Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Lean not on your own understanding

THE SHORTEST DISTANCE (Prov 3:5-6)
pdf
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."
(Prov 3:5-6)

According to Euclidean geometry, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. It is a mathematical axiom that applies to biblical wisdom as well as to daily life. When you plan a vacation, for example, especially if you drive, you may elect the scenic route to your destination, which makes your path somewhat meandering. You may also make multiple stops along the way, to fill one tank or to empty another. For such a venture, economy of movement is not necessarily a concern. In other cases, however, you will choose the most expeditious route to your destination, the shortest and quickest. But the most economical route generally requires careful planning.1 The same is true for life. Where are you going? What is your destination, and (how) can you be certain you will arrive there without unnecessary detours?

The author of Prov 3:5-6, giving counsel to his son,2 offers both guidance and assurance with two pieces of advice for facing the uncertainty of life's road ahead: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."
  • The first piece of advice: God is the right source for proper directions.
  • He will confirm your confidence (so you should trust Him).
  • He will prepare your path (so you should heed Him).
Have you ever asked someone for directions? "Hey, that guy looks like a local. Surely he knows where the place is," only to drive around in circles looking for that landmark "you can't miss." But God is the right source for proper directions in life. He alone is worthy of your complete attention: "with all your heart [and] in all your ways." This father does not recommend that his son put confidence in "an impersonal code of ethics inherited by tradition" (Waltke 2004:243) but trust in Israel's personal God who has His people's best interests at heart.
  • The second piece of advice: You are not the right source for proper directions.
  • You cannot confirm your confidence (so you should not trust yourself alone).
  • You cannot prepare your path (so you should not heed your leading alone).
Have you ever been certain of your own ability to get where you want to be? (For some reason this is a trait more common in men than in woman.) "I don't need to ask for directions. I can read a map," although here as well you may end up driving around aimlessly. But you are not the right source for proper directions in life. You do not have the necessary foresight.3 Hence, the sage says, "Do not rely 'on your own understanding," because regardless of what you think, it is not well informed. The father does not recommend that his son put confidence in his own intellectual prowess but in the one who is omniscient, making known "the end from the beginning" (Isa 46:10).

To have this assurance in God, a believer's confidence must be complete, encompassing all areas of life and all aspects of one's being. Moreover, "personal knowledge of God ensues from risking oneself [emphasis added] to obey the specific teachings that pertain to all sorts of human behavior in full reliance on God to keep his promises coupled with them" (Waltke 2004:244).

The sage says that God will make your path straight, not necessarily smooth, simple, spacious, or even safe (as you might define it), but it will be the most direct route to the goal He has for your life. You may think you know where to go and how to get there but, if you are honest with yourself, you will admit that you do not. Whether the destination of life is in this world or the next, it is not anywhere you have been before. To be sure, there is a map to guide you (the Bible), and there are people further along and somewhat familiar with the route (other believers), but God is the one who built the road,4 He alone is the one who knows where it leads, and He is the one who will accompany you the entire time you are on it.5

As you look back over the course of your life, there are probably a few decisions you would have made differently had you known their outcome ahead of time, perhaps a job or a move that did not turn out as well as you hoped. While God does warn you against making choices that will be bad for you ("Thou shalt not..."), there are other choices you face about which He may say nothing except: "Trust me."6

Much of life's journey is a mystery, and you will not know the short term outcome ahead of time. That is why the sage's advice is important. As long as you are in this world, you will face decisions that will benefit from more guidance than you alone possess. In those cases, it is good to know someone who will point you in the right direction, the direction that leads to the most beneficial outcome, which is actually The Shortest Distance:7 As the sage says:

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."

For the Bibliography and Endnotes see the pdf here.