Does reason top all considerations?

7 Oct

If you ask people to distinguish features that mark human beings as different from the animal kingdom, most would respond first that it is our self-awareness or our ability to think and to reason that sets us apart from other creatures.  For example:

  • The power of reason enables us to go against instinct and dash INTO a burning building to rescue a child.
  • The power of reason enables us to subdue passions and wrong feelings and choose the better way and say NO to MORE chocolate or another glass of wine!
  • Self-awareness allows us to learn from past experiences (we hope!) and design a more beneficial course of action

So do we or should we default to clear, rational thinking at all times?  Do decision-analysis models whether from the simplicity of the Ben Franklin two-column approach to the more sophisticated decision trees provide all we need for life? Another way to pose this question is to say: Is Reason the ultimate authority to which we submit our lives?

Recently and without haste I’ve been reading and re-reading John Flavel’s short book on fear. Link to book is here

Flavel was an English Presbyterian minister and author, living in the 17th century.  What struck me was his explicit case for submitting to God’s authority in SOME matters, thus leaving behind or placing 2nd our best sense of a matter derived solely from human reasoning.

Say what?  Didn’t God endow mankind with the very ability to think, to reason?

Yes! By all means.

Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

Furthermore, in the New Testament, the Greek word ‘logismos’ is used.  This term translates as argument or thinking or system of thought.

Educated readers of the Bible will know that ‘logismos’ relates to ‘logos’ or the word.  The Apostle John writes in his very first chapter of the book bearing his name.  In the beginning was the Logos or Word, and the Logos or Word was with God, and the Logos or Word was God.

So, yes, God DOES give us the ability to think and use words to make decisions. But there are times and situations where our thinking will fall short and not be sufficient.  God alerts us to future situations where this is the case, so we should NOT be surprised!

Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.”As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts“.

God unequivocally teaches that there will be circumstances when His ways and thoughts trump our assessments and best reasoning.

Here’s the 64-million-dollar question: How do we know WHEN we are to use reason and WHEN we are to submit to God’s ways?

John Flavel describes the rule of faith as God’s way.  In his book, he teaches HOW to fight fear.  Fear is a normal reaction to our everyday evil world.  Evil in our hearts and evil all around us.  If we are to remain peaceful within, despite circumstances, then we CANNOT let our reason be the final arbiter used to describe or inform or make sense of what our senses provide us.

Here is how Flavel explains:  (p. 106-107 of his book):

  • You must keep your thoughts under the government of faith. Whoever sets aside the rules of faith and measures things by the rule of his shallow reason is HIMSELF (caps, mine) the problem.  If we permit reason to judge all things and derive its conclusions from the appearance of second causes, our hearts will have no rest day or night.  Instead, it will keep us in continual alarms.  The best people are prone to measure things by this rule – to judge all of God’s designs and providences by reason. 

When he mentions the ‘best people’, think ‘the intelligentsia’ of the day who might be tempted to assume that a belief in God is not rational.

Bottom line for us moderns is to use and develop our ability to think and discern and draw conclusions, but measure them through the grid of God’s truth, how He describes reality.  After all, He created all that is.

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