Sometimes I have to laugh a bit at human endeavors into knowledge and understanding. Sometimes I have to laugh at myself as I attempt to learn and, of all things, teach people about God. Sometimes I want to give it all up and throw in the intellectual towel and head East, where mystery is much more accepted. I have taught theology for over a decade now. I have written more than a thousand articles (if I can call a “blog” and article!) articulating my understanding about the Bible, God, and human nature. I have evaluated, contemplated, discussed, and fellowshipped with who I believe to be some of the greatest living “scholars.” I have a Th.M. Translation: Theological Masters. Therefore, I am a “master” of theology? 

Chuck Swindoll used to say, “Sometimes you think you are something on a stick. You are not something on a stick.”

The truth is when I am at my best, I realize how little I know. God is infinite, I am not. People often get insecure when they encounter someone who, from the world’s perspective, is “learned.” We call them “academicians,” “experts,” and, my favorite, “scholars.” Sometimes we put Ph.D.s and Th.M. after their names. In Christ’s day, they were called “scribes.” Same meaning, different time. We give away awards and prizes for people whom, from the perspective of the awarder, has made significant contributions in this field or that.

I wonder what God thinks of these type of things? Does he think we are something on a stick?

Simply put, God is incomprehensible. I was reminded of this as I have been in correspondence with a “seeking” atheist over the last few weeks. Her inability to even grasp the concept of God as I explained him caused me to once again realize that I don’t grasp it either. As I described his infinite, transcendent, holy nature, I was describing things that were beyond my ability to fathom. The conversation was pushing my buttons of ignorance and finitude. My theological legs began to shake as I realized once again the ineffability of God. Our inability to fathom these things does not make it any less true. It just puts us in our place.

1Co 1:20
“Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

Problems arise when we begin to think we can comprehend the incomprehensible. Bigger problems arise when we think that in order to qualify for belief, it must be understood. So many people our there are like this young atheist saying, “Explain it to me until I comprehend it, then and only then will I believe it.” We think that we are something on a stick. We think that we can rise to the heights of God and look him in the eye.

I love what A.W. Tozer say in Knowledge of the Holy when speaking about the doctrine of the Trinity:

“Some persons who reject all they cannot explain have denied that God is a Trinity. Subjecting the Most High to their cold, level-eyed scrutiny, they conclude that it is impossible that he could be both One and Three. These forget that their whole life is enshrouded in mystery. They fail to consider that any real explanation of even the simplest phenomenon in nature lies hidden in obscurity and can no more be explained than can the mystery of the Godhead.”

What naive people we so often are. How lofty are our thoughts of ourselves. In reality, we don’t understand much. Oh when surrounded by others of our caliber (humanity in general) and then comparing ourselves to the most base of animals, we can push our self-admiration up a notch or two. Our IQ can get to 150 and we are placed on a pedestal for being fifty points smarter than the next, while the IQ of God cannot be gaged with human numbers. We look through a microscope or telescope and describe what we don’t understand. We are ants looking out of the ant farm window describing, as best we can, the anatomy of the world, and then giving each other high fives for our great wisdom.

In reality, we don’t understand much. Yet, ironically, when the One who understands all speaks and graciously explains reality, we test him by the standard of the “best of” in our ant farm.

We love the truth of God. We love understanding. In fact, God has said himself, “let him who rejoice, rejoice in this: that he understands and knows me” (Jer. 9:24). God has revealed himself to us truly, but not fully. We can be confident that when he speaks, he speaks the truth. The comings and goings our our “great understanding” are just that: comings and goings. While there is no sense I would advocate giving up our pursuit of knowledge and understanding, there is a time when our accolades and pats on the back must make God laugh.

Who are the scientists of the ant farm? Who are the philosophers? Who are the theologians? Where are the scholars?

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Where were we when I thought of the idea of light? Where where you when I made the hydrogen molecule? Where were you when I created Andromeda? Where were you when I created the color blue? Where were you when I had the idea of taste, touch, and smell? Your ant farm had not even been created yet. And you think you can look me in the eye?”

We are not “something on a stick.”


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    19 replies to "Not “Something on a Stick”"

    • Stuart

      Absolutely spot on!

    • LM

      Yes, great post! For those who seek complete understanding before they will believe….Is that really the kind of God you want anyhow?? If God is totally comprehensible, then he would not be very great.

    • Viorel "Vic" Cocis

      PTL Michael, I appreciate your comments, your modesty ( and here I go) your wisdom, and so it seems that there comes a time when we should be putting out hand over our mouth and stop talking our words, and eventually when we speak, speak the Words of the Father. If Jesus spoke the Father’s Words… conclusion is just too obvious. Unless we seek our own ant(ly) glory.

    • John From Down Under

      Here’s some random excerpts from a dialogue on another thread on this blog.

      God knows that (S&C)[]->A, but that doesn’t imply that (S&C)[]->~{}~A (though you seem to be saying it does)… The idea that p []-> q entails p []-> ~{}~q is just as modally fallacious…. So here we have a counterexample to the claim that “(S&C)[]->A entails (S&C)[]->~{}~A.” Your argument appears to make a fallacy of modal logic…..
      …which would imply that (S&C)[]->A entails (S&C)[]->~{}~A, whereas such entailment is fallacious….On your latest formulation I don’t see how the simple fact that something can be modeled implies determinism. After all can model Quantum Fluctuations even though they are ultimately indeterminate.

      Without my opening introduction one could easily presume it is a conversation between physicists. When I observe this I can’t help ask myself “what is wrong with this picture?” Is this theological geek-ism or two folks who sincerely try to explain and define their faith?

    • If we cannot even explain a light beam, which scientists tell us is made up of waves and particles at the same time, how can we expect to understand God. To me the doctrine of the Trinity is a great argument for the Christian faith. If we had invented it, it is not the sort of thing we would have made up.

    • Saskia

      yes true, as well, if light can be a partcle and a wave, and if a particle can be in two places at once, and can both exist and not exist until something interacts with it… then surely God can be three in one… if you think science is true then you should have absolutely no problems with paradox whatsoever

    • […] retweeted Michael’s recent post entitled: Not “Something on a Stick” and a Twitter friend suggested that the premise of the post should be our ‘thought for the […]

    • David Edmisten

      I can’t get over the similarity of your post and a church sign I read driving home from work recently “You know the Scriptures well, but how well do you know the author?”

      Too much learning and not enough experience is such a danger. We’ve missed the point if all we have done is learned about God, but we have not developed our relationship with God.

    • Dr Mike

      Chaerephon, a close friend of Socrates, asked the Oracle at Delphi if there was any man living who was wiser than Socrates; the oracle answered, “No.”

      Socrates concluded that the oracle meant that he was the wisest man because he recognized his own ignorance: “One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.”

    • Ron

      “One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.”

      Sounds self-refuting 🙂

      and yes, I know what he meant

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      This is a good post within limits.

      I also like what Tim Challies had to write in his post:

      “Doubt has become a virtue while boldness and assuredness have become marks of arrogance. The only thing we should be sure of is that we cannot be sure of much of anything. Doubt has become synonymous with humility. And so it was with the people who used to be known by that term emerging. This was a faith devoid of boldness, a faith that emphasized the unknowability of God at the expense of what we can know with confidence. The man who went on television and declared how little he knew in a quiet tone of voice was lauded over the man who spoke confidently of what God has made clear.

      But here’s the thing: the Bible tells us that we can believe boldly, knowing what we know, believing and proclaiming what God says is true. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives boldness to His people.

      (To be continued)

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      … “It is not a rash and arrogant boldness that takes refuge in our own intellectual capacities, but a boldness that what God reveals of himself through Scripture is real and right and true and knowable. It is a confidence that we, simple human beings, can know and understand God. And what we know and understand we can proclaim. Humility is not found in doubting what is true, but in believing that what God says is true is true indeed. And it is found in proclaiming it on that basis. Humility is expressed in obedience.”

      From: http://www.challies.com/articles/the-new-evangelical-virtues

    • Ishmael

      One of the saddest statements I ever heard concerned Carl Sagan, someone I admired greatly for his ability to communicate his field to a general audience. As far as we know, he died an atheist and his wife’s comment was that Carl didn’t want to believe, he wanted to know.

      When I read his novel Contact, it struck me as a quest for God — I will believe in you if you provide proof such as encoding a video signal in the whatever millionth digits of Pi.

      It doesn’t work that way, of course, and I wish you well in your efforts with this seeker.

    • supersonic

      Hi Guys (and Ladies),

      I am German and I don’t exactly understand what the phrase “something on a stick” means. Could you paraphrase it for me, please?

      Thank You,
      Nic

    • Chris Williams

      Michael, thank you for this admission and the humility it shows. You will be criticized for not shoving “what we know” down other’s throats, and that is unfortunate. We can, with confidence, speak of what God has revealed in Scripture, but to think for one minute that God is limited to only that Revelation is to make of him an idol. He is, as you affirm, much, much bigger than that! We can accept his revelation of himself with confidence knowing full well that he is greater still.

    • Liam Moran

      Paul said in Galatians 6:3, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Obviously, when one is that learned he has to possess humility as well. Knowledge can also cause us to be “puffed up” (1 Cor. 8:1).

      Some know so much about God but do not know Him. May we also have “kneeology” with our theology.

    • Helmut

      As always I kike your post, clear and without doubts, giving the glory to Our Lord and Savior. As Scriptures proclaim, God is the Truth and He is the One that has all knowledge, and we are gratefull of having belief by faith in His work in Calvary. We are servants to proclaim His Gospel, a powerful Gospel…
      But this wonderful true has no meaning to the human wisdom, because you have to be a new born to understand it with your heart not with your brain¡¡¡

    • Philip Brookes

      Really tired of reading another lazy piece that simply sweeps away all arguments with “if you don’t agree then you’re underestimating God”. Mystery and knowledge surpassing our understanding are, as far as I’m concerned, quite acceptable but ignoring contradictory evidence and having no way of addressing the real life facts which essentially disprove (fly in the face of) Biblical fundamentals is basically a disgraceful abuse of the intellect which ‘God’ allegedly gave us. Just because those who already share your beliefs pat you on the back doesn’t mean you’ve achieved anything with this kind of post. When will you be prepared to stand up for your God with a plausible position in front of those who have not yet reached a point of faith???

    • Matt

      Phil,

      You might want to take a look at the rest of this blog, as well as Michael’s ministry, the Credo House. In light of a life devoted to defending the faith, I don’t think anyone could conclude that he is sweeping anything away. Have a nice day.

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