Lean not on your own understanding

For Many People who are deconstructing out of Fundamentalist beliefs, Proverbs 3 verses 5-6 has been a problematic verse.

I was wondering, as Christians who are accepting scientific consensus on creation, how does this verse fit into our Theology?

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I see it more about how we live our day to day lives and how we make our decisions than about what did or didn’t happen in the past.

Very often we have to make decisions about what we should do. Should I take this job? Should I marry this person? Should I move to this house or that one? What subject should I study at university? Should I start up my own business? And so on and so forth. Very often we don’t have all the information that we need to make an informed decision, and to try and research all the options and lean on our own understanding would lead to analysis paralysis. Sometimes we simply don’t have the necessary training or expertise to make an informed decision, and we may be getting a complete laundry list of options or even mutually contradictory advice from those who do. And then sometimes we just have to step out in faith into the unknown. It’s like Hebrews 11:8-10 says about Abraham for example:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

It’s at times like these that these Proverbs 3 verses 5-6 speak in particular. There are times when our own understanding is insufficient, and we just need to pray, seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit, and be prepared to step out perhaps in bold and courageous ways that take us out of our comfort zones. These aren’t just theological, theoretical verses. They are very practical, pragmatic ones that speak of very practical, pragmatic courses of action.

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I don’t see the problem. In fact it helps. Regardless of what science finds, faith endures. Except in my case : )

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will make your paths straight.

I know these verses have sometimes been flung around as some kind of “gotcha” passage for anyone who accepts scientific evidence for things like deep time, which is unfortunate, but I don’t think that’s really its purpose.

I don’t think this verse is saying that we should never trust ourselves, because everyone has to do that to some degree. What I often see is someone taking these verses and essentially turning “trust in the LORD” into “trust my literalistic interpretation of the Bible” which is not the same thing. And if science falls under “your own understanding” then I don’t see why theology shouldn’t either.

Also, I get a lot more out of Proverbs when I remember that most proverbs are truisms rather than hard and fast laws of the universe. Like in this very same chapter, verse 35 says:

The wise will inherit honor,
but fools are held up to shame.

It’s not hard to find an example of a foolish person who’s received an honor, or a wise person who’s been unfairly shamed. But that doesn’t invalidate the verse because it’s just giving a general principle of life rather than trying to present some kind of manual for life that always turns out perfectly for everyone.

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There are one or two other passages that get treated similarly. As far as I can see, people who treat them as if they were some sort of anti-intellectual manifesto are missing the point of them altogether.

One example is Jesus’s command to become like little children in Matthew 18:3. This misses one very important detail: Jesus was actually saying it in response to His disciples squabbling (yet again) about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. He was contrasting this kind of attitude – seeking after power and authority – with the kind of power and authority that children have – namely, that All In All They’re Just Another Brick In The Wall.

Another example is 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. The important point to remember here is that some people lack intellectual ability and education through no fault of their own. They may have learning difficulties, for example, or they may have been the victims of discrimination, poverty or war. These are very different from people who consciously and deliberately lower their intellectual standards by choice. Wilful ignorance of that nature is not just foolishness; it is laziness and dishonesty.

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Is it possible to integrate all the verses in the Bible neatly into ANY theological structure? I’ve watched the misery of a few people going through or having gone through deconstruction. I’ve seen their pain. I’m not throwing verses like that one, that I can’t live by myself, at someone who is just trying to stay alive.

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Funny. For me these verses were some of the verses I leaned on to help me through deconstructing.

Proverbs 3:5-6
New American Standard Bible
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

So by accepting science , regardless if it’s how boiling water works, how clouds for, or why evolution is true , none of it gets in the way of my faith and trusting God. Accepting science does not come at the cost of not trusting God. I’m not sure why you think that. It reminds me of parents who refuse medical services for their sick kids because they trust God, not science.

So I have a question.
I mean if you got bitten by a very venomous snake would you trust God and allow him to supernaturally heal you or would you not trust in god and instead trust in people “ aka doctors” and get the antivenin?

Or would you say, Yahweh gave us doctors and he works through them? Why not trust God while also trusting doctors? Why not trust god and also trust the science?

Or what about when making outdoor plans? Do you consult the “weather channel” or just trust god? You’re creating contention where there is none.

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It seems to me that it is the fundamentalists who are leaning on their own understanding and it is the scientists who bow down to everything God sends us from the earth and sky even when it doesn’t agree with their understanding.

For example, it was the consensus of scientists that the universe was steady state. Then they found evidence that the universe had a beginning and they could calculate more and more accurately when that happened… 13.8 billion years ago.

And then came the real shocker… quantum physics, which contradicted the basic premise of the science of physics itself. Physics looks for the equations which govern how things happen. Laplace even suggested that if you could know how everything is then you could calculate everything that would happen. But quantum physics shot this down and showed that some things cannot be calculated. So scientists had to accept something that they didn’t want to accept.

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Were there particular verses you found especially helpful in reconstructing? Maybe they’d help someone else.

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Chiming in with lots of the other good answers already offered, I’d say it is a verse exhorting us to humility. We need the help of God - both directly and mediated through the voices of others around us too - and in fact that latter way seems to be God’s preferred way of directing us. Yes - visions and direct revelation are not ruled out, but it’s usually the prophet or friend who becomes the mouthpiece of God to us in any times of need or confusion.

And note this doesn nothing to inform you one way or another about how to react to voices of experts. It seems obvious (to me anyway) that we cannot avoid using our created minds - even just to read and heed the advice about not leaning on our own understanding! Just as the exhortation to “walk by faith, not by sight” does not mean we walk around with our eyes closed - so the exhortation to ‘lean not on our own understanding’ does not mean we shut our minds off. We are still obliged to work out for ourselves which voices to pay more heed to and accept help from, and which ones to carefully set aside. In this day and age it is extra important to choose your “shoulder angels” with care. Social media is shrill right now with the shouts of those who have … chosen poorly … (queue the Indiana Jones holy grail scene), and their souls are suffering accordingly as they become the unwitting mouthpieces for lies and propaganda.

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Too many to list really. Most of it was just realizing better ways to interpret it then what I was presented with.

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How about maybe your top 5?

Does not exist for me unfortunately. Its all the same verses everyone uses. It was way more of just applying basic reading comprehension to scripture and realizing a science denying , make belief historical story being used by those people predominantly as a gospel of hatred to harm everyone was just bad interpretation.

So seeing things like light before the sun, water already existing , flat circle earth and so on. For me, not a single verse in the entire Bible points towards YECism.

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I see it as a general recommendation to approach life and other people with an attitude of humility. I think doing theology with humility means you recognize you are approaching any question from your limited experience and cultural location and you probably have blind spots and misconceptions. So you shouldn’t be quick to equate your understanding (or any other person’s understanding) of truth or God’s revelation with “absolute truth.”

I believe God is intimately involved in the lives of his children and does direct our paths when we acknowledge our dependence on his guidance and wisdom.

The idea that science = human wisdom and therefore is suspect is something that has come up so many times in discussions with creationists, that I formally wrote up some thoughts on it for BioLogos here.

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Props to you for being able to lean on this verse during deconstruction. for so many people, it was weaponised against them to make them doubt themselves and never ask questions!

I was mainly putting this out there for discussion with that in mind, regardless of what I believe about this verse.

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It is a particularly toxic teaching of fundamentalism that you can never trust your feelings, mind, or intuition. It fosters abusive environments in many cases because people are so convinced their own hearts are deceitful and depraved, they won’t ever trust their own good judgment and don’t learn to hear from the Holy Spirit on their own. They need to be told what to do by an authority, and often those authorities abuse their power.

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Proverbs 3:5-6 is a small part of a longer teaching about wisdom. The verses should not be taken out of the context. Picking just one or few verses out of the context is a very poor way to use the biblical scriptures. You could justify almost anything by picking just one or two verses from the Bible.

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Great question! Proverbs 3:5-6 was my parents’ favorite passage. I think that they felt that it meant resting in the ability of God to transform daily happenings, including what we perceive as triumphs and tragedies, into something much better–in His perspective.

I would like to hear more of what people think.
I agree with @knor that it’s better with perspective.

Thanks.

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Well put.

It sometimes seems to me that fundamentalism can be the intellectual version of ruling by strength. Whereas some rule by physical might, fundamentalists rule by controlling our beliefs (which we gravitate to because of insecurity).

When I am in a fundamentalist mood, I find it difficult to accept that the opposing viewpoint could be right. Even more, when there is no ultimate agreement, I can have trouble seeing a good intent in the other. I tend to blame the other for intellectual dishonesty. In many cases, it’s projection.

I think it comes from insecurity. One of the most difficult areas I have to work on is giving grace and understanding to those who criticize. Yet, there I also need forgiveness. One thing I’ve noted in observing my kids --the ones that forgive most easily are also a lot less hard on themselves. Forgiveness seems to require practice. Hopefully, I will learn someday. I’m glad God has more patience than I.

Thanks.

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Great comments. The point that stands out to me is the observation that the verse is about pride, not about knowledge. If you do a word search on knowledge in the Bible, you will find that learning and knowledge is something encouraged by the scriptures. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is not biblical.
2 Timothy 2:23
But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels.

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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