1 Corinthians 13:9-12
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-12)
We know only in part—as a child (1 Cor. 13:9-12). I once came upon my four-year old daughter and a friend building with blocks.
“It isn’t chimbley. It’s chimley.”
“It is not chimley. It’s chimbley.”
And so the argument went on and on. I smiled to myself and then began to wonder. How often does our Father smile on us and our dogmatic declarations that so often go beyond the realm of our knowledge? The children were both right within their field — how to build a chimney of blocks. But they became foolish when they dogmatized outside the realm of their very limited experience.
The good news is that we will not remain children. We will become adults. We will not become infinite, but we will know more fully, even as we are fully known, when we no longer see dimly in a mirror, but face to face. “They shall see eye to eye, when Jehovah returneth to Zion” (Isaiah 52:8, ASV). When one truly sees his own finitude against the backdrop of infinity, humility is inevitable and dogmatism impossible.
We are fallen. Not only are we finite; we are fallen. Sin has dimmed and warped our understanding of the revelation we do have, and therefore, we are subject to error. We choose the interpretation that lets us do what we want to do. Our sinful desires and our arrogance distort our understanding of God’s Word.
These first three elements of humility in Bible study should remind us that humility and love are more becoming than dogmatism. A healthy agnosticism concerning all that goes beyond certain fact will preserve the unity of the Spirit among God’s children and peace in one’s own heart. Nothing is more likely to disrupt unity among brethren or the calm of one’s own soul than a dogmatic difference of opinion in questions of Bible doctrine.
Augustine has said, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” The problem comes, of course, in dividing between essentials and nonessentials. If everyone could only be satisfied with the great clearly revealed truths of God’s Word and refuse to move any mere opinion from “nonessential” to “essential” standing, what unity and harmony and consequent blessing would result!
Humility in regard to knowledge should be inevitable when one faces the above facts. However, it is not inevitable. It would be if humility were the product of reason alone. But it is not. Humility is a fruit of the Spirit, and rational facing of the facts is possible only to one who belongs to the order of the broken and contrite heart, to one with a totally yielded will.
We see things through the glasses of our experiences, by what we have read and heard, through our way of life, or through a previously settled system of doctrine. That fact is illustrated by an interesting experiment conducted by a research psychologist. He placed two different pictures in a stereoscope. The left eye was to see a bullfighter, the right eye, a baseball player. Then he asked some Spanish subjects and some Americans subjects to peer through the instrument. Most of the Spanish saw the bullfighter, most of the Americans saw the baseball player. What is behind our eyes often has more to do with what we see than what is before our eyes.
Therefore, we must develop a healthy suspicion of ourselves and of our own ideas, and a view of the Bible that separates it from our own past thinking and experience (insofar as humanly possible) to let it speak not what we already believe or want to believe, but what it says. A suspicion of our own ideas will lead to a willingness to reject even lifelong and deeply cherished opinions, ways of living, friendships, and associations without hesitation, once God’s Word has come into clear focus. The surrendered heart wants to know what the Bible says, not what it can be made to mean. The acceptance of the possible, rather than the certain, meaning is often done to make a self-consistent scheme. But the system must not force the Bible into its logical mold. The Bible gives the system all it can legitimately have. If it needs more to complete it, it must wait for the fuller light of eternity.
Think of some area of Christian living in which you are unsure. How are you seeing it? Are you seeing what you are looking for or what the author intended? How do you know?