The Limits of Intellect; November 13, 2021


Revelation 5:12 In a loud voice they sang:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”

I think the NIV is entirely justified in using “sang,” rather than “said,” here, because this verse, and really much of the whole book of Revelation, reminds me of a quote from Mozart. When asked to explain one of his compositions he said, “If I could put it into words, I wouldn’t need music.” With the Bible, it’s certainly not that the words themselves don’t have meaning, it’s that the meaning is often deeper and higher and greater than human vocabulary can express. People get particularly tied in knots over books like Revelation and Daniel and Ezekiel. Just from this chapter we have a lamb with seven eyes and seven horns that had been slain, yet is able to take a scroll and open its seals? And this same Being is described as the Lion of the tribe of Judah! If we pursue the things of God, we quickly run into the limits of human intellect and expression. Thankfully, God is able to reveal things to our spirit so that we know that we know that we know, even when we can’t put it into words. Human intellect and language are marvelous gifts from God and are to be used for His glory, but they are sadly not up to the task of expressing and explaining an infinite, omnipotent God. That isn’t to say that they are to be ignored, much less thrown out. It is, however, to say that humility is essential in approaching the things of God, just as the Bible itself says many times. God delights to reveal Himself to His children, but when we think we can “figure Him out” on our own, we get into serious trouble very quickly. Human religion is virtually without exception polluted by human attempts to figure out God, which immediately makes our image of Him be like us, instead of our becoming more like Him. We need to receive what He says about Himself, in words and directly to our spirits, and not try to create categories and boxes to put Him into.

This has been an issue for me. I was first identified as having an IQ of 150+ when I was in the 5th grade, and in the 7th grade my English teacher was honest enough to tell me that I had tested to a higher level of vocabulary than she had. I have intellect, and I have words. That said, I cannot fully comprehend God, much less describe Him. As I am frequently reminded, pride has always been a snare to me. I am to use the gifts my Creator has given me to do His will, even when I can’t grasp what He is doing through me. Eleven years ago He told me to rest, relax, and rejoice. That’s a good thing, because the more I try to figure it all out, the more I descend into paralyzing mental traps. When I trust Him, and not myself or my abilities, then I have the peace I need and I am available and useful to Him.

Father, thank You for this strong, timely reminder. I have recently been given deadlines for a magazine article and for my notes for a major speech. Help me not try to “cook up” either of those, but rather be quiet enough before You to hear what You want to say through me, for the blessing of my readers and hearers and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

About jgarrott

Born and raised in Japan of missionary parents. Have been here as an adult missionary since 1981.
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