Brilliantly Wrong!

Some people enjoy exceptional intellectual gifts: strong memories, analytic and synthetic abilities, and good language skills. But Moses, it seems, wasn’t one of these. He was certain his speech impediment precluded any public ministry.

Which raises a question. Why doesn’t God do better in finding followers? Moses was defective. Peter, too, seemed less than brilliant. He and his closest companions were more comfortable flinging fishing nets and handing out fishes and loaves then in debating educated critics.

The question also implies a critique of Jesus. Why didn’t he start his mission on earth by earning a Ph.D. at Jerusalem University? Pharisees and Sadducees who would have been his fellow doctoral students could have coached him in later years on how to avoid major pitfalls. And without that help he quickly stumbled into his crucifixion.

Another advantage of earning a doctorate would have been the opportunity to spot the best and the brightest students of his day. Instead Jesus was crucified early on and left behind just a small cluster of ordinary, uneducated men to lead his movement. Couldn’t the “Son of God” have done better?

The answer is No. He had a divine strategy. And the alternative approach just outlined would have been brilliantly wrong. If Jesus had embraced the religious status quo in Jerusalem he would have been endorsing Adam’s ambition to be like God … yet without being aligned with God.

Jesus certainly knew God—his Father—and he valued what his Father valued. So when we see how Jesus ministered we see how we’re meant to live. To know him is to love with his love. To value with God’s values is to dismiss ambitions for self-glory and to believe it is more blessed to give than to receive. Selfless devotion replaces self-advancement. It invites us to become shepherds or fisherman rather than stars.

Yet this upside-down approach isn’t always recognized or appreciated.

I admire Richard Sibbes here. He embraced faith over empty rationalism: “Christ, by his Spirit subdues the heart to the obedience of what is taught. This is that teaching which is promised of God, when not only the brain but the heart itself is taught” (Works, 1.86). Our intelligence, in other words, must reflect God’s heart to be sound. Proper thought starts with a love for God.

Yet it’s important to avoid a false opposition here. It’s just as much a mistake to demean high intelligence as it is to demean modest intelligence. God made us all! So, too, the Bible treats the mind as an instrument of the heart and not the other way around. He delights in our devotion and not in our autonomy.

Jesus, we find, didn’t dismiss the rational processing of his followers; but he did challenge their values. The fallen human soul always loves darkness rather than light. And a love for God and others sets up a sound relational context for any forms of education.

Faith, in other words, is a whole-life entrustment to God. And the opposite—a dismissal of God as the center of life—always produces spiritual disaffection and moral confusion. So that some very bright people—top scholars in their particular field—will be fools in other settings. Peter, in other words, was more aligned with ultimate reality as a fisherman than Stephen Hawking could ever be, even if he was a brilliant cosmologist. So, too, Einstein’s work in physics may have been wonderfully insightful and predictive; but he missed the reality that Jesus created and sustains nature.

I know many will challenge any comparison of objective fields of study—as in cosmology and physics—with subjective matters of faith. But we answer that no ultimate division exists between them. Every field of “objective” study is still a realm of the Creator. So a denial of his being ensures misguided outcomes in the application of knowledge. Twentieth-century science, for instance, unleashed the consuming power of nuclear weapons. The creative works of biology is also setting up abuses—in playing God—through illicit genetic manipulations. Early efforts to explore these options during WWII are predictors of future prospects.

So the bottom line is that we must treasure faith above all. Not foolish faith, but Christ-focused faith. And if any of us happen to be more ordinary than brilliant; more functional than compelling; or more faithful than famous, here’s some Bible based advice: relax. Enjoy the Lord who made you with any and all your limitations.

Be like Moses whose God-given speech impediments didn’t limit God’s work in and through him.

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