Humility and Understanding

By Larry Ray Hafley

A false piety often emerges when men speak of the mysteries of God in hushed tones. They plumb the depths of a doctrine and, finding no bottom, they declare that it is an enigma, a mystery, one of God’s secret things (Deut. 29:29). Now, these people have a doctrine, an opinion, which they can expound in murky jargon (great swelling words), but if one questions or probes their reasoning, they resort to the “deep mysteries,” which, they aver, are ultimately known “only to God Himself.” This feigned humility of God’s absolute knowledge and one’s own finite understanding is a convenient rock to crawl under when one espouses a view which will not survive the scrutiny of study.

God’s ways and thoughts are higher than man’s (Isa. 40:14; 55:8,9). There are some things which are “hard to be understood” (2 Pet. 3:16), and “great is the mystery of godliness” (1 Cor. 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:16). However, it is no virtue that obscures revelation and hobbles the understanding under the cloak and guise of “deep reverence for the infinite God.” Men, even humble men, may use a pretense of humbled understanding in order to maintain control of other men’s minds, faith and consciences. Genuine humility does not despise or disparage human reasoning and intellect in searching the Scriptures (Acts 17:11).

When men find their positions untenable, they may begin to decry “intellectual pride” and to declaim the “folly of human reasoning” in knowing “the great things of God.” If patriotism is “the last refuge of a scoundrel,” a foggy mysticism is the last refuge of scoundrels whose arguments are weak.

If we say God has revealed a doctrine, we must be willing to prove it (1 Pet. 4:11). Beware of those who have an opinion or a doctrine which they promote, but who, when challenged, hide under the shoals of “mysteries,” on the shores of mysticism and in the depths of the “Infinite.” A “point of faith” can be believed only as it is understood. The head of understanding must not be severed from the heart of faith (Acts 8:34-37; Rom. 6:17,18).

If we douse the intellect and quench reason, we will be as wildly scattered as any current of emotion can convey us. No pagan or Pentecostal superstition can exceed in frenzy or enthusiasm the pious soul which is cut off from his mind (cf. Acts 17; Col. 2). Faith, James said, if it hath not works, is dead. Faith, if it hath not understanding, based on revelation, is blind, raging, a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed. Such a faith is the core of sectarian denominationalism.

A doctrine, whether baptism or any other, may escape one’s comprehension due to a variety of causes which are not germane to our discussion. For example, consider the Ethiopian eunuch. The central object, the chief protagonist of Isaiah 53, eluded him. When the evangelist inquired, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” his reply was, “How can I except some man should guide me?” This was not the place to initiate a humility that said, “God’s ways are past finding out. It cannot be known.” Or worse, suppose the eunuch had a prejudice against Jesus. When Jesus was shown to be the answer to his query, he could have slid into his “human intellect” garment and assumed his pious and pretentious mask of humility and declared that “the true understanding of Isaiah 53’s character is forever obscured in the recesses of God’s infinite wisdom.”

If the subject or topic is beyond understanding, why expend energy to bolster a blind faith in that which is forever uncertain, nebulous and enigmatic? If, on the other hand, the subject (baptism, the millennium, marriage, music) is a matter of reason and revelation, why not expend the necessary effort to understand what God has said? Study is better than throwing dust and muddying the water (2 Tim. 2:15). If one’s views are hesitant or cloudy, he gains nothing by arguing that mere fact (i.e., his hesitance and dim understanding). Perhaps he should scoot over in his chariot and allow someone else to guide him in the way of truth more perfectly.

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 8, p. 239
April 19, 1990