Years ago, I was talking with a group of scientists, when one brought up Christianity. He was not a believer; studying religion and philosophy were his hobbies. He claimed that Christians misunderstand Christ’s admonition to turn the other cheek and argued that Jesus was actually referring to a martial arts move, not forgiveness. He explained how this revealed Jesus advocated not meekness but radical revolution against oppressive powers. Others in the group—none of them Christ-followers—nodded with admiration. This was a theology they could get excited about. It was so much richer and more complex than the ideas Bible-carrying Christians spouted. The last thing these scholars could abide was sharing simple beliefs with average people.
Overcomplicating God’s Word has been a deadly temptation from man’s beginning. “Indeed, has God said” began the serpent’s clever interrogation of Eve (Gen. 3:1). He invited her to scrutinize the commandment about the forbidden tree, to interpret what the Lord really meant. The serpent put forth a corrupt lawyer’s interpretation, a lie gilded with truth: “In the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened” (Gen. 3:5). Lured into believing that God’s Word meant something different than its face value, Adam and Eve consumed what their Father had warned them against. And in one sense, the serpent was right. Their eyes were opened—to their nakedness, their sin, the chasm their disobedience had torn between them and God. And so they hid themselves from His sight.
Maybe the challenge for us who “see dimly” isn’t to get more knowledge into our heads but to get more truth into our hearts.
Ever since that awful day, we have all seen “in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12). This isn’t because God hides His truth. Since the beginning of creation, He has been revealing Himself to us, not only through Scriptures, but also in the very fabric of creation and in the life of His Son.
God does not go away hiding—we do.
We’re tempted to get that backwards. Years ago, I spoke with a self-described Christian who claimed most believers misunderstand Scripture because they haven’t studied every verse in the Bible, scrutinizing each to determine what it “really” means. Listening to him blithely dismiss all the great teachers in the Christian tradition gave me an eerie feeling, but I thought about how I have taken pride in my biblical knowledge, as if it proves my holiness. In that faulty equation, cleverness equals righteousness.
But God’s life-saving message to all of us isn’t obscured, is it? Maybe the challenge for us who “see dimly” isn’t to get more knowledge into our heads but to get more truth into our hearts. Indeed, what good is all this head knowledge if I fail to embrace the soul-liberating truth that God loves me—the me who sins and falls short every single hour—so much so that He was willing to do something unthinkable, namely, to sacrifice His child? It is that awful, beautiful truth that sparks us to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (Rom. 12:2).
A man could spend his lifetime pondering God’s sacrifice—letting it seep into his bones, being filled with thankfulness until his every word is praise, his every action a blessing. Imagine a man who took the simple and clear truths of God into his heart in this way. How vulnerable would he be to the speculations of that scientist who imagines a martial arts Jesus? I’ve come to suspect a good Sunday school education can trump many a Ph.D.
Receiving the Word of God—rather than evaluating it—demands humility I often lack. The Pharisees and Sadducees lacked it, too. They demanded that Christ show them a heavenly sign. “Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky,” Christ responded, “but cannot discern the signs of the times?” (Matt. 16:3) You look for a special revelation, He was saying, yet all around you is the glory of My Father. The truth of God is all around us. Have we the humility to see it? The word of God is abundantly clear. Have we the faith to grasp it?
The truth of God is all around us. Have we the humility to see it? Have we the faith to grasp it?
The world tells us we should believe something only after seeing proof. But consider how often in Scripture humble faith precedes knowing. See how, after chastising those seeking signs and wonders, Christ warned His disciples to beware the Pharisees’ leaven: their teachings. Matthew records that the disciples concluded what Jesus really meant was to chastise them for failing to bring bread. But Christ didn’t call them poor students—He called them “men of little faith” (Matt. 16:8). Likewise, ignorance didn’t keep the Pharisees from understanding Christ’s parables; it was faithlessness and the hardness of their hearts. The studious Pharisees could not understand stories that continue to open the hearts of everyday people with far less theological training, but greater faith.
Those foolish and weak things, by the way, are you and me. Someone who is wise and mighty in his own eyes will approach God’s Word like a field of intellectual study. But we foolish and weak ones approach it with heads bowed. We meditate on each word and welcome it into our hearts.
The weak and foolish haven’t wisdom or cleverness to interpret God. We can only receive Him. And He who sent His only begotten Son to die for us has no interest in hiding Himself. May each of us have the courage, therefore, to stop hiding from Him—to receive His Word into our hearts and treasure it.
Illustrations by Drew Melton and Patrick White