The Limits of Human Understanding

I am easily seduced by beautiful words and music. My brain seems particularly susceptible to the images evoked by them. The hymn  “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is a good example. When I hear:

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it…”

I immediately get a bird’s eye view of a lone wanderer standing in the midst of green valleys and hills.

“Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee…”

brings to mind delicate gossamer tethers that stretch from the heavens to each of us.

To some degree, I think we all do this. When we hear or read words, we internalize and interpret them based on our own tendencies and experiences. When we hear that God is “good,” that he provides “comfort,” that he is “jealous,” our minds create a picture or idea about who he is. And indeed we should. The Word gives us these attributes for a reason. It seems that God wants us to have some understanding of him, to know him.

But when we use words to describe him, we also limit him. Perhaps God has attributes we don’t know about. I can tell you that my husband is a gentleman, a hard worker and a good father. You might get a basic idea in your mind about him, but that concept would change and deepen dramatically if all the other facets of his character were revealed to you.

On the flipside of this coin is the assumption that we can’t possibly know or understand the vast mystery that is God.

I think that both of these tendencies (to define or to assume we can’t) can lead to complacency or laziness. You’ve heard people use pat expressions about God that sound cliche or have lost their meaning. “It’s all part of God’s plan” or “Everything happens for a reason” are popular. And then you’ve heard people chalk tough questions up to the unknowable nature of God. We may not ever quite “get it” but that should never be an excuse not to search. When you really think about some mystery of life, give your entire self over to understanding it, learn all that you can and then find that you still can’t make all the pieces of the puzzle fit, it can renew a sense of wonder. It might be frustrating, but its humbling, too. I can’t say I’ve ever committed that fully to any search, but I’ve still experienced incredible awe.

And when we limit God, we limit the things that we can do through him. The Bible is full of verses about just how amazing we are, and we think of them as nice little inspirational quotes. I feel like we need to be jolted out of our complacency sometimes.  Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” All things? What does that mean exactly? It seems that today we don’t seriously consider that through God, we are capable of things beyond our wildest dreams. We are downright cynical when anyone mentions miraculous healing or speaking in tongues… myself included. But Jesus tells us that we will do greater things than even he did (John 14:12)! I don’t know what that means, but I don’t think we should rule anything out, either.

Here’s to opening our minds and hearts to miracles. Happy Sunday!



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