Rely on the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your understanding.Proverbs 3:5
For premodern, traditionally thinking people, it is the most natural thing in the world: God exists, He has given us His Word, the Word is true, and proves that God exists. And if that is not enough proof for you, you can look at nature: how can something so wonderful have come into being and continue to function without a creator? To believe is to simply accept without questioning anything.
Modernity accepts the challenge of looking at nature and comes to the conclusion: under perfect conditions or by the principle of probability and many attempts, it is quite possible that nature came into being without a creator. We don’t have all the answers yet, but in principle it should work. As for the Bible, isn’t that a circular conclusion based on our minds? This is how I understand the Word of God, and therefore it is true? Not to rely on one’s mind is to believe. That is, we recognize that there is no rational proof of God, for otherwise faith is no longer faith, but pure knowledge. So it is good to question faith, as questioning strengthens faith.
Postmodernism goes one step further. Even if there is no rational way to God, God can still be experienced. But experience is something that one makes, not learns. In this respect, God is different for everyone, personally shaped, and not comparable. An experience of God has nothing to do with understanding.
Problems arise with all three views:
Premodern people are basically dependent on others and immature, at least from the point of view of modernity. They do not form their own opinions, but faithfully adopt them from others. Often what they experience as faith in God is faith in the specifications of the church or an authority figure that in turn has taken over their faith from others. Faith second hand.
That sounds harsh. The consequence of this thinking is that we must not use our intellect, that doubts are destructive, that what is incomprehensible simply has to be believed.
Since we have postmodern thinking in the world, it happens more and more often that premodern people justify their faith through their experiences. On the other hand, they also try to underpin faith in a modern way with historical facts and thus do what cannot be done: turn their faith into rational knowledge.
Modern people often fall into the trap of misunderstanding modern criticism of reason: what cannot be proven cannot be, they say. Modernity, however, says: one can only believe what cannot be proven. Therefore, the extent of what is believed must first and foremost be freed from everything that is provable or provably wrong. What remains is true faith.
Postmodern people – and this is their trap – like to define their faith themselves. There is nothing generally binding. For them this holds true: Faith cannot be rationally derived and proven, but only subjectively experienced. But these experiences, as any, are interpreted by the mind, the resulting faith is grasped and explained intellectually. This rational system though is no longer generally valid, but it is shaped by a world view that is admittedly personal, but nevertheless itself shaped by its surroundings and history.
Is anyone right? I would say all of them and nobody.
Faith in God naturally starts from the existence of God. If it is true that this God exists and wants a relationship with his creation, then he has made himself known. Behind this revelation there is a single truth, the real existing God.
If this God wants a relationship of love that is based on a (maybe only perceived) free expression of will and not on knowledge, then the references to this revealing God will not allow for any rational evidence, but will presuppose and generate faith.
If we as human beings are individuals with different histories and imprints, then we will understand and interpret these references differently. So the truth we perceive is always subjective and can only be sharpened or questioned by others, but not just be adopted. For we will always interpret what others have said using our lenses.
But let us take another close look at the verse:
Most German translations say “and do not rely on your mind (Verstand)”. That word signifies the part of our brain that has the ability to think rationally. This ability is constantly enhancing, but limited. In this respect, a true statement: do not rely on a tool that is not perfect in itself.
But God has given us this tool, and allowed us to be in search of Him with an imperfect mind for millennia. So he believes that this is possible. So our understanding was at all times sufficient for the knowledge which God wanted to give us at any specific time.
In addition, the mind always comes into play when we assign meaning to something, interpret something. We interpret through the use of language, which presupposes a mind and is a prerequisite for a mind. They grow co-dependently. Emotions like peace are interpreted as well: is it the peace of God that confirms something to me, or the peace of being comfortable because I know this situation?
In English the verse is translated differently. Here it is not the mind, but understanding. Also in Hebrew it is more about the product of the mind, not about the organ, the activity or the ability. The word can be translated as understanding, discerning and righteous action.
So do not rely on the result of your thinking. Question again and again, when you hear new facts, whether your personal interpretation stands up to them, or whether the new facts are rubbish or irrelevant. Change and sharpen your understanding.
Base your image of God on the revelation of this very God. Be aware that your interpretation of this revelation is patchwork and subjective in nature. Use all your God-given abilities to sharpen this image, including your mind. Trust God on this journey, and constantly re-examine your understanding.
It is not about right or wrong. Precisely because my understanding is and always will be patchwork and subjective.
It is about what brings life. Even if it contradicts itself.