The Importance of Understanding
There are those who regard knowledge as an evil to be avoided and understanding as wishful thinking. To them, the idea that man can involve himself with God in meaningful dialogue is ludicrous, and expounding knowledge as a virtuous pursuit is downright dangerous.
It is with utmost clarity that the Bible warns against the deceptive and futile nature of worldly wisdom. We are told unequivocally that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God …” (1 Cor. 3:19). We cannot advocate a wisdom sustained only by the finite. This “wisdom” must be rejected as being wholly inadequate.
Yet this provides no basis whatsoever from which to categorically reject knowledge. The Bible tells us, “How blessed is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding” (Prov. 3:13). The knowledge spoken of in the eighth chapter of 1 Corinthians as that which “makes arrogant” is not in itself evil. Paul in this passage is not discussing the merits of knowledge but rather the manner in which our knowledge is used. A. W. Tozer proclaims,
We have never gone along with the tenderminded saints who fear to examine religious things lest God should be displeased. On the contrary, we believe that God’s handiwork is so perfect that it invites inspection. A. W. Tozer, Of God and Men (Christian Publications), p. 122
There is a great need for us to understand first who God is, and second what He expects of us. There are multiplied hundreds of scriptures referring to understanding and knowledge. In fact, the word “understanding” or an equivalent is found some sixteen times in the first parable (the sower) when it is read synoptically.
In Proverbs, God speaks to us as a father would, in heart-to-heart fashion, revealing the source of understanding.
Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding … Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.
Proverbs 4:1, 5–7
My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to under- standing; yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then thou shalt understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy is understanding.
Why is it so crucial that we understand God and fully take to heart all that He has said here? Tozer shares some very interesting insights into the dangers of participating in cosmic guessing games.
…[T]he most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. That our idea of God correspond as nearly as possible to the true being of God is of immense importance to us. Compared with our actual thoughts about Him, our creedal statements are of little consequence … A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple … Before the Christian church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, ‘What is God like?’ and goes on from there. A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, Harper & Row, pp. 9, 10, 12.