Choose Your Presumption
Almost every marriage book that I have read makes a significant point out of the differences between men and women. The list of these differences ranges from the physiological / emotional side of the spectrum to the preference / ‘love language’ side. But the overall point always seems to be that when a man and woman become husband and wife, these differences don’t dissipate. Instead, they form the heart of what must be worked through in any healthy marriage, and they dictate how that working through should be done.
Looking back over my own 8 years of marriage, while I wouldn’t go so far as to accuse my wife of coming from another planet (alla John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus) I can certainly admit that we often come at life from very different directions! In any given situation, what makes intuitive and immediate sense to me can be totally outside her frame of reference. And what she sees as an ultimate priority can be the furthest thing from my mind (and doesn’t seem to have crept noticeably closer even after 8 years of learning!).
So what should we do? My wife is the most wonderfully complex, beautifully unique and graciously different gift I have ever received. I know for a fact that there will be parts of her heart and mind that I will never exhaust. After these 8 years, I am confident that after 28 and then 48 years of marriage she will still surprise me, still challenge my assumptions, and still intuit priorities that are the furthest thing from my mind!
Would any thinking person, understanding that I will never know all there is to know about my wife, counsel me therefore to stop pursuing her, stop asking questions, stop trying to listen and learn? Of course not. It would be no honor to her majestic differences, and indeed it would betray a heart calloused against the beauty of her person, for me to decide that since I could never know it all, it would be better for me not to know at all. Where I to argue that way, you would quickly counsel me that marriage is not a zero-sum game. Marital success is defined not by arriving at the destination, but by pursuing the other person as hard as you can in the time that you have.
I use the example of marriage because it is as close as we can come in our human relationships to some of the dynamics at work in our relationship with God. God is transcendent, meaning His thoughts and ways are “other” than ours (Is. 55:8,9). The riches of His wisdom are unsearchable. His mind is beyond our finding out (Rm 11:33). We know in part, but He knows the end from the beginning (I Cor. 13:9; Is. 46:10). We know in time and by observation, God knows before the foundation of the world and by creation (Eph. 1:4; I Pt. 1:20). Even the self-revelation God has made in His word is often hard for us to understand, with the result that many twist His truth to their own destruction and are carried away by error (II Pt. 3:15-16).
So what should we do? There are sections of the Body of Christ that argue from this list of differences that since we cannot know God exhaustively, it is better (safer!) to content ourselves with very limited and narrow understanding. When topics like election are brought up, for example, their argument is that it is presumptuous to pry into areas where we so obviously don’t belong and can’t understand. A similar line of reasoning can be applied to the nature of hell, the relationship between our working and God’s working in our salvation, and the salvation of others, and even the beauty of God Himself. Their motto seems to be, “we can’t know, so don’t go!” Meaning, since we can’t arrive at the destination of complete understanding, it does more honor to God not even to begin the journey.
I appreciate their desire to honor the mystery and the majesty of God by not trampling on holy ground! I also share their desire not be presumptuous in the way I relate to the infinite, transcendent God! But I see honor and presumption differently than they do. When I read across the Scripture, honor to God seems to be given, and human presumption seems to be avoided not by drawing back from the presence of His transcendence, but by pressing in (i.e. Moses on the mountain in Ex. 33:18, “show me your glory!”).
When I hear God-given promises to the effect that “I will give you shepherds after my own heart” – and the heart of God is then described as – “feeding you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer. 3:15); when I hear this diet of divine knowledge from the mouths of His appointed shepherds resulting in “clear understanding” (Jer. 23:20); when I hear Daniel likewise promise that “the wise shall understand” what God is doing at the chaotic close of future history; when I hear Paul encourage Timothy that careful thinking over Scripture will result in God-given understanding in everything (understanding that he will presumably then feed his flock, II Tim. 2:7), not to hunger and thirst after this knowledge seems to flow from either presumption that we do not need God’s gift, or the dishonor that we do not believe He can give it.
When I hear biblical exhortations to the effect that our lack of wisdom should be remedied by asking of God, who gives generously to all without reproach, with the promise it will be given him (Jas. 1:5); and when I hear that we should make every effort to add virtue to our faith and knowledge to our virtue – increasing knowledge being one of the ways we are kept from ineffectiveness and unfruitfulness (II Pt. 1:5); and when I hear that we are exhorted to no longer be children in our thinking, but in our thinking to be mature (I Cor. 14:20), working hard to love God with our mind appears very agreeable from heaven’s perspective (Matt. 22:37).
Furthermore, when I hear that it is the glory of God to hide a matter, but the glory of kings to search it out (Ps. 25:2); and when I hear that the great works of God [like His work in election!] are studied by all those who delight in their splendor and majesty (Ps. 111:2), I see that the glory of God and my delight in His Person are at stake in my “study” and “searching”.
Likewise, when I hear that the Father has made Himself known (knowable!) by sending His Son in the flesh (Jn 1:18), and this Son has in turn sent the Spirit to guide us into all truth (Jn. 16:13); and when I hear that this same Spirit searches the depths of God, comprehending His thoughts, and has been given to us in order that we might understand the things freely given us by God (I Cor. 2:11-12), it seems again presumptuous and dishonoring to deny our need of this knowledge, or His ability to communicate it to us by suggesting we shouldn’t pursue it.
At the end of the day, I suppose there is no getting around presumption in our relationship with God. Either we will be found presumptuous for having burrowed into places where we don’t belong. Or we will be found presumptuous for contenting ourselves with far less revelation than He would have given us. Either we will be chastised for being too hungry for more of Him and not recognizing the threshold of mystery when we cross it, or we will be chastised for setting up our tent at the base of the mountain and being far too easily pleased. I don’t see a biblical way around the conviction that God is more highly honored and we are more richly rejoiced through the presumption of asking for too much as opposed for asking for too little.
Like my wife, but in far greater measure, I will never comprehend the fullness of God (which is what will make eternity so dynamic!). But like my relationship with my wife, this “otherness” will serve, by His grace, as an incentive to press in as far as I can possibly go in the strength He gives me. I invite you to join me in pursuing Him this same way!