“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)
One of the by-products of the Protestant Reformation (16th and early 17th centuries) was a movement away from many of the mystical elements of Christianity (which were, at times, misused and resulted in abuses). There was, simultaneously, a movement to proclaim and teach biblical truth by coupling it with human ability to reason. A few examples follow:
- The use of languages common to people during times of worship was more valid than the exclusive use of Latin known only by the clergy and the educated wealthy. It was reasonable for people to understand what was being said by worship leaders.
- Cause and effect (‘if this is done, the effect will be that’) in spiritual matters was a relatively easy way to teach spiritual truths…this approach made understanding easier for most people. It was reasonable for people to understand what GOD intended them to know.
- The sacramental elements of communion (bread and wine) became symbols of a spiritual truth rather than material things that mystically changed in substance as a result of an action by clergy. It was reasonable for people to accept the metaphor of Christ’s body and blood without believing they were literally consuming flesh and blood.
- People didn’t need to rely on a priest to intercede before GOD on their behalf because of some ‘special spiritual ability’ only priests possessed. It was reasonable for every person to be able to go directly to GOD on their own because the Temple veil of separation had been torn down.
- The Bible was for everyone who could read, to read. It was for GOD’s people, not for the exclusive use of the clergy class. It was reasonable for people to have direct access to GOD’s Word.
- The Church was a vessel for Truth, but not an equal to the Truth. It was reasonable for believers to not be conflicted or confused by claims of ultimate spiritual authority.
Even before the Reformation, the use of reason was not an unknown means of faith expression. The Eastern Church, after its split from Rome, was very much open to viewing Greek philosophies as precursors to Christianity and, therefore, was willing to view elements of those philosophies as tools to grasp faith. Thomas Aquinas, considered by many to be the greatest of Roman Catholic theologians, was a strong proponent of marrying faith and reason. After the Reformation, John Wesley, the great teacher of Methodism, viewed human ability to reason as only second to Scripture in understanding spiritual truth. The use of reason has great value.
All inspired movements in the hands of humans, however, are subject to overreach. I have long held that the Protestant Reformation, in trying to put religion in the hands of the people and in attempting to curb the institutional power of the Church, swung the pendulum so far in the opposite direction that it resulted in mystical elements of Christianity becoming too suspect in the minds of many. GOD has revealed through His prophets, His Word, and through Jesus Christ what we need in order to be in right relationship with Him. But that doesn’t mean that we know or can know all there is to know, that we have or can have all wisdom and understanding at our fingers. Our ability to reason can take us far, but it can’t take us all the way; there remains a super-rational, supernatural aspect to GOD that surpasses reason.
We may mentally understand the concept of having an intimate relationship with GOD, but how does that happen at a super-rational level? What if this isn’t taught by our spiritual leaders or pursued and practiced by us? And then there is the question of is that something we really want. What if He speaks to us!? That’s not just a little mystical; it’s a lot mystical.
We don’t always understand the ‘whys’ of loss and suffering. We don’t get the senselessness of so much of what we see and experience. If GOD is both sovereign (in ultimate charge) and the very nature of love, how can these things be? We either accept this paradox and its mystery and soldier through, or we lose faith in GOD.
He tells us to pray as a habit of our spiritual lives. He tells us to pray in those times when we’ve done and said all we can to influence a difference in our circumstances or those of our loved ones or in our churches, and our best seems like it makes no difference at all. He tells us to be fervent in prayer. He tells us to trust that nothing escapes His view and that He hears our prayers and answers in the right time in the right way. He asks us to enter into and remain in this mystery of faith without seeing the fruit of it now, or understanding how it works.
And He continually asks us to believe that His grace is fully sufficient for every aspect of our lives as believers.
Some things are just beyond the rational. That’s no reason to not use reason; we just need to remember not to put so much trust in reason that we forget GOD is bigger than our reason.
© Byron L. Hannon, 2019. All rights reserved to text content.