Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 29:
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deu 29:29 ESV)
This verse is fairly plain but let’s just look at some of the words to clarify. The word “secret” in the verse is the Hebrew word sathar which means secret, hidden, concealed, or absent. The word “revealed” in the verse is the Hebrew word galah, which means revealed, denuded, disclosed, or uncovered.
The things that God told us through his prophets are what he has revealed. According to the word of God, those are things that we can know about God. That is what revelation is about. God has revealed to us certain things that we can know, But there are many things that we cannot know about God. There is no amount of philosophizing, speculating, hypothesizing, or inductive reasoning that will allow us to break the revelation barrier.
God’s mind is literally on a plane so above ours that there is no comparison. Unless God tells us things about how he and heaven and eternity work we simply can’t know them. We can’t figure them out. Look at these verses that say just that. First, we can’t even understand how great God is:
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. (Psa 145:3 ESV)
We can’t think like God. Unsearchable means that there is no place that we can look to find out what we want to know. God says we can’t figure him out:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:8-9 ESV)
What does that even mean? Here’s an example. The vast majority of us humans think of everything, even eternal things in human terms. For example, time is a human reality with beginnings, middles, and ends. Everything is linear; one thing happens, then another. You wake up, you eat breakfast, you get dressed, and then you go to work or school.
A common timeline belief is that you live, and then you die and go to heaven. N. T. Wright, a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews, says that belief actually comes from a philosophy called middle Platonism that was common around the time of original Christianity. But, according to Wright, original Christians didn’t actually believe that; rather they held a belief that heaven and earth were twin halves of the Christian life at the same time. According to this belief, heaven and earth exist at the same time!i
Sound too strange? Look at these verses:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus [emphasis added], so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:4-7 ESV)
Look at the tenses involved here. The people reading this are alive in this world. But they are being told that that they are seated in heavenly places, i.e. they are in heaven like they have died or been caught in the rapture! This already happened the way this verse reads! But the people reading this are alive in this world! Yet the verse is talking like we have passed on and are no longer alive and are residing in heaven? Or rather, that we are alive now, but also seated in heavenly places at the same time! There is the earth plane and the spiritual plane, and they co-exist! We are alive now and seated in heavenly places at what we perceive as the same time. Wright says this is more like how original Christians thought.
Now, a common explanation for these verses is that God foreknew that we would believe so he has a place reserved for us, which makes sense for people like us with our analytically based educational system that has foundations back to Greek philosophy. It certainly sounds like a good explanation to me. It makes sense.
But, as God’s word says, God’s ways are not our ways! His thinking is so advanced it looks like gibberish to us. We have to stop thinking like we can figure everything out! It doesn’t matter if its the first century, the twenty-first century or the forty-first century if the Lord tarries that long, God’s ways are beyond our reach to understand. So, maybe on God’s plane we are here and seated with him at the same time! How can that be, since we can’t be in two places here in our universe? I don’t know that it is, but, well, God’s ways are unsearchable and it may be just that in God’s reality. Again, he says that in Ephesians 2 above and in Romans 11:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Rom 11:33-34 ESV)
Deuteronomy states that some things are hidden with God and the above verses say that our ways are not God’s ways and our thoughts are his either. Again, we don’t think like God.
A little more on God’s view of time can be seen from verses like:
For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. (Psa 90:4 ESV)
I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days; Your years are through the generation of generations. Of old You have laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They shall perish, but You shall endure; yea, all of them shall become old like a garment; like a robe You shall change them, and they shall be changed; but You are He, and Your years shall have no end. (Psa 102:24-27 MKJV)
These verses above are comparing God’s time to our time in terms we can understand. But make no mistake, they are also saying that God doesn’t have the constraints of time that we have. So we don’t really know what time is like for him.
Look at this. I can take a picture of a beautiful vase of flowers. That picture is an image of those flowers, they can reflect the beauty and intricacy of design the colors and outside structures of the flowers, but they are in no way the equal to the flowers. Likewise, we are made in the image of God but are in no way the equal of him who created us. We have an image of God’s thinking, but we in no way have God’s thinking on a lot of areas. We’re not even in the same ballpark!
Look at ants. They are impressive creatures really; they live in highly structured social colonies. They all know their jobs and they work as a team, building incredible colonies. They communicate with each other. ii They can carry 20 times their body weight.iii Did you know that ants farm other animals? Yes, some ants farm aphids, maintaining herds of them and milking them for food.iv And just because you haven’t figured out how to talk to an ant doesn’t mean that it doesn’t think in at least some rudimentary form. There are scientists who say that many animals have a wide range of thoughts and feelings.v Ants are pretty sophisticated creatures. vi
But we are so far advanced over ants, or so we think. that there is no comparison. And I don’t think that we are even like ants compared to God, he is that incredible! Yet so many of us think we can figure so much out about God and heaven and eternity! Science has its big bang theories and Christians since the apostles have been taking fragments of writings and extrapolating wide-ranging theologies. They do this utilizing Greek analytical methods of deduction and especially inductive reasoning, an epistemological tool from philosophy.
Wisdom and knowledge in the world come under the heading of philosophy. Philosophy is broken down into branches. There’s ontology or metaphysics which is the study of being. There’s epistemology which is the study of knowledge. There’s ethics which is the study of morals.vii Another division is called aesthetics which in its simplest definition means beauty.
This website has a small section on philosophy because it is referred to in the bible. Whether we realize it or not philosophy has been incorporated into the education of most people in civilized society and recognizing our philosophical indoctrination is crucial to our understanding of the topic of differentiating revelation from world influences. Our educational systems engrain philosophically based analytical thinking into our brains starting in kindergarten. While our educational systems have yielded great benefits in worldly pursuits in areas like medicine, transportation, communication, industry, and science, they can hinder us greatly when we think we can use them to understand God beyond what God has revealed in his word,
Especially, to those who say that you believe the Bible, I am going to ask, what does the Bible say about how the world teaches us to think? Look at this:
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1Co 1:17-25 ESV)
Do you think because you live thousands of years after the apostles that things are different now? Do you think because we invented computers and sent people into space that we smart enough now to figure out God? The bible says we are not.
Paul asks rhetorically whether God has made foolish the wisdom of the world! He declares that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. God says he is going to destroy the wisdom of the wise. So where does that put the wisdom of God? The answer is way, way, way up there, beyond our comprehension.
Remember that theologians include philosophical arguments in their reasoning about theology when they use things like deductive, and especially, inductive reasoning. What are deductive and inductive reasoning you say? Deductive reasoning is “the process of figuring out things that are necessarily true, provided that the assumptions that we start with, are true.”viii If A = B and B = C then we deduct that A = C.
On the other hand, inductive reasoning is “drawing conclusions from particular evidence: if certain things are true, we can induce that other things of the same kind will probably be true.”ix A keyword there is probably. Inductive reasoning comes without absolute certainty. It’s taking a bunch of facts and drawing conclusions about them. We can do this with some success in the natural world but the spiritual world is different. There aren’t any verses that say that men of our time are different and will be able to figure out things that were previously secret.
So what are we to do? Study the scriptures as the prophets searched the scripture: carefully:
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, (1Pe 1:10 ESV)
The prophets looked to see what was revealed. Yes, they look for small details that might help them understand better. But they stuck to what was written. And they didn’t take a group of details and induce a new theory, then teach it as truth.
Now, being like the prophets and sticking to what has been revealed can give us great understanding:
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, (Col 1:9 ESV)
“All” doesn’t mean absolutely all here. You have to derive the meaning of words in the bible in the context of all of God’s word.
For example, all can be used in different ways, all that there is, or all that is available. Here’s a personal example, growing up I was often described as the guy who ate all the food. You see when I played on the basketball team I couldn’t keep my weight up despite what I ate. There were seven of us around the table. The dishes would get passed around the table. People would take their amounts and the foods would accumulate around me. So, the story became during those times that I ate all the food. I didn’t eat all the food in the house. I ate all that was available on the table for dinner and only after everyone else got some.
If all in the above verse meant that we could have absolutely all spiritual wisdom and understanding that would contradict the previous verses we looked above that declare that God has secret things that belong just to him and his mind is unsearchable to us. No, in this case, all means all that is available to us. But still, to be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding is an awesome thing! And next, we will read about being encouraged, knit together in love, with full assurance and knowledge of God’s mystery, in Christ.
that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. (Col 2:2-4 ESV)
That sounds awesome because it is; being encouraged, knit together in love, with full assurance!
Now, when we are sticking to what is revealed we look for scripture to explain what it means in the context, sometimes right there, other times we look at the larger work of all of scripture.
For example, look at the parable of the sower. It has the parable, and then continuing in the context it explains the meaning.
He taught them many things in parables, and told them in his teaching, “Listen! Behold, the farmer went out to sow, and as he sowed, some seed fell by the road, and the birds came and devoured it. Others fell on the rocky ground, where it had little soil, and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of soil. When the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. Others fell into the good ground, and yielded fruit, growing up and increasing. Some produced thirty times, some sixty times, and some one hundred times as much.” He said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.” When he was alone, those who were around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. He said to them, “To you is given the mystery of God’s Kingdom, but to those who are outside, all things are done in parables, that ‘seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest perhaps they should turn again, and their sins should be forgiven them.’” He said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How will you understand all of the parables? The farmer sows the word. The ones by the road are the ones where the word is sown; and when they have heard, immediately Satan comes, and takes away the word which has been sown in them. These in the same way are those who are sown on the rocky places, who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with joy. They have no root in themselves, but are short-lived. When oppression or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they stumble. Others are those who are sown among the thorns. These are those who have heard the word, and the cares of this age, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. Those which were sown on the good ground are those who hear the word, and accept it, and bear fruit, some thirty times, some sixty times, and some one hundred times.” (Mar 4:2-20 WEB)
This is a simple parable of a farmer sowing seed. As we all know, a good bit of the seed doesn’t grow anything useful. Some of the seed fell on rocky ground, some on thorny soil some the seed was eaten by birds. That seed was not fruitful. But there was seed that fell on good ground and it sprouted and brought forth fruit in varying amounts. Anyone who has a garden understands that concept. But what it means in the parable by Jesus is explained above in verses 11 – 20. Jesus explains that the seed is the word. The rocky ground, the thorny ground, the birds all represent actions on the part of Satan to take the word away from people. The good ground represents those people who received the word of God into their hearts, and nurture it and care for it and it bears forth fruit in varying amounts. That’s an example of Scripture explaining itself in the context. Sticking to what is revealed and not speculating on what they mean is part of the topic in that section of scripture.
Now, I want to talk about something opposite of sticking to what is revealed; “plausible arguments” mentioned in Colossians 2 above. Remember when we defined inductive reasoning, drawing conclusions from pieces of particular evidence. In our universe scientists do this all the time, looking at what is known about something and then drawing conclusions. So many scientific theories are formed this way, That the theory of evolution is an exercise in inductive reason is something that is well taught.x There are a lot of things about the theory that are plausible, believable. In many scientific minds, it is so plausible that it is accepted as true, but it is not a proven theory. Much of science is like that. And so is a lot of theology!
People have been constructing plausible arguments on everything from soup to nuts including theology, the study of God, using a lot of inductive reasoning since Adam. Sometimes the argument does prove to be true. Sometimes it takes a long time to find the flaw in the argument. Other times the flaw in inductive reasoning becomes obvious rather quickly. So much scientific investigation is based on inductive reasoning, looking at collections of facts, drawing conclusions, hypotheses, that are further tested to see whether they bear out as true in the long haul. It’s right at the fabric of how we think in the world these days.
But, when it comes to God and eternity, and the universe, we can’t know everything we need to be able to induce reliable conclusions about eternal realities because the secret things belong to God. So a lot of theologies are based on the faulty premise that we can know things that we cannot know because God has hidden them!
Again, the knowledge of God that we can know can bring a peace that passes understanding which is so awesome.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Php 4:7 MKJV)
I have tasted that peace and it is so soothing, so comforting. On the other hand, philosophy and its methods can drive you nuts! If philosophy has such perfect and true reasoning then all the philosophers would agree, but they don’t! Frederick Schuller wrote:
We are all aware that philosophers are even more prone to disagree than doctors, and probably all of us are ready upon occasion to contribute our quota to the disagreements that mark, and scar, the face of philosophy. xi
The wisdom of the world is a fickle master. And God is going to destroy it in the end.
On the other hand, Jesus didn’t quote any philosophers, he quoted the word of God, and referred to what prophets said, people charged with delivering revelation, messages from God.
Col 1:9 and 2:2-4 are so very interesting because they acknowledge the reality that we can have great spiritual wisdom and understanding but also that we can be deluded with “plausible arguments”, also translated “enticing words”. The trick is to stick to the text of the word of God, as original as can be found, not adding or subtracting from it. And sticking to what is revealed. Especially remember the downfall of inductive reasoning, that we will never in our current form have enough information to inductively conclude things on God’s plane.
So don’t be afraid to say that there isn’t enough information to know something. It’s a basic rule in understanding the word of God.
iThe New Testament Doesn’t Say What Most People Think It Does About Heaven, N.T. Wright, https://time.com/5743505/new-testament-heaven/
v Yes, Animals Think And Feel. Here’s How We Know, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/07/150714-animal-dog-thinking-feelings-brain-science/#close
vii The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Philosophy, Jay Stevenson P.h.D, Alpha Books, (Penguin Books), 2005, p.6-7
viiiIbid, p. 21
ixIbid, p. 22
x The Origin of Species, article, Spark Series teaching notes, https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/origin/themes/
xi Disagreement in Philosophy An Optimistic Perspective, HERMAN CAPPELEN, http://hermancappelen.net/docs/DisagreementinPhilosophyCambridge.pdf