Day 25 – Lean Not on Your Own Understanding
Our exploration this week centers around what has been called “unknowing.” One of the great, classic writings about our life in Christ is titled “The Cloud of Unknowing.” There are things we can know and understand, but our knowing always pales in comparison to what we can’t and don’t know. This leaves us in a place of tension.
We were created with minds and curiosity, and we are also dependent and vulnerable. The tension shaped by knowing and unknowing can really destabilize us. When we experience instability, we usually look for a fix. Most often that fix comes in the form of trying to get rid of the tension through either grasping for things that we can understand or just giving up. The “grasping” occurs as we settle for overly simplistic and/or incomplete theologies and worldviews. The “giving up” takes the form of denial, ignoring, or perhaps numbing.
The great theologian of the early church, Augustine, wrote: “God is not what you imagine or what you think you understand. If you understand you have failed.” In addition, His ways with us – the ways He companions us and loves us – are beyond understanding as well. Again, we may experience that impulse to know, but the infinite, eternal nature of God means that He is up to things that are “too wonderful” to understand. (Psalm 139:6; Job 42:3; Proverbs 30:18) That phrase “too wonderful for me” is repeated several times in the Scriptures and always in the context of what we know or don’t know. It expresses a joyful acceptance that God is God … and we are not.
Ultimately, our stabilizing comes not through our own efforts but our surrender. Jacques Philippe beautifully suggests that: “The situations that really make us grow are precisely those that we do not control.” Recognizing this reality and embracing the need to wait upon God in unknowing is vital. For the people of Israel, their failure to wait was described simply in Numbers 21:4: “the people became impatient on the way.” Waiting on God is a key feature of humility. On the other hand, our impatience reveals an insistence on knowing. Patience, waiting, and unsolved questions are frequent companions in an authentic life of faith:
“Give our Lord the benefit that His hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense, and incomplete.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.” Ranier Maria Rilke
Proverbs 3:5-6 are familiar, often memorized verses, and there is a wealth of counsel that often gets missed early in our journey with Christ: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Notice that we are encouraged to trust in the Lord – not our understanding of the Lord. Quite often, the truth is that we trust our understanding and that can leave us quite wobbly in seasons where our understanding is incomplete or perhaps completely shattered. The encouragement is to trust God … to simply trust Him (not our understanding) … to fall backward into unknowing.
To be honest, this can be a bit of a paradigm shift. And to be clear, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t things we can know or that we should give up study or pursuit of truth. However, our studies and our pursuit of truth are secondary to and in support of our life with God. Much additional pain and consternation in a wilderness season come because we are more focused on understanding (certainty) than humble trust. The stripping of confidence in our understanding is one of the gifts of pain and suffering. What emerges is actually a deeper, more unshakable faith in God if we make that shift.
At its core, the gospel is relational not conceptual. Concepts and propositional truth stand in support of the relational realities of the gospel, and as we move into the place of unknowing, we begin to see that much in life is rooted in “both/and” (rather than “either/or”) that leaves us in a dependent, trusting, humble stance. How are you clinging to your own ideas and understanding? One way to examine this is to consider what trust looks like for you. Are you trusting in a concept or is trust expressed in prayer and crying out to God? Pause here for a moment in reflective prayer. What do you notice? What is the Lord bringing to your awareness?
The response of humble trust is expressed so well in the words of David in Psalm 13. After spending time in lament – asking the question “how long?” over and over – he prays “but I have trusted in your steadfast love.” In other words, I am trusting Your love for me. It can be a temptation to turn descriptions of what God has done in the past into promises for the future. A more honest way of interacting with our experiences as well as the text of Scripture is to realize that God promises, or guarantees, very little. What He clearly promises is: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) There is no comma after this statement with a qualifying or conditional idea. There is no “He loves me if …” Simply, I am loving you and I am with you. Only His love, His presence is promised and that can unfold in myriad and mysterious ways.
David Benner, in Surrender to Love, develops this: “Jesus is the antidote to fear. His love – not believing certain things about Him or trying to do as He commands – is what holds the promise of releasing us from the bondage of inner conflicts, guilt and terror.”
Questions for reflection: how will you make the shift into trusting God rather than your understanding of God? Why is this important?
Prayer: Lord, You are so good and faithful in Your love for me. I need the courage to trust You and not simply lean on my understanding of You. Give me eyes to see Your love so that I can receive it. Thank you for meeting me where I am and leading me to Your heart and Your life. Amen.