Isaiah 55:8-9 are among those verses that have taken on a life of their own in Christian circles:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither 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.
Christians often cite these verses as meaning that God’s thoughts and ways are so transcendent and inscrutable, we cannot know them. This is, we are told, a reason for comfort for the Christian, especially when circumstances around us are confusing and painful. Some even use these verses to defend a kind of Christian anti-intellectualism. After all, if God is unknowable, why study theology at all? When having a “childlike” faith is confused with a purely emotive faith, there’s no sense in stewarding our minds to the knowledge and worship of God. Unfortunately, this way of approaching God has further devolved into the idea that if God is unknowable, we can’t really know His moral will when it comes especially to certain behaviors and lifestyles.
Of course, it is true that God is omniscient, and we are not. He not only knows vastly more than we can imagine or comprehend, He is the source of all knowledge. Because there is so much He has not revealed, there is no sense in which humans could ever know God exhaustively. All of which is why my friend Greg Koukl often says that Christians should never read a Bible verse. What he means is that Christians should never read only one verse by itself.
In the context of the verses before and after, Isaiah 55:8-9 does not suggest that we cannot know God’s thoughts and ways. In fact, Isaiah is saying the exact opposite. Two verses earlier, Isaiah says:
Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
Did you catch that? The wicked man should “forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts….” Why? So, they can think the higher thoughts and adopt the higher ways of God. Far from an excuse for not studying or seeking the mind of God, this passage is actually an urgent call to make God’s thoughts and ways our thoughts and ways. And if we fail to have His thoughts and ways, Isaiah clearly states, He invites us to repent so we can have them.
What God has chosen to not reveal is much, but the entire narrative of Scripture reveals a God committed to making Himself known. Just because we cannot know Him exhaustively does not mean we cannot know Him truthfully.
In fact, this is a crucial foundation of a Christian worldview. Specifically, it’s Christian epistemology, a 50-cent word that just means the study of how we know. The answer is not complicated: We know because God has not hidden Himself but has revealed Himself generously in His creation and in Scripture.
By seeking and studying what God has revealed, we can make God’s thoughts our thoughts. We have, Paul wrote, the mind of Christ. We can know His design for human beings and for marriage and family, the purpose of government, the rightful end and object of worship, the significance of art and music and the place of science, and especially what has gone wrong with our world and what He’s doing to set it right. The ultimate goal is not to know things about God or even about His mighty acts in history. It is to know Him, and as Jesus put it, to love Him, with all our heart, soul, and mind.
Dr. David Dockery opens his new book, What Does It Mean to Be a Thoughtful Christian?, warning that if we’re counting on the “shielding cocoon” of church and family to keep our kids from asking hard questions or hearing other worldviews, we’re in for a shock. They will hear these things, and they will face questions to which they don’t know the answers. We must prepare them to find those answers by being thoughtful Christians.
Thankfully, Dockery offers a powerful and concise strategy for cultivating Christian minds, both for our children and ourselves. His short guide is part of a larger series called Questions for Restless Minds, edited by theologian D.A. Carson. For a gift of any amount to the Colson Center in January, we’ll send you a copy of What Does It Mean to Be a Thoughtful Christian? and access to an exclusive collection of videos featuring interviews with teachers such as Alisa Childers and Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer about aspects of the Christian mind. To learn more, go to colsoncenter.org/january.
This Breakpoint was co-authored by Shane Morris. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to colsoncenter.org.
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