Musing on the limits of our own understanding of God

Tonight thoughts came to mind about Jesus being unable to perform Miracles in Nazareth, his “hometown.”  My thoughts focused on one possible reason as to why that was the case.  Why is it that a prophet is without honor in his own town?  It comes down to a simple matter.  They think they know him.  They saw him day to day.  They had an idea of who he was and readily dismissed that He could be anything “special” for they saw Him grow up.  They thought they knew him. They had an idea of who this Jesus was, a son of a carpenter, someone who helped them roof their house, or other things a carpenter does before he became known.  So part of the reason that Jesus was not able to perform miracles in Nazareth is that no one sought any?  They thought they knew Jesus. 

Now take that concept and apply it to our own lives and theology and understanding.  It is real easy to reach a point where we think we “know Jesus.”   There are choices and decisions and conversations engaged in because of the understandings and knowledge that we have and it is based on our own teaching and experience.  We fail to fully grasp that our own experience only pertains to a part of who Jesus is.  We fall to fully even accept that our knowledge is always at best “in part” this side of eternity.  Take whatever theological construct and presentation of who Jesus is and there will be much that is accurate but also much that is missing.  So do not settle for your own understanding.  Do not think you have it all “grasped” for in so doing you limit any further growth and settle for a caricature.  

Personally, I am one that can easily fall into the trap of thinking I understand it all. My freshman year in college my mindset was such, there was much I thought I knew.  For me it even, it is easy to communicate in a way of lacking love where my tone or words can come off as arrogant or condescending because it is emphasizing what I ‘think I know” and trying to prove it, rather than sharing simply openly what God has helped me to understand.  So giving a foothold to pride and limiting growth is one trap that can come from what we know. There is another trap as well. We can miss out on some blessing because it did not fit what we know.  Personally there have been moments when reading God’s Word where come across a verse or passage of scripture and respond “has that verse always been there, never noticed it before.”   God has a way of opening our eyes, ears, and hearts to things we have not noticed.  He has a way of deepening our understanding, but we need to not settle for what we think we know.  We need to be willing to test always what we think we know.

Now in saying all this, it is important to know that God has made certain things clear and there are things that are simple to say and write, but yet we fail to grasp the depth and shades of meaning.  Part of the gaining understanding is grasping the deeper levels of things we already know.  God is continually drawing us to deeper understanding of Him, if we continue to engage in fellowship with Him. So, please, do not settle for what you think you know.  Seek God and ask Him to reveal Himself to you in deeper ways.  As the Bible says, “Lean not on your own understanding.”

Now there is another amazing thing God has shown us in the word and given us evidence of.  It is possible to overcome what we think we know and set it aside. We can grow in knowledge and truth and learn who God is more deeply.  The biggest evidence of this is Jesus half-brother James.  He was able to set aside his own knowledge of Jesus as brother and accepted Jesus as redeemer and followed Him.  The result is James had a deeper and broader understanding Jesus and the Father used James to pen words that we acknowledge as God’s words today.  So do not settle for what you think you understand, always seek and ask God to broaden the depth and breadth of understanding, for we can always grow, all of our understanding is in part.  Each of us can do a simple act, ask God to expand our understanding.  Ask God to teach and reveal that which we hold that is partial or faulty.  We can ask God for further wisdom.  If we do so God gives us this promise,  James 1:5 (ESV)  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

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Do you test your own understanding?

This to me is an important question to consider: Do you test your own understanding?  As a Christian and follower of Jesus I believe it is important to constantly examine what I think I understand about God and the Bible.  Now this questioning of ones own understanding is not about the essential matters of doctrine and faith, but rather the thoughts, ideas, practices, and systematic thinking about God and church.  There is a problem that can easily occur in that we can reach a point on a matter where we think “we grasp it.”  In other words being certain that we know fully what God was saying and have made an assessment on the matter and have full confidence in understanding.  Personally it is a temptation for me that once I come to an understanding to consider the matter settled.  Yet, I find God often moves to teach me new aspects or areas of a matter I had not previously grasped.  One example of this for me is the matter of unity as a church.  I have long advocated the need to understand one another and be aware of the fact that we all “got something” wrong in understanding God.  The picture to me has been that of the body of Christ often separating into the different cells of the body rather than working together.  Another picture is that of staying around those that play the same notes and instrument and missing the bigger symphony.  Then God showed me otherwise and awakened my eyes and ears to the depth and level of deception that has infiltrated the church.  There are things that previously passed off as petty and judgmental that truly is identifying significant danger that is serious.  So I find this principle at work, God often will show and lead us in one direction and then when we have engaged in the change and direction he desires, he can show us what we missed or failed to understand.  The thing is our understanding is limited and we inject ourselves and our own thoughts all too often. We also can easily rely on ‘teachers’ who we have respected and can fail to fully examine those who have taught us and impacted us to deeper understanding of God or freedom from something we did not quite understand before.  It is really important to be constantly testing everything, even our own understanding.   The motivation of that examination really needs to come from a desire to understand God and love Him better which in turn also leads to truly loving others.  Anything that comes from any other motive falls short of what God desires regarding our testing everything.  And yes, testing everything even comes down to “testing to see if in the faith. “  In other words, have I truly surrendered myself to Jesus?  Do I accept the words I have received and believe them? There are many other related questions.  So how does one test your own understanding? Start with asking God for wisdom and to reveal that which you think you understand but miss. Also ask for the Holy Spirit to reveal and open your eyes to the ways you have been deceived.  God is faithful and I can verify that He will do just that if willing to surrender you own wisdom and let God show you through His word and even through what others say.  Never be confident or settled that you “got it.”  The disciples did not get it when Jesus was with them.  He had to stay on earth forty days explaining and showing things to the disciples so they did “get it.” And even then, we needed to constant presence of the Holy Spirit to continually show us when we are off on the wrong path.  But we have to surrender and set aside self and be teachable and humble enough to turn and admit error. Remember the Bible does tells us that at our best we can only “know in part.”  So if you feel you have arrived, think you grasped it all and have no inclination to put self-understanding of God to test, you are settling for the incomplete and imperfect.