Are you pretty good at discerning right and wrong? It takes authority to figure that out. We all live under authority. Whether a government or an employer, a parent or a policeman, rules rule over us and disobedience has its consequences. It’s the truth.
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We may endure it and submit to it, because we feel we have to. Or because it’s easier than the alternatives—like, say, defecting to Canada or changing churches or jobs or families. We deal with it, live with it, and gripe about it.
We all have authority over us, and their rules may be right or wrong. But who is the authority’s authority?
It all boils down to one question.
Enlighten Me, Please
The age called the “Enlightenment” turned a corner for us as rational beings. But that corner proved to be a precipice that took us to the edge of a cliff, as reason surpassed faith in God as the guiding force of our lives.
Immanuel Kant summed up the idea in his essay, “What Is Enlightenment?” (1784) when he wrote: “Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!”
We all feel the nudge to “be wise in our own eyes” on occasion—to put reason above revelation when Scripture makes no sense or when it requires trusting God. When we can reason our way forward, we feel in control.
Every age has its enlightenments of sorts. Have you noticed? As far back as the Garden of Eden, humanity has made major life decisions based on what looks right to them. Doing “what’s right in our own eyes” hasn’t always proven an effective filter for success.
Even though the Age of Reason has passed (historically), it left skid marks on our society, in our seminaries and pulpits, and even on our spiritual lives.
Faith and Reason and Revelation
Of course, faith and reason are not in opposition. Faith simply admits reason’s limitations to understand all things. Faith recognizes God’s reasonings as unfathomable. The creation affirms this wisdom with a world of complex design that defies explanation and reason in human (or even natural) terms.
A (secular) business book I recently read said it well:
Even the most brilliant scientist can master only a tiny fraction of the knowledge that exists. While the human race is becoming collectively more knowledgeable every year, each of us (as individuals) is becoming relatively more ignorant. Thus the second paradox of progress: the more we know, the less I understand. Every morning, when we wake up, we are in relative terms a little bit more stupid than the day before. (Fast/Forward: Make Your Company Fit for the Future, p. 29)
Even natural revelation proves the limitations of reason. God’s Word has told us this all along. The well-known and wonderful proverbs offer us some wonderful insights:
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 your paths straight. —Proverbs 3:5–6
It’s interesting to note:
- The word “trust” (v. 5) has at its root meaning lying facedown before the Lord.
- The term “lean” refers to what we do for support.
- The phrase “make your paths straight” (v. 6) includes God’s appointed destination as well as the path to get there.
In the end (and all along the way), it really boils down to one question.
One Question about Truth
It comes back to authority. Who gets the final Word on truth when God’s revelation bumps against the limitations of reason? For many people, the answer is themselves. After all, we should choose for ourselves what we believe is right—right?
The problem is, our reasoning only knows what it knows. We have changed our minds before.
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One day your reason will hit a wall. As you stand there with nowhere to go, look up. Faith takes reason to a new level. To a place of truth, peace, hope, joy, and connection with a mind that goes beyond the limitations of your reasoning.
One man said it this way:
God has put enough into this world to make faith in Him a most reasonable thing, but He has left enough out to make it impossible to live by sheer reason alone.
If God’s Word has no authority in our lives (if it’s just a book of advice we can take or leave), then we have 7.13 billion opinions of “truth” all colliding in many governments, religions, denominations, and talk shows.
But if instead we have “one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:6), then our lives should take a different turn in moments of crisis—and in decisions of direction.
We should not lean on our own understanding.