By: Garrett Best
One of my favorite passages in the New Testament might strike you as a little strange. I doubt it would make anyone else’s top 10 list of favorite Bible passages. It’s 2 Peter 3:15-16. There, Peter says that some things in Paul’s letters which “are hard to understand”. Thank goodness I’m not the only one! I have a hunch he’s talking about Romans 9-11. This passage didn’t mean much to me in my earlier years as a Christian. Then, everything was black and white. You were either right or wrong. If you lined up with my views on x, y, and z then you were right. If you followed 1, 2, and 3, then you had followed the right steps as I saw them. I had a pretty high view of my own ability to understand the Scriptures. If there was something I didn’t know about the Bible or didn’t understand fully, it was because I hadn’t invested the mental energy to understand it. Looking back, I think I was even more confident in my abilities to understand Paul than the inspired Apostle Peter who had walked with Jesus. Wow!
In the last post, I shared some quotations from Robert Richardson’s 1872 book A Scriptural View of the Office of the Holy Spirit. Richardson reacted strongly against any doctrine that equated the Holy Spirit with the written Scriptures. One of the main reasons Richardson rejected equating the Spirit with the Word was because it gave too much credence to the power of human reason. For example, Richardson had this to say:
Much of the rationalism and skepticism which exists, in relation to the indwelling of the Spirit, arises from the tendency which men have to demand positive definitions and palpable demonstrations in regard to matters wholly beyond the provinces of reason and sensation, and to refuse credence to every thing which may not be actually submitted to sensible perception, or made plain to the ordinary understanding. In their vain endeavors to express what God is, in forms of human speech, metaphysical theologists presume to dogmatize and decide in regard to themes upon which the human mind should simply meditate in humble adoration. (pgs. 84-85)
According to Richardson, rationalism drains the Christian faith of mystery. Rationalism demands “positive definitions” and “palpable demonstrations” on matters that cannot be tested by the senses. There is no way we will ever be able to say everything there is to say about the Holy Spirit. Since the Spirit is God and since God is “beyond the provinces of reason and sensation” and may not be “submitted to sensible perception”, should we not expect His written word to involve at least some mystery? Shouldn’t that make us approach the text with humility? As Richardson puts it, “the human mind should simply meditate in humble adoration”. Without God’s grace and mercy in light of our human frailty, we would be completely lost. Praise God for sending the Holy Spirit to help us in the weakness of our corrupted humanity.
This is a tough post for me to write. As I type it, all my sirens are going off. Admitting that there is mystery means that I don’t know everything and that I never will. Admitting the frailty of my own rational faculties means that I’m not right all the time, maybe even most of the time. Well that’s depressing. Where does that realization leave me? Am I left to drift on the sea of postmodern relativism? Is there anything I can know? Do I deny absolute truth?
Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:9). John says that we can “know we are of the truth” (1 John 3:19). He says that we are of the truth if we “keep his commandments” (1 John 3:22). “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (1 John 3:23-24).
John says we are in the truth when we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another. It seems to me that we can be right about those two things (obedient faith in Jesus and loving one another) and be wrong about other things. I certainly know I have been wrong about a lot of things.
“There are many things in Paul’s letters which are hard to understand.” -The Apostle Peter.
The gospel of Jesus reminds me that I may not understand everything Paul says in his letter, but I am still right about Jesus Christ. Praise God for grace and patience!
Did you notice how John ends that section in 1 John 3:24? “And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” God’s indwelling Spirit is a reminder that God is with us. God is with me despite my rational frailties and flawed application of hermeneutics. God is with me because I am in Christ and He guarantees that promise to me by pouring His Spirit into my heart. What an awesome promise! May God grant all believers a spirit of “humble adoration”.