The Difference Between Knowing And Understanding


I know a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean I understand them. I know my car does this piston thing, burning fuel to make it run, but I couldn’t explain much more about the workings of the engine. I know less about my computer and a tenth of that about the Internet.

Still, though I don’t understand them, I use those basic tools. I know how to drive, how to enter information into my computer, how to access any number of sites and services on the World Wide Web.

I know, but I don’t understand.

Quite frankly, I’m fine with things the way they are. There are mechanics, tech guys, and webmasters who understand these things and take care of fixing them when they break. I trust their expertise and don’t feel like I need to kibitz—they’re quite capable without my input.

There’s an idea in our culture, however, that seems to treat God differently. He, the thought goes, is a mystery and we’ll never know Him because we will never have true understanding of Him. He is, after all, so far beyond mankind that we shouldn’t expect to understand Him or to know what He’s like. Here’s an example of this kind of thinking from a comment to another blog:

For me, I find that looking for the answers is satisfying enough, even if I never find ultimate truth. Omniscience is a beautiful, holy ideal. I know I will never attain it, but why stop trying? My brain is wired, therefore, with a strange dilemma: there is no ultimate truth, yet I’m going to search for it.

Rather than critiquing or responding to that comment, I want, instead, to take what I hope is a Scriptural look at the mystery of God.

First, the Bible makes it clear that God is indeed far beyond Mankind, that He doesn’t do or think like us:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9-9).

Such a situation seems to lend itself to belief that God is in fact a mystery. However, God has shown from the beginning of time that He had no desire to be a mystery.

First He made Man in His own image, after His own likeness. Just by looking at people, even in our fallen state, we can know something about God.

Second, God was engaged with Man, walking and talking with him rather than withdrawing and watching from afar. Even after man sinned and suffered the consequences, God interacted with Abel, Enoch, Noah, Job, Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Samuel, Solomon, Daniel, and many others.

He also gave His Law and for forty years gave a visible indication of His presence with the people He chose as His own. He stayed with them, fought for them, fed them, kept their cloths from wearing out, disciplined them, and fulfilled His promises to them.

Still, there was a mystery — something God kept in reserve that all those people only caught a hint of. That mystery was Jesus Christ:

Of this church I [Paul] was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col 1:25-27 – emphasis added).

All throughout the New Testament, then, the mystery is mentioned in light of its unveiling.

Mat 13:11: Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven …

Rom 16:25 … according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past,

Eph 1:9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him

Eph 3:3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery …

[emphases added]

Furthermore, we learn from Scripture that Christ is the image of the invisible God, that it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him. Hebrews spells out succinctly God showing Himself to Man:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb 1:1-3a).

Is God a mystery?

How can we say that He is when He says He is not?

Does that mean we understand everything about Him? Not by a long shot.

But remember, understanding and knowing are not the same thing. We cannot let the thinking of our time push us off of the sure knowledge of God that we have — not because of our great intellect, which is nothing in comparison to God’s infinite knowledge, but because of God’s kindness and love which spurred Him to reveal Himself to us.

What He has told us, then, is sure knowledge, the testimony of omniscience. We can know what He has revealed, though we may never understand it.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2012.

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Published in: on July 20, 2017 at 5:44 pm  Comments (3)  
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No Thank You, Mr. Buffett


Suppose I decide I want to talk to Warren Buffett, the American business magnate. I hunt up a number, call, and wonderfully am answered on the first ring by one of his many assistants.

I explain I want to talk to Mr. Buffett himself. The assistant tells me he just happens to be on site and available. In seconds I hear Mr. Buffett’s energetic voice.

I eagerly identify myself, then move on to the reason for my call. “Thank you,” I say, “but Mr. Buffett I’ll have to say no. I just can’t accept a million dollars from you.”

He pauses, clears his voice, then says, “There must be some mistake. I never offered you a million dollars.”

As you know, this scenario is completely fictitious, but I think there are parts that are analogous to our perception of humankind’s relationship with God.

Jesus clearly said that

he who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18; emphasis mine)

As I understand this passage, there are only two camps—he who believes and he who has not believed. In other words, no one is in the state of my fictitious scenario in which no offer has been made.

We frequently talk about accepting Christ, yet we don’t take much time thinking about what rejecting the Son means. Instead, we assume that first a person hears about Jesus, then he “makes a decision.” That way of looking at things suggests the third category—those who have not heard.

I want to postulate that the decision to reject the Son of God has more to do with our heart attitude than it does with hearing the name of Jesus.

I realize I am walking a dangerous line here, one I think some of the universalists traverse. However, I hope I am coming at it from a Biblical perspective.

More and more, people claiming to be Christians speak of the “innocent” people who haven’t heard the gospel (as Rob Bell did some years ago in his ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos). At best that position is tapping into the “blank slate” theory, that man is born neutral and can decide to be good or evil. At worst, it aligns with the belief that man is good and something from the outside—society or government or Satan or an evil parent or traditional religion—drags him into sin.

The truth is, none is innocent. None is righteous. We are all in “reject” mode, dethroning God and enthroning ourselves.

Let me turn the page for a minute. When Jesus was teaching in the temple one day, He began a discussion with the Pharisees about who their father was. They claimed God was their father, but Jesus said no. Their father was the devil (see John 8:18-59).

Whether Jesus stood in front of them or not, their father would still have been the devil. He did not become their father because they rejected Jesus as their Messiah. The devil already was their father.

Jesus, of course, knew this about them because He is omniscient. He knew they were slaves to sin. The only thing that could free them would be His shed blood.

But today so many are coming to the issue of salvation as if it is a matter of imparting information—giving everyone a chance to hear the truth, and if they haven’t had that chance, then God is either unfair or He’ll give them that chance later or the information we thought they needed, they didn’t really need because their own belief system is a good substitute.

All of this rejects the idea that an omniscient, all powerful, good God who forms us in our mothers’ wombs can know our hearts and that He calls those who are His. It’s an uncomfortable idea.

We don’t know, can’t understand why God put us in America where we could so easily hear the gospel.

But we must marvel just as much about Tisquantum, better known as Squanto, who was kidnapped with the intent to be sold into slavery. As a result, he had the opportunity to learn about Jesus and escaped the plague that wiped out the rest of his people group.

Or how about Mincayani, one of the Huaorani tribesmen that killed Jim Eliot and the others martyred with him. His act of violence did not stop the truth of God from coming to his people and specifically to Mincayani himself.

The stories of people coming to Christ are many, varied, and no less miraculous if the miracle is about being born where the gospel is readily heard or if it is about one hearing the unexpected and unsought truth of God’s Son.

My point is this. I don’t believe anyone will be judged for rejecting an unoffered gift. God is not Warren Buffett.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in March 2011.

Is God’s Power Limited?


quail-2-703602-mI suspect if most Christians who believe the Bible were asked if God’s power is limited, we’d say, No, of course not. Some who identify as Christians but think Peter walking on water was symbolic and Daniel’s friends surviving a fiery furnace was myth, probably have some reservation about God’s power.

The thing is, whether we say God’s power is not limited or if we hedge the question, we mostly live as if we don’t think God has unlimited power. Not a surprise really. Even Moses wasn’t so sure about God’s power.

This would be Moses who saw a burning bush that didn’t burn up, who talked with God, who had his staff turn into a snake at God’s word, who initiated the plagues of Egypt, who parted the Red Sea, who met with God to receive His commandments.

Yes, that Moses wasn’t so sure about God’s unlimited power.

The situation was this: after more than a year of manna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the people of Israel started to complain. Seriously complain. There was a Back to Egypt faction, and a Down with Moses faction brewing. Already they were looking back at their old life with nostalgia. Things were better in Egypt. They could get good food for free. Never mind that they’d been slaves, so nothing from the Egyptians was free. Still, their complaints mounted.

Finally Moses brought the matter to God. The people were too much for him. He couldn’t handle the pressure alone. God gave him a group of elders to share the burden, but still there was the matter of food. The people specifically wanted meat.

God, as He so often does, said, Fine. They want meat, I’ll give them meat. In fact, I’ll give them so much meat they’ll be sick of it:

Therefore the LORD will give you meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” (Num. 11:18b-20)

Excuse me, God, Moses answered. You may be forgetting something. We’re talking about 600,000 people, and You’re saying You’re going to give them meat for an entire month? Actually it was Moses who was forgetting something. The rounded off number of 600,000 was the men listed in the census and did not count women and children. The total could easily have been a million and a half.

But even underestimating the number of people who needed meat, Moses didn’t see any way God could do what He said He’d do. No way, Moses said. If we killed off all our livestock, there wouldn’t be enough meat to satisfy the demand for a month. Even if we over fished the sea we’re camped beside, there wouldn’t be enough for the whole company.

Here was an odd situation: God said it; Moses didn’t believe it.

Some how, because Moses questioned the limitless power of God, I feel a little better about the times I question God’s ability to do what He says He’ll do. I shouldn’t feel better. My excuse is that Moses had the advantage over me because He got to see God turn water to blood and cause darkness to fall on the land for three straight days and to send locusts to eat up their crops and hail to strike any living thing left in the fields. He saw the angel of God pass over Israel and strike down the first born of Egypt. Of course He should have believed God could do the impossible. He’d already seen it. Advantage Moses.

Except, I have the advantage of the cross and the risen, resurrected Lord Jesus. I have God’s written revelation chronicling fulfilled prophecy. I have His Holy Spirit living in my life, guiding me into all truth, acting as my Advocate with the Father.

Advantage Becky.

The point is, Moses didn’t really have a more sure way of knowing that God would fulfill His word. He had to trust and I have to trust.

Moses, quite frankly, thought God couldn’t pull it off. But to his credit, he didn’t start painting Return To Egypt Or Bust signs. His questions went straight to God.

You’re kidding! Six hundred thousand people? Meat? For a month?

God simplified things:

The LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’S power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not.”

Somehow, miraculously, God sent quail up from the sea. The birds surrounded the camp within a day’s walk. There were so many of them they stacked up a yard deep.

summertime-wild-flower-meadow-2-1354217-mIs the Lord’s power limited? Yeah, that would be NO.

If He wants to send quail to teach a lesson to His people about craving more than what He’s given, then He can send an impossible number of quail. So, too, today. If God says He will not fail or forsake His people, we His people can know He won’t fail or forsake us.

His word is sure, settled in Heaven, and unlike the flower of the grass that withers, it will stand forever.

This post first appeared here in September 2014.

The Eternal Word Of God


Bible-opening-859675-mI was just listening to some of the RZIM sponsored debate between Imam Dr. Shabir Ally, a Muslim, and Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, a Christian, taking place at Wayne University. The topic was whether or not God is a triune being.

In the interrogation phase of the debate, Dr. Qureshi quizzed Dr. Ally about the Muslim understanding of the eternal nature of the Quran—was it created or has it always existed. This apparently has been a great source of debate in Islam. As part of his answer, Dr. Ally said he’d like to turn that question around and ask Dr. Qureshi if Christians consider the Bible to be eternal or created.

I’d like to hear that answer myself. Lots of verses in Scripture tell us God’s word is enduring. Isaiah, for example, which Peter later quoted, says, “The grass withers, the flower fades/But the word of our God stands forever” (Is. 40:8).

At the same time, we know that God inspired men to write Scripture and they were addressing first an immediate audience for a particular purpose from their own communication skills using their own personality.

So David, who spent some years as a shepherd, wrote “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1). In the same way, Paul, the itinerant preacher, wrote letters to the churches he visited and said things like, “When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans, and you for your part, read my letter that is coming from Laodicea” (Col. 4:16).

From such passages, a person could easily conclude that the Bible is created. Except Jesus Himself said that not one “jot or tittle” of the law would be changed:

For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matt. 5:18)

Later Matthew recorded Jesus as saying, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” Certainly there is an everlasting quality of God’s word. The great Psalm centered on God’s word says, “Forever, O LORD,/Your word is settled [stands firm] in heaven” (Ps. 119:89).

I suspect then that the answer to the question, is the Bible eternal or is it created, is, Yes. Yes, the Bible is eternal and yes the Bible was created by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through the agency of men. Here’s how Peter explained it:

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Peter also warned against false teachers but reminded those to whom he wrote that they were to remember “the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2). He went on to equate Paul’s words with Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16).

So here’s the thing: Moses, the prophets, David, other writers of the Psalms, all referred to God’s Word, spoken by His servants or written in the Law. Jesus referenced the Law and the Prophets as pointing to Him, as unchanging. The New Testament writers noted the work of the Holy Spirit in giving God’s word, contrasted the truth of God’s word with the false message of false teachers, and equated the message of truth they proclaimed with the established Scriptures of the Law and the Prophets.

They didn’t have any doubt that the true word of God was established in heaven and was living and enduring.

Consequently, they weren’t questioning whether, say, Adam was a real man or not. Dr. Luke, who said he “investigated everything carefully from the beginning” (Luke 1:3b) proceeded to give Jesus’s genealogy, ending with “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38).

Now in the twenty-first century, however, we have people who “know better,” and leave comments declaring “The creation story is neither factual nor historical. There was no literal Adam eating from a literal tree some literal fruit.”

Let’s see. On one side, Jesus who was there at creation, whose Spirit revealed to the prophets that they were not serving themselves but a future generation of believers (1 Peter 1:12ff), whose spirit inspired the writing that listed Adam in Christ’s genealogy . . . on the other, the vain thinking Paul referred to as “philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world” (Col. 2:8b)?

I don’t think it’s even a close call. Why would I believe the baseless view created by someone “inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (Col. 2:18b) instead of the sure, unshakeable word of God? I’ll take the testimony of Omniscience every day.

Published in: on April 8, 2015 at 6:22 pm  Comments Off on The Eternal Word Of God  
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Giving Thanks For The Fleas


pumpkins-912529-mIn a comment to my post decrying President Obama’s decision to create law through an executive order, my nephew reminded me to give thanks for the fleas. The line alludes to a true story Corrie ten Boom told in her book The Hiding Place.

She and her sister Betsy had been moved in the concentration camp to a room that was crawling with fleas. Their circumstances were bad enough, but the fleas made life almost unbearable.

Because of a passage they studied in the Bible, Betsy had been saying they needed to thank God for everything. Corrie could hardly believe her ears, but then she thought about it and thanked God that she and Betsy were together, that they had a Bible, that they had a sweater and a bottle of vitamins. Maybe a few other things.

After she prayed, Betsy said, You must also thank Him for the fleas. This seemed like too much, but Corrie wanted to be obedient to God, so she prayed again, this time thanking Him for the fleas.

Soon Corrie and Betsy began to share passages of Scripture with the other prisoners in their room after they came in from their work assignments. At first they were cautious, not wanting a guard to walk in and confiscate their Bible. But as days wore on, no guards came in the evening.

The number of women drinking in God’s word increased. Because they did not all speak the same language, Corrie would read the passage from her Dutch Bible, then someone would translate into Germany, Polish, or whatever other language was needed. This went on for weeks.

At some point Corrie had a chance to find out why the guards never came into the room to check on them. The fleas! she was told. None of the guards wanted to go into that room because of the fleas!

So, yes, God works even in circumstances we think are all wrong, when stuff happens and it makes life hard. In ways we don’t see immediately, or perhaps ever in this life, God works.

He sends a storm to stop a prophet from going the wrong way and a big fish to bring him to his knees and send him in the right way.

He takes a boy in prison because his brother betrayed him and his master’s wife lied about him, and uses him to save the lives of his entire family—God’s chosen people.

God uses an eight-year-old king to bring revival to Israel.

He takes an exiled Israelite boy and uses him to proclaim His name before Babylonian and Persian kings.

He assigns a virgin to birth the Messiah. He uses a carpenter to save the newborn child’s life from a power-hungry, paranoid king.

God sends an earthquake that opens prison doors.

I could go on and on. The Bible is replete with examples of “fleas” which looked so bad, no one if left to himself would be thankful. Thank God because you’re in prison? Exiled to a foreign land? Pregnant and not married? On the run to a far away place with the king trying to kill your family? On your knees in rubble after an earthquake broke apart your prison? In the belly of a big fish?

You have got to be kidding me!

These are not the things we trot out at Thanksgiving time to put on the list we write into our journals or hang on the refrigerator or pray over during our quiet time. These are generally the things we ask God to change, not the things we thank Him for giving.

The truth is, we’re short sighted and don’t realize what God is doing because of those fleas—not in spite of. Because of!

Our measure of what’s good is off. We’re using the wrong gauge. We think all is right when we’re comfortable, at ease, upwardly mobile, winning at work, and free to do whatever we want during our off hours.

Of course life is not centered on us and our wants, so we are at many, if not most, times aware that we have “fleas.” We want them gone. We rail at God for not removing them, for allowing them into our lives in the first place, and we dig our heels in and refuse to thank Him for sending us things that make our lives so much harder.

Such a perspective means we’re not trusting God. Do we think the “fleas” surprised Him, that He didn’t realize that particular room was crawling with them? Do we think He forgot about us or doesn’t care? Do we think He doesn’t hear or answer our prayers or that He’s not strong enough to do so even if he wanted to?

None of those things is true about God. But our lack of thankful hearts when the fleas are raising itchy welts all over our bodies, is a passive aggressive way of questioning God’s sovereignty, love, omniscience, compassion, faithfulness, and omnipotence.

Pretty much we’re saying with our complaints that we’d do it better than God. We’d get those fleas out. In fact, we’d never have let the guards put us in that room in the first place. Or better yet, if we were God, we’d never have been captured and sent to a concentration camp.

And then, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people in many lands, down through the generations, would not have heard about God’s love and forgiveness and power to save. They would not have learned that Jesus is the Victor, and that there is no pit so deep that God is deeper still.

Thankfully God is God, and people have heard the powerful message Corrie delivered after her release.

All because of fleas. Thank God for the fleas!

Published in: on November 24, 2014 at 5:58 pm  Comments (12)  
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God’s Word, A Lamp


Aladdins_lampWhen I was younger, I memorized a simple verse of Scripture. Later, singer / songwriter Amy Grant based a praise song on that same verse, Psalm 119:105. In fact, the lyrics of the chorus were a direct quote:

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet
And a light unto my path.

It’s a simply truth, but is that the same as simplistic? Is looking at the Bible as the lamp showing me where I should walk, a way of “treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are”?

Is trusting the Bible, trusting what it says, simplistic?

Honestly, I think it’s just the opposite. When I’m faced with a difficult issue, something clearly beyond my realm of expertise, I don’t try to tackle it anyway.

When my friend was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I didn’t dig in and research how to do brain surgery. I didn’t read up on how to administer chemotherapy or how to give radiation (she had both).

When I flew to Guatemala as a short term missionary, I didn’t study before hand how to pilot a plane. I didn’t ask to inspect the engine or study the flight plan and weather maps.

Brain surgery and flying planes are complex activities, far beyond my knowledge and proficiency. Consequently, I happily turn them over to those who have studied and gained experience—the brain surgeon, the lab techs, the pilots, the mechanics. I would be foolish to take those complex undertakings into my hands.

Am I, therefore, being simplistic?

I guess the question really is, is trusting someone who knows more than you, simplistic? Are we, in fact, supposed to rely only and always on our own abilities to figure things out?

To me that question is a bit scary because I think some people might say, yes, we are to figure it out on our own; it’s the responsible thing to do. We get second opinions, we research, we get the best surgeon we can, we pay attention to FAA reports and only fly with the most reliable airlines. We do our homework.

But in the end, don’t we trust that the surgeon we choose, the pilot sitting in the cockpit of the plane we’re on, will do their jobs?

At some point even things here on earth, having to do with our temporal lives, depend on us trusting someone else. How much more so should we trust when it comes to spiritual issues? I mean, talk about complex!

And yet, with spiritual issues, there’s a growing belief that the things of God are mysterious and complex and incomprehensible, and really can only be known if we look inside to our own reason and consciences. In other words, if we figure out things on our own.

In fact, part of this approach is that the way we figure things out might not be the way other people figure them out, and that’s OK. After all, we have different cultures, different geographic locations, so surely we won’t all have a common spiritual experience.

Lost in this is the simple truth that God’s word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Lost is the fact that God’s word is tried, that it is sure, that it has been given to us from the omniscient Spirit of God.

For some, tackling complex spiritual issues with our own finite mind is wiser than trusting in the infallible, imperishable, undefiled word of God that will not fade away. The idea seems to be, the spiritual issues are so big we can’t rely on a simple truth from Scripture.

Sure, God’s word is a lamp, the thinking seems to be, but so is general revelation, and by following our conscience and reason we can arrive at the truth.

Except, what happens when our conscience and reason lead us to believe something different from what the Bible says? Do we decide that the Bible is too simplistic? That the clear, repeated truth statements can’t really mean what they say? That they don’t address the complexities we see and therefore can’t be trusted?

Or, is it possible that the Author whose understanding is inscrutable, in fact, weighed the complexities and determined that His truth statements covered all the bases. That, in reality, the wise thing when faced with matters we can’t resolve, is to trust that God knows what’s right and therefore has given us the lamp of His word.

Published in: on May 19, 2014 at 6:01 pm  Comments (4)  
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