Seek Understanding

I love to cook. Sunday for Koinonia (a Greek word meaning fellowship) at TCATS, I made some jalapeño poppers! What I like about jalapeño poppers is that the peppers are a canvas on which I get to craft a (hopefully wonderful) combination of flavors. To do so, I have to understand the way that flavors work together. My favorite television network is Food Network. One of my favorite shows premiers its new season tonight. It’s called Worst Cooks in America. To be entirely honest, I like seeing how terrible people are at cooking and I like seeing the crazy concoctions they invent thinking that it tastes good. I was the same way when I started learning to cook. Here is what makes Worst Cooks in America my favorite show: The worst cooks begin a training process in which their way of cooking is ruined and they are brought into an understanding of what good food is, how flavors work together, and how to execute a successful dish. Worst Cooks in America is the story of redemption. It is the Gospel explained on national television through food. What could possibly be better?

To successfully execute a homemade meal, we have to understand how flavors work together. It is the most important thing for a chef to understand. To live well and to do ministry well, understanding the source of all life and ministry becomes the most important thing in life and ministry. So, in trying to understand our Lord, we develop a systematic list of basic beliefs to help guide us in life and ministry. We want these to be biblically based and we want them to be clear. This week, we begin a series called We Believe. Through this series we will walk through our belief statement at TCATS, explaining why it is we believe what we do and reminding ourselves of our foundation for life and ministry as the people of God and as a local church. Before we begin walking through our belief statement, I want to introduce our series with two questions: Is it really that important to understand more, and why?

Proverbs 2:1-5

My son, if you accept my words

and store up my commands within you,

listening closely to wisdom

and directing your heart to understanding;

furthermore, if you call out to insight

and lift your voice to understanding,

if you seek it like silver

and search for it like hidden treasure,

then you will understand the fear of the Lord

and discover the knowledge of God.

Understanding is good (v. 1-2)

In the book of Proverbs, we see some instructions from a father to his children. Solomon is the father and he has a very specific goal as he instructs his children: to produce discernment and prudence within them (1:2-4). In chapter 1, verse 7, he writes as part of his introduction, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

From the very beginning, Solomon is making a very basic claim. He wants his children to know that those who take the time to understand more will lead better lives with good discernment and prudence. It is foolish to despise greater understanding and instruction. According to Solomon, understanding is the result of teaching, teaching the result of understanding, and the process finds its beginning with God. There is not some infinite regress of understanding, which would be impossible. There would need to be a source of knowledge for knowledge to exist in any communicable and meaningful way. That is why Solomon claimed that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. This is Solomon’s premise, which is stated in his introduction to his proverbs. Before we get to chapter 2, we need to understand his premise.

If God is the source of all wisdom, then the way that we think about learning matters on this earth. If God is the source of wisdom, then there is no other source. There are some major implications if we admit that wisdom comes from God and not people. It necessarily means that neither my experience, my age, my position, my level of education, my genetics, nor my prominence have anything to do with what I understand or not. A systematic look at the Scriptures would confirm this.

    1. Luke 24:44-45, “Then He told them, ‘These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”
    2. John 8:43-44a, “Why don’t you understand what I say? Because you cannot listen to My word. You are of your father the Devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.”
    3. Romans 3:11-12, “There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one.”
    4. 2 Peter 3:15-18, “Also, regard the patience of our Lord as an opportunity for salvation, just as our dear brother Paul has written to you according to the wisdom given to him. He speaks about these things in all his letters in which there are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures.Therefore, dear friends, since you know this in advance, be on your guard, so that you are not led away by the error of lawless people and fall from your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
    5. 1 Kings 3:7-9, “Lord my God, You have now made Your servant king in my father David’s place. Yet I am just a youth with no experience in leadership. Your servant is among Your people You have chosen, a people too numerous to be numbered or counted. So give Your servant an obedient heart to judge Your people and to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”
    6. Psalm 14:1-3, “The fool says in his heart, ‘God does not exist.’ They are corrupt; they do vile deeds. There is no one who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the human race to see if there is one who is wise, one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one.”

Biblically, it is impossible that understanding come from any source other than God. Even when Adam and Eve sought their own understanding by their own works, they plunged themselves into sin against God. So, I want to ask the question logically. Is it possible to have true, unadulterated wisdom that finds its ultimate source in anything or anyone else? In 2017, my wife and I were preparing to adopt a child (she got pregnant after we started the process). During one of our classes, the experts, trained in psychology, began to tell us about what to expect, particularly concerning children who have come out of abusive homes. They would lash out, they wouldn’t trust, they would expect to be abused in some way. The same is true for people who live without a home or an income- the habit of stockpiling or hoarding is nearly impossible to break. In working with drug addicts and alcoholics during much of my ministry and with the presence of so many in our society who are not addicted to digital technology, I can testify that people really are unable to help themselves or to choose to rise above their circumstances. Why is this?

There is a network in the brain composed of neural pathways. Even in the womb, the body is programmed to begin performing certain functions in order to form these roads by which the brain receives and transmits signals so that the body can function. Essentially, the brain is a computer that has to be programmed after it is formed. It is programmed first by the instructions in our DNA, then by our external circumstances, by our experiences and by our upbringing. Welcome to psychology 101. These pathways determine the way that we think and behave in adulthood and it is nearly impossible for us to break those patterns without some sort of serious external intervention. My understanding is always determined by the way that I have been programmed. This simply means that I am not able to observe the world from a neutral perspective and come to some sort of honest or unbiased conclusion concerning anything. It is outside the scope of my ability because I am a biological machine that operates according to my programming. I will say this often, but it is so wonderful when the world’s science catches up with what the Bible has always claimed. What was that about total depravity?

This is why Solomon wanted to take the time to instruct his children, though I imagine he did not know what neural pathways were. It is why, if we are to see the world for what it is, we must in some way overcome our programming or be reprogrammed to interpret well the world we see. So, Solomon starts by saying that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. If we want to know things genuinely, we fear the one by whom, through whom, and to whom all things exist.

Knowing Solomon’s premise, we can now look to chapter 2. Through his proverbs, Solomon is encouraging his children to seek real and beneficial understanding, understanding that only comes from God and begins in us when we fear the Lord. Solomon writes that if his children want to have this godly, genuine, and beneficial knowledge, they will accept his words, store up his instructions, listen closely to his wisdom, and desire understanding.

Here, in these first two verses, we receive this very practical advice. Desiring true and unadulterated understanding is not something that comes naturally for any person. We can see this pretty plainly in the world today. People are always interested in defending what they already believe, how they already act, and how they already think. This is just as true for religious people as it is for ‘irreligious’ people. To seek true and unadulterated understanding, we actually need to, quite literally, deny our own impulses. This is impossible without reprogramming, and that is why Solomon wanted to teach his children to fear the programmer.

Understanding is always described in Scripture as a good thing. This means that biblically, ignorance is not bliss. As Christians, we have a burning desire to know the truth of all things. That is why we seek sound understanding and resolve not to have blind faith.

We will often hear others accuse Christians of having a blind faith. Sadly, many people who profess Christ do have a blind faith. We have seen, here, that the Scriptures actually call us to overcome the blind nature by which we usually hold the beliefs that we hold. They call us to overcome our unrighteous nature. They bid us to seek understanding. This understanding helps us to live well, with both discernment and prudence.

Understanding is necessary (v. 3-5)

Verses 3 and 4 are also “if” statements, followed by the “then” statement in verse 5. Verses 3 and 4 continue to emphasize the active role that we take in seeking understanding rather than defending our own predispositions. If w want to have this godly, genuine, and beneficial knowledge, we will call out for understanding (ask for it) and seek it like those in the world seek to build up treasures for themselves. Understanding is more profitable than any other resource and more difficult to gain.

In verse 5, we read, “then you will understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God.”

The mere seeking out of genuine wisdom was not enough to accomplish true knowledge according to Solomon. Instead, his claim was that when his sons sought understanding they would come to understand what it meant to fear God. Only God could grant knowledge. Verse 7 will explain that it is God who stores up wisdom and that He stores it for the upright.

Understanding is not only profitable and practical for our lives on this earth, but Scripture promises that those who genuinely seek understanding will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God.

Here is the Bible’s stance on human understanding: 1) people are, by nature, unable to understand, 2) yet we are encouraged to overcome our nature so that we can gain understanding, 3) so God is revealing Himself to people who do not seek Him (Isaiah 65:1, Romans 10:20). In His work of salvation (particularly regarding sanctification), God is granting people understanding by grace for their good even though people are incapable of genuine understanding by nature. This is the truth of the Gospel. God is redeeming all things, especially the human mind and body (which includes the brain)! When we genuinely trust in Jesus Christ, one of the things He does is begin this process of making us able to understand all things. He leaves us with this promise- “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).

In an article he wrote for Atheist Alliance International, Bill Flavel wrote that “There is very little that we can prove in this world… However, it is easier to prove something is false—all you need is one piece of contradictory evidence.” In this article, he gives eight reasons that Christianity must be false. I want to take his reasons as an example of the human tendency to fail in seeking understanding:

  1. There is clear evidence that prayer does not work despite the Bible promising prayers will be answered.
    1. If God is sovereign, why would we ever have the authority to tell Him what to do? He is the one who grants understanding, not some weird prayer slot machine.
  2. There is clear evidence that humans invent gods. Humans have invented so many gods that the default assumption should be that a god is a supernatural entity invented by humans. Christianity would need solid evidence that the Jewish god is an exception to this rule but there is no such evidence.
    1. I think it is great how the Bible agrees with you and condemns the invention of many gods.
  3. There is clear evidence that religions and gods are propagated through culture by infecting children, and no evidence that they are propagated by gods.
    1. Again, the Bible would agree and condemns mere religiosity as it encourages understanding.
  4. There is clear evidence that Christianity has evolved as human understanding of the world has changed whilst a real, God-given religion, should never need to change.
    1. Guess what? The Bible agrees again and is constantly reminding people that their religious systems are insufficient and ineffective.
  5. There is clear evidence that humans on this planet have unequal access to Christianity so, if Christianity were true, billions would be condemned to hell for no fault of their own. This contradicts the Christian notion that God is omnibenevolent.
    1. The Bible states clearly that no one understands and that God brings understanding by grace to those He chooses- regardless of human-based, systematic religion.
  6. There is clear evidence that the Bible, supposedly inspired by God, is liberally sprinkled with the type of errors we would expect from its Iron Age authors but would not expect from the creator of the universe.
    1. I haven’t found any.
  7. Christian theology is incoherent to the point of absurdity. God killing his son so he can forgive our future sin is like me breaking my son’s legs so I can forgive my neighbor in case she ever parks her car on my drive. It is quite ridiculous.
    1. The author missed the whole point with this one. God’s work is not about delivering us merely from our own sin, but about establishing His own glory through the exaltation of Jesus Christ. Christ is to be preeminent, the firstborn from the dead so that we could not misconstrue salvation as being any accomplishment of human religion.
  8. There is clear evidence that the arguments presented for the existence of the Jewish God are logically flawed—all of them have been shown to be unreliable. If this were not the case, all honest and intelligent people would accept that God exists, just as all honest and intelligent people accept that black holes exist.
    1. I’d like to know how Flavel has shown the Kalam Cosmological argument to be flawed, or any other well-defined argument for that matter. Notice how Flavel does not support his claim with any evidence whatsoever, which makes him guilty of the very accusation he has made.

Do we see how many of the people who claim to have some sort of greater understanding of things have actually fooled themselves? Flavel condemns a worldview and, in doing so, condemns his own on the points that he tries to make. He simply hasn’t taken the time to understand biblical Christianity. I remember having a conversation with an atheist friend of mine who made the same type of unfounded comments regarding the Christian worldview. He is a believer now.

There is much information in the world. Sadly, most of it is received in human unrighteousness and in our inability to understand. This atheist serves as merely one example while the Bible answers his unfounded accusations wonderfully. In our inability to understand, what hope is there for us from the foundation of the world onward? Before we speak a word, we strive for understanding and hope that God will grant that understanding by His grace alone.

Next week, we will begin walking through our local church’s belief statement. We want to remind ourselves of what Biblical Christianity is. We want to seek understanding in all things. We would like for as many people as possible to join us or follow online.

Remember to get your copy of Neat, in which I address some arguments concerning God and creation.

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