fact you'll need to retain much of it.

While I maintain that believing that the Bible is right in everything it intends to convey is not essential to Christian belief, I do myself believe that. As such your question about how I am justified in believing this applies to me personally. I hope you understand that this is a huge question to ask! A whole book could be written about it. If it’s not too self-indulgent, I suggest you read my posts on how Christianity fits with reason and ask specific questions related to that ... as in fact you have done regarding faith. So I'll turn to that =)

Martin said...

How can a deity reveal its trustworthiness to mere mortals like ourselves? Well Christians of course believe that Jesus was himself God and that he was very aware of this and claimed this was true. We can then judge the quality of God’s character by that of Jesus’. Ultimately Jesus proved his trustworthiness by his own incredibly self-sacrificing death and his power by his triumphant resurrection. This of course assumes the credibility of the Biblical accounts of Jesus. I think accusations against that credibility can be met with reasonable responses.

Does this sort of approach render God’s trustworthiness unfalsifiable so that we can simply rationalise away any evidence we might have that God is not trustworthy? What about the bad stuff that happens to us? Doesn’t the bad stuff indicate a deficiency in either God’s goodness or his power? I see no reason to think that it does. Jesus certainly didn’t claim that it does and I don’t think any philosophical argument has successfully argued otherwise. There might be some uncertainty as to why the bad stuff happens but in the face of the evidence of God’s goodness (Christ’s death and resurrection) I don’t think we have a good reason to conclude that God is not trustworthy. In the absence of such evidence perhaps we would. Remember also that the Bible does not instruct Christians to view God’s opinion of them in light of their circumstances.

Martin said...

"But you DON'T need to reject everything your culture says" that should read.