Tag Archives: knowledge

You Cannot Trust What You Can Understand

Recently a friend was diagnosed with cancer. She told her friends she would think positive thoughts and asked them to do the same. Later, she sent an email describing the biopsy, the treatment alternatives, and the likelihood that healing would be complete and her life back to normal in two months. The email ended with these words: “I love science.”

Having traveled the road of diagnosis and treatment for cancer with more than one friend, I take the information about her prospects with a grain of salt. Having seen science do its best to apply human understanding to medical treatment for cancer and many other assorted diseases, my respect for science us undiminished, but my confidence in the ability of human intelligence to conquer all diseases is flavored with considerable caution about its boundaries.

Disease of any sort in general and cancer in particular powerfully demonstrates a good reason not to put all your faith in science. Science is always by definition a temporary state of human knowledge, truth right up to the moment a flaw in its findings is discovered. Science takes us to the limits of human understanding. If we count on human understanding, we must always be prepared to find ourselves standing on a precipice at the edge of an unbridged crevice in human understanding.

My friend may love science, but science does not love her. Science is implacably neutral toward everything and everyone. If the physician who performed her biopsy failed to obtain a good sample of the tissue, if the pathologist who read the sample missed a crucial variant in color, texture, shape or etc., if the oncologist fails to account for one or several things, known or unknown at the time, or if any of a dozen other possible events go the wrong way, science will not lovingly cover the problem anyway and make her well anyway.

Science has no commitment to my friend. She is committing everything to science, but science is not committed to her. Whether she lives or dies, to science she is the solution to an equation. Humans know only a few of the variables in the equation. Their knowledge of variables and constants alike is limited by their ability to measure. The humans insert values they can measure into the parts of the equation that they think they know, blind to an uncounted number of factors they do not know and cannot measure. Whether treatment is a success or a failure for my friend, to science, it is simply the answer produced by the values inserted into the equation. Her doctor may care, but science doesn’t.

Before my friend went for her biopsy, I visited with her. We talked briefly, and I gave her a card on which I had written, “praying for you.”  She smiled and assured me she would prefer I just think positive thoughts toward her. She is convinced that a positive attitude will fill any gaps in scientific knowledge. I know what the writer of Proverbs knew—“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) We cannot trust human positive thinking any more than we can trust the limits of human understanding. We can only trust the Lord.

My friend believes in science so much that she entrusts everything to science. For her, life ends when her body ceases to function. If the solution to her equation during cancer treatment is physical death, she believes only the particles of her physical body will endure, consistent with the law of the preservation of matter and energy. She consistently has rejected the news that her Creator made her and all other human beings with an eternal dimension. She does not realize that Creator God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastical 3:11). She chooses to ignore God’s voice in her life, a voice that loves her and cares for her as no doctor or scientific discovery ever can care for her. The voice of eternity is always speaking, but she covers it up with the positive thinking bounded by her own understanding. Where will she turn if her treatment equation turns out to be a solution for the end of her time/space body?

I am praying for my friend to open her eyes and put her trust in the God whose equations always include eternity. I pray fervently fir her to learn that it is better to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” than to “lean on your own understanding.” When science’s equations solve for 0, God’s equations still solve for eternity.

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A Verse for Meditation

Torah ScrollMake me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Psalm 25:4 

  • Why do we need to know God’s ways?
  • Secular thinkers say that you know something is right when it makes you happy. You don’t need God to tell you what is right. How can you respond to that worldview?
  • Sometimes you come to “know” something in a flash of insight. How do you test things you think you “know” that way?
  • Which takes longer – to tell a child “sit down” or to teach a child to behave courteously during dinner? Why does God need to guide us using both methods?

Plagiarized Prayer

There is another approach to Bible study that is so tightly integrated with prayer that I don’t know what to call it. It absolutely energizes my prayers and often points me to either blessings or problems I have been ignoring. I call it plagiarized prayer. You can call it something else if that word feels uncomfortable.

I came upon this idea many years ago when I read a novel the name of which escapes me now. It was about a man who suddenly and inexplicably began to take the Bible seriously. When a problem in the city required his testimony in court, he took the oath every witness takes, “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Then he did exactly that. He amazed himself and everyone else. He put the name of Jesus in front of a community. People began to care for one another in amazing ways. It all began with a plagiarized prayer. (I wish I could remember the name of this book. Does it ring bells with anyone?)

I plagiarize a prayer by putting my own name in it. Here is an example.

Read Philippians 1:9-11

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Now, insert your own name in every possible location in this prayer. Make it a prayer that is all about you.

And this is my prayer, that Katherine’s love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help Katherine to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ Katherine may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

This is a prayer that motivates. The Apostle Paul prayed this prayer for the church at Philippi, where one of my favorite Bible characters lived. Lydia was already a spiritual leader when Paul arrived, and she was among the first people who heard him and met Christ and started the church. When this letter came back after Paul had left, Lydia was among the people for whom Paul was praying.

I see my own name in this prayer, and I think first of Lydia. When she heard this prayer read in church, she must have asked herself how she could grow in knowledge and insight. Somebody needed to do that, because a church without mature leaders will flounder. She had no church history to teach her about that problem, but I do. How, I ask myself, will my church thrive if I fail to grow in knowledge and insight? What will God ask of me if I do grow?

Oh, the answer is that I will be able to determine what is best. That is the point of growing – to become able to discern the best. The best for my church, the best for my family, the best for my country? What? Well, I may need to do some growing before I see where God will have me use my gift of seeing good choices and good strategies and wise words. This is huge. This is not the sort of prayer I pray once and move on. I may need to dwell in this prayer for a few days.

The prayer continues. I want to know what is best and make the best decisions because I want to be ready for Christ’s return. It is like the story Jesus told about people being ready for the return of their master. He wanted to find them busy about the work he had given them, not dawdling and napping and taking advantage of each other. Or the one about the foolish maidens who failed to have oil to light their lamps when the bridegroom arrived. When I know what is best and do what is best, then I will be busy about the work Christ wants me to do. I will be ready for him to appear at any time. He will be pleased with me, and I certainly want that.

The prayer concludes. It isn’t really all about me. The point of it all is a harvest of righteousness that points people to God. If I am doing what Christ calls me to do, I will inspire people to praise and glorify God. I can’t expect a Nobel Prize or a big appreciation dinner at church. I can expect what Paul received – stonings, beatings, imprisonment, shipwreck and curses. When God called Paul to do the work he was created for, God told Ananias to tell Paul that he would have to suffer for Christ. I feel confident that if I actually mature in faith and choose what is best and serve Christ to the glory of God, then I can expect suffering and sorrow along the way, too. It won’t all be victory parades.

So I need to live in this prayer. I need to examine what it means to have knowledge and discernment, two very different things. I need to learn how to grow up and become an adult servant of Christ, eating the meat of the word, having moved past milk and pablum.

Putting my own name into this prayer makes it personal, but amazingly, the prayer is less about me than most of my prayers. This prayer is not “I,” “me” “mine.” Rather it points me at all times to Christ and to the great commandments to love and serve God and to love and serve people.

Try putting your name into a prayer, and see where it leads your Bible study. As you meditate, I recommend you write down the things you discover. They may lead you to look up words and check out cross-references and commentaries, in other words, they may lead you to do some research. That is how you will grow in knowledge. Immersed in prayer is the very best way to research the Bible in order that your study opens your heart to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit.