Turning Idols toward God: the Human Intellect

Many Christians have abdicated the realm of the intellect to modern culture and secular institutions

Depositphotos Image ID: 20592505 copyright: olly18

Human beings can make idols out of anything, including making an idol of human intellect/mind. As with all created things, the human intellect is limited, finite and utterly unable to save us from our human condition, but many people, nevertheless, put their faith in the human intellect. This is ultimately idolatry when we trust in our own intellect instead of trusting in God.

Putting our faith in our own intellect is also, ultimately, foolish. What do we know that God doesn’t know? What can see understand that God doesn’t understand? Relying on ourselves in this way, to the exclusion of relying of God, is (to put it mildly) short-sighted. It is sin, to put it bluntly.

It is the same mistake that Eve made in the garden when the serpent tempted her by saying “you will be like God”![1] We want to be our own gods, relying on our own intellect.

This basic prideful condition, which is the essence of sin, is why “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise”.[2] Of course, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness” to God.”[3] As Isaiah says:

“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.

For these reasons, and others perhaps, Christians today tend to distrust science, worldly thinking, philosophy and even the mind, itself. Christians have all but abandoned the world of science, philosophy and the intellect to secular institutions and minds, and this is a terrible mistake!

Christians are reluctant to acknowledge science. Christians are fearful of philosophy. Christians are even distrustful of their own minds. Many Christians have abdicated the realm of the intellect to modern culture and secular institutions. But here’s the thing: this is sinful too!

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Intellect and Faith

Photo by Tyler Drendel - Sunset at Fermi Lab
Photo by Tyler Drendel – Sunset at Fermi Lab

Following from part one of twobeing honest about the who and what of our underlying presuppositions

Think about it: can a finite being measure or define, let alone manipulate, an infinite God?

If God is “big” enough to create a universe so large that we cannot see past the beginning or the end, how do we expect to measure such a God?

We are more comfortable in our own element. We can understand the what and the how of the world we live in, but the who is another matter altogether. Non-believers go no further and declare, the “what” and the “how” to be all there is.

At the same time, believers should not be afraid of facts or science. Facts and science help us to know and understand the what and how of creation – and they point to the Who. If we have an attitude open to the Who, we will see the evidence for God. In fact, it will seem self-evident. If a person wants “proof” before belief, such a person will never be satisfied – especially when the proof is a priori limited to the what and the how.

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The Sufficiency of Proof and Human Longing

Thinking on a Rock Cliff (Fraley) - Copy

I have seen videos, books and assertions claiming that no one can remain an atheist after viewing, this, or reading that or considering something else. As with any hype, the assertion is simply not true. Claims of indisputable truth will always fall short of convincing someone who will not be convinced. Some people watched Jesus perform miracles in their presence, and they did not believe. What proof is there today that could be more indisputable than the miracles Jesus performed all over the area during his time?

Now, 2000 years later, it is easy to dismiss them by calling into question the accounts, themselves, questioning the authenticity of the Gospels, claiming they were trumped-up stories written down decades or centuries later by people with an agenda, by calling into question that a person named Jesus of Nazareth even ever lived at all. The basis for skepticism seems much more compelling today than it might have been at the time of Jesus.

To be sure, there are plenty of reasons to believe that such a man lived, that he claimed to be the Messiah and that he died by crucifixion. Even some non believers accept the historical accounts. There is good proof of the historical accounts, as far as historical accounts go.

There is also good reason to believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be. A very small group of people claiming to be eye witnesses of his life and resurrection from the dead literally changed the world. The gospel that Jesus preached has spread throughout the known world. People today claim spiritual experience with that same God Jesus described, including miracles, speaking in tongues (described in the Book of Acts) and other things. No doubt there are charlatans too.

Richard Dawkins explains spiritual experience as “hallucinations”. Some people are certainly delusional, but that is small segment of society. You can visit them in mental institutions. You know who they are; they are “not quite right”; they are divorced from obvious reality. Hallucinations do not explain the believer who has had an encounter with God.

On the other hand, it could be said of a materialist like Richard Dawkins that he clings to intellect. He demands proof of the infinite that a finite being cannot get ones hands around. Does it make sense for one person, as small in the universe as a single human being, to cling to finite intellect as the total explanation of reality? Even the entire population of people and all of mankind together are utterly infinitesimal in the vast universe that we know, not even considering the rest that we do not know. It seems quite foolish to think that all of reality, as vast as we know it to be, can be measured by our own finite understanding.

Further, those who reject faith and spirituality outright reject any basis to understand it. C. S. Lewis, in his autobiographical account, spoke of the rationalism that he had come to embrace, as a young man that “it might be grim and deadly but at least it was free from the Christian God.” Reflecting back, he recounts that he had rejected a God and spirituality that he did not understand and did not see accurately.

There are some religious people who have not employed the intellect God has given them. On the other end of the spectrum are people who have put everything in the intellectual basket. Both extremes seem clearly prone to error. We are intellectual beings; but we are also spiritual beings. The very fact that people have had spiritual experiences and have innately believed in something Other than the material world and our own finiteness since the beginning of recorded history suggests the reality of such an Other.

If reality were limited to things we can measure and know with our minds, how would we even have the sense that there is something else? If this life is all there is, and therefore all we can know, why do our “minds” wander so easily to imaginings of something else?

Many great writers and great writings in history reveal an occupation with longings and musings of life after death, immortality and other worldliness; it is one of the more prevalent themes of great works of art, even if sometimes reflected from the point of skepticism. The fact that people have had such conceptions suggest some strain of reality to them. How could we conceive of something that is utterly unreal?

An accurate view of the mechanics of the world in which we live comes into greater focus with each discovery. Those discoveries have debunked and called into question many uninformed beliefs, superstitions and mythologies, but they do not rule out God the Creator, the Supreme Mover. In fact, the complex yet intricate order of the world suggests a great intelligence behind it.

The collective intellectual knowledge of people has grown and been refined over thousands of years, from fire to quantum physics. Many people point to the Old Testament as “proof” that the claims in the Bible are unreliable and based on crude and inconsistent principles. The same people would not say of science that our understanding of the material world should be dismissed merely because our scientific forefathers were inaccurate in their understanding 4000 years ago.  Does it seem credible that man has grown so much in scientific understanding, but not in spiritual understanding? The Bible purports to reflect a history of God’s revelation to people and the growth of people in that revelation over a long period of time.

Intellect, a finite intelligence, alone does not provide an accurate or complete understanding of human life, let alone “reality” or even the material world. The longing in the human soul for something greater, something beyond, something not quite attained is sufficient proof for me that there exists something greater, beyond and ultimately attainable and “knowable”.

Just as questions about the material world point to facts that are not yet known , so the longing that is the collective experience of human kind suggests  an Object of that longing that is not yet completely known.

I doubt there is any proof that will convince every person of the existence of a God so great that He is beyond the known, expansive universe that we cannot see to the end (or the beginning). I suspect the unconvinced are driven by motivations and inclinations we cannot see, like the Pharisees in whose presence Jesus performed miracles in His time. God and miracles do not, did not, fit into the worldview, preconceived notions and the investment of personal energy into those things. As with C. S. Lewis, who found relief in materialism from the wrong notions of God he rejected as a child, materialism today provides similar relief from whatever boogeymen gods a person has rejected.

To those who have witnessed the miracles, who have embraced a God who reveals Himself to people, who have experienced the Other, the object of human longing, if only through a glass darkly, the glimpses are sufficient proof.

Being Honest about Who and What

Photo by Amanda Leutenberg
Photo by Amanda Leutenberg

Part one of two – let’s be honest about the who and what of our underlying presuppositions…

“[Christ] told us to be not only ‘as harmless as doves,’ but also ‘as wise as serpents.’ He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good as children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.” C.S. Lewis ~ Mere Christianity

Many believe that people must check their intelligence at the door of faith in order to be a Christian. Certainly atheists and agnostics think so, but believers also act as if intelligence is something that must be discarded or even worse, not to be trusted.

A read through the Bible, however,  reveals that God is as concerned about a person’s mind as He is about a person’s heart. In fact, the mind and the heart are often mentioned together. (See Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27)

If we believe in God, and believe He created the heavens and the earth, then we can trust the intellect He gave us. In fact, if He gave it to us, does He not expect us to use it?

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