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Shavua Tov

Only six days until Shabbat!

  • Daniel Botkin

Our Thoughts & Our Thinking: A Major Hindrance to Spiritual Growth

Jews point out that one major difference between Christianity and Judaism is that Christianity focuses a great deal on what people should believe and less on what people should do, whereas Judaism focuses a great deal on what people should do and less on what people should believe.

Because neither Christianity nor Judaism is monolithic, this is not true of all Christians and Jews. Nonetheless, this observation, with some exceptions, is generally true. This can be seen in the fact that nearly every church of any significant size feels obligated to have a “Doctrinal Statement” that lists all the doctrines that a potential member is required to believe to be a member in good standing, whereas Judaism does not have a list of doctrines that a person is required to believe to be a Jew. We learned this many years ago when the local synagogue here in Peoria had a series of lectures called “A Taste of Judaism.” The lectures were for non-Jews who wanted to learn some basics about Judaism, or for Jews who did not know much about their Jewish faith and wanted to learn more.

Some of us from our Messianic congregation attended. The rabbi pointed out that unlike Christianity, Judaism focuses more on the importance of what a person should do, rather than on what a person should believe.

During the Q & A time, a man in the audience said to the rabbi, “You say it is not so important what a Jew believes. But what is the bare minimum that a person has to believe to be a Jew?”

“You don’t really have to believe anything to be a Jew,” the rabbi replied. “There are things that a Jew should believe. A Jew should believe in God. But belief in God is not a requirement to be a Jew. If a person is born to a Jewish mother, or has gone through an Orthodox conversion to Judaism, that is what makes the person Jewish.”

One of the men from our Messianic congregation asked the rabbi, “What about Jews who believe Jesus was the Messiah?”

“They are no longer Jews,” the rabbi stated flatly.

Afterwards I thought about this and realized that the rabbi’s claim that a person does not have to believe anything to be a Jew was a false claim. According to this rabbi, there is indeed one thing you are required to believe to be a Jew. You are required to believe that Yeshua was not the Messiah. At least according to this rabbi. Other rabbis say that halachically speaking, a Jew who believes in Jesus is still a Jew. A “bad Jew,” but a Jew nonetheless.

The conflict between what a man believes and what he does is an artificial, mythical conflict, because what a person does is determined by what that person believes. Deeds are the proof of what we think and believe. Our deeds flow out of what we think and believe. Therefore our thoughts and our thinking are of the utmost importance.

The importance of thoughts and thinking can be seen in the fact that the Hebrew word for “important,” chashuv, is related to the Hebrew verb for “think,” chashav. The Hebrew word for “thought,” machshevah, is formed by adding the noun-forming mem prefix and the -ah suffix. So in Hebrew thought, our thoughts and our thinking are very important!

Most Bible readers are familiar with Isaiah’s contrast between man’s thoughts and God’s thoughts. In Isaiah 55:8f, God declares this glaring contrast between our thoughts and His thoughts:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith 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.”

Brad Scott, a well-known Messianic Bible teacher, often said, “God is smarter than we are.” No sane Bible believer would disagree with this statement. If you do have any doubts about how smart God is, I suggest you read God’s words to Job in Job chapters 38 through 41. God gives Job a long lecture about the creation and nature, interspersed with questions to Job, asking Job if he can explain all these things God does. By the time the LORD finishes speaking, Job is humbled. Job realizes he doesn’t know squat. The main point of God’s four-chapter-long lecture to Job can be summed up in just six words: God is smarter than we are.

As the Creator and Sustainer of the visible universe, and of the invisible realm as well, God certainly knows a lot more than we do. He knows everything there is to know, past, present, and future. We by comparison do not know squat. We might have hundreds of thousands of facts stored away in our brains, but compared to everything God knows, we know very little. When David wrote about God’s thoughts, he said: “How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand” (Ps. 139:17f).

God knows far more facts than we do. However, when considering God’s thoughts, we need to consider not only the vast quantity of information God knows. We also need to consider the way God thinks -- what He values, what He loves, what He hates and despises, what He desires man to do. In Isaiah 55, it is not only God’s thoughts that are higher than ours; it is also His ways -- the way He thinks, the way He determines what He will do or not do. Our decisions and deeds grow out of our thoughts and our thinking process. God’s decisions and deeds likewise grow out of His thoughts and His thinking process. The way He thinks determines what He does.

Psalm 103:7 says “He made known His ways unto Moses, His acts unto the children of Israel.”

Most believers, like the children of Israel, only see God’s external acts. They do not know God’s ways, like Moses did. Moses not only saw God’s acts; he also knew God’s ways.

My 70-plus years of living and observing human behavior in myself and in others, along with nearly 50 years of reading and studying the Scriptures, has convinced me that one of the biggest obstacles to spiritual growth and maturity is our failure to discern God’s thoughts and His ways. And the reason we fail to discern God’s thoughts and His ways is because our own thoughts and our own way of thinking get in the way.

We all agree that God knows far more than we do. And we all agree, verbally at least, that God is smarter than we are. He not only knows more facts, He also knows what He is doing. He has a reason for everything He does, and a reason for everything He does not do.

We all agree that God is smarter than we are. And yet I will be the first to admit that if I were God, if I were the one who was authorized and empowered to create and sustain a universe in any way I wanted, I would do it differently than God did it. I would do it in a way that seems smarter to me. If it were up to me, I would create a universe with no pain, sadness, sickness, or suffering. I would not have let the Tempter into the Garden of Eden. Or, if I decided it was important to let the woman be tempted, I would have made the Serpent less convincing and the woman more discerning, so she would not have been so easily deceived. I would have given her a brain that was sharp enough to see through the Serpent’s lie.

When my son was around 9 or 10 years old, he had a friend named Ryan. One day the two boys were talking about fictional time travel. Ryan said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had a time machine that really worked? We could go back to the Garden of Eden, right before Eve ate the fruit, and yell at her, ‘Stop! Don’t do it! It’s a trick!’”

I think that’s funny. But I also think that if we really could go back in time, most of us would probably like to prevent Eve from eating the forbidden fruit and ruining Paradise, if that were possible. Of course it is not possible, but the fact that we would like to do it -- or that we would have created the universe in a way that prevented the woman’s deception -- shows that we think differently than God thinks. And that makes me wonder: Do we honestly believe with all our heart that God is smarter than we are?

When God does things far differently than we would do them, the temptation is to wonder if God really knows the best way to run the universe. We would prefer a pain-free universe. There will be a pain-free Paradise when the new heavens and new earth are established. But why not create a perfect, pain-free universe, shielded from suffering, from the very start? Why place the Tempter and the forbidden fruit in Paradise, knowing ahead of time that the Tempter’s cunning deception will result in a world filled with horrible pain, agony, and suffering for thousands of years? Why not make a Paradise without a Tempter? Or, if there must be a Tempter, why not make the Tempter less convincing and the woman more discerning, so she will refuse the Tempter’s offer, and thereby avoid all the centuries of human suffering?

The Bible does not answer questions like these. Or if it does, I have not yet found satisfactory answers, and I do not expect to. Every attempt to explain the reason God allows evil and suffering is a lame attempt, in my opinion.

“Suffering refines us, Daniel. It builds character.”

Of course it does. But if God is so smart, can’t He think of a different way to refine us and build our character? In His vast wisdom, can’t He think of some way that does not involve so much pain? Or better yet, can’t He eliminate the need for refining and character building by simply commanding that all humans be born with a fully developed character from birth? Who or what is stopping Him from doing this? We may not be smart enough to think of a pain-free way to discipline our disobedient children, but isn’t God smart enough to think of a pain-free way to discipline His disobedient children? Or better yet, incline the hearts of all men to be obedient at all times? Pain hurts. Why must it hurt so bad and last for so long?

Thinkers and philosophers have pondered thoughts like these since the days of Job. We cannot satisfactorily answer such questions, because God thinks differently than we do. Our way of thinking makes it impossible to understand or explain such things.

When pondering God’s thoughts and His ways, we need to consider not only the things He has not revealed in His Word, but also the things that He has revealed in His Word. Deuteronomy 29:29 speaks about both the unrevealed and the revealed:

“The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

The “secret things” are things God has not revealed. Why did God make the Tempter cunning enough to deceive the woman, then place the Tempter by a tree that bears poisonous fruit, knowing that the woman would be deceived and bring evil and suffering upon the human race? After 6,000 years of human suffering, why does God still allow innocent little children to be kidnapped, abused, and brutally murdered, when He could intervene and prevent these atrocities from happening, if He wanted to?

The answers to those questions are “secret things” that “belong unto the LORD our God.” The answers to those questions are unrevealed. They belong to the LORD, and not to us. “But those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

Rather than being overly obsessed with trying to understand things that we will never understand, we should focus instead on those things which are revealed. And we should remember that the reason these things are revealed is so “that we may do all the words of this law.”

As people begin to learn what God commands in His law, the conflict and the immeasurable gap between God’s thoughts and ways and man’s thoughts and ways very soon manifests itself. A person learns that God commands and forbids certain things. As long as God’s instruction makes sense to the natural human mind, the person has no problem with God’s law.

“No murder. No adultery. No stealing. Yes, those are good, sensible laws, because doing those things would hurt people.”

But as soon as the person hears a command that does not make sense to the natural human mind, he questions the importance and the value of that law.

“Not get tattoos? Not eat pork or shellfish? Not wear garments of wool and linen woven together? Not work on the seventh day of the week? Why in the world not? What’s wrong with that? That doesn’t hurt anybody.”

This kind of human reasoning reveals how far removed we are from God’s ways and His thoughts.

As soon as a man starts questioning the value and the wisdom of any God-given commandment, that man is questioning the wisdom of the God who gave that commandment, and is suggesting that maybe God is not smarter than we are. A man who has any contempt for any God-given commandment is suggesting that maybe he is smarter than God. He is suggesting that he knows a better way to do things.

It is one thing to wonder about the reason for certain commandments. It is an entirely different thing to question and doubt the wisdom and value and importance of a God-given commandment, and to conclude that maybe that particular commandment was not a very good idea and should be ignored.

If you reject a God-given commandment simply because it does not make sense to you, then you have become one of those to whom God says, “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself” (Ps. 50:21).

In other words, you assumed that God thinks the same way you think, that God values the same things you value, that God loves and hates the same things you love and hate. In effect, you have deified yourself. You have put yourself in the position of God, determining for yourself what is good and evil. You have usurped the authority of God and denied His sovereign right to rule over the universe as He pleases. In effect you have said that God does not have the right to give a command unless He explains the reason for that command to your satisfaction.

Sometimes in the Bible God does explain the reason for certain commandments. “Do this because...” “Don’t do that, lest...” Other times He does not state a reason. He just says “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not” with no explanation.

Christians like to talk about faith. Obedience to unexplained commandments takes more faith than obedience to commandments that make sense to us. James says three times that faith without works is dead. Faith is demonstrated by works of obedience. Who demonstrates greater faith, the man who obeys only the commandments that make sense to his natural human mind, or the man who obeys even those commandments that do not make sense to his natural human mind? Which of these two men really believes that God is smarter than we are?

As stated earlier, one of the biggest obstacles to spiritual growth and maturity is our failure to discern God’s thoughts and ways because of the interference of our own thoughts and ways. With our natural carnal mind, we tend to think that God is altogether such an one as ourselves. We assume that God views things pretty much the same way we do, even though we acknowledge that He knows more stuff than we do.

This sort of thinking is what the Bible calls the thinking of “the natural man,” the man who still thinks with his unrenewed, carnal mind. To the natural man, some of God’s commandments seem unnecessary or even foolish. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).

The spiritual mind will obey the law of God even when it does not make sense to the natural carnal mind. By contrast, “the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).

If you think you do not need to obey God’s law because you are “not under the law,” think again. True, we are “not under the law.” But that does not mean that we are not subject to the law. Look again at that verse above. Notice that a mind that is not subject to the law of God is a “carnal mind” and “enmity against God.”

If you are not subject to the law of God, then you are thinking with a carnal mind. Consider these things well and let them sink in.

Sometimes certain truths from God’s Word take time to sink in. This fact can be seen in the passage in Isaiah 55. Right after the statement about God’s thoughts and ways being higher than our thoughts and ways, God says this:

“For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth” (Isa. 55:10f).

Notice that God’s Word is compared to both the rain and the snow. What is the difference? Rain usually sinks into the earth immediately. Snow, on the other hand, sinks into the soil only after a long period of time, after the snow has melted and the frozen soil has thawed.

Sometimes God’s Word is like the rain, and sometimes it is like the snow. Sometimes God’s Word sinks into our heart immediately, like rain. Those parts of God’s Word that are easy to understand and easy to appreciate sink in immediately, like rain on soft, warm soil. But those parts of God’s Word that are not easy to understand and not easy to immediately appreciate take more time to sink in. If your heart is cold and hard, a thawing and a melting have to take place. As your heart warms and softens, it will melt the ice and make it possible for God’s Word to slowly sink in -- even those parts of God’s Word that are not easy to understand and appreciate.

So stop thinking with your natural carnal mind, which “is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7). As long as you continue thinking with your natural carnal mind, you will never be subject to the law of God. And remember that “the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Rom. 8:7).

“And be not conformed to this world [a world that thinks with their natural carnal mind], but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).

Open up your heart and let God’s Word sink in -- all of it, not just those parts that are easily and immediately understood and appreciated. Let your mind be transformed so your thoughts and your ways become more and more like God’s thoughts and ways. As that happens, your life will begin to “bring forth and bud.” You will provide “seed to the sower and bread to the eater.” You will then experience the blessing that is promised in the concluding verses of Isaiah 55:

“For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

| DB

Image: Psalm 26 by Daniel Botkin from his Psurrealistic Psalms Pseries. See this and all his art galleries on his art website,

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