Trusting God vs. Using Our Brain

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I’d like to start with a disclaimer: This post is  me thinking out loud and hoping you’ll speak into the conversation with some comments. I talk and write about this a lot, but my thoughts certainly need refining. This topic seems to come up a lot in my conversations with people; I’m often unsettled by the tendency in Christians when making decisions to leap over wisdom and knowledge, in favor of “trusting God.”

This (and the title of my post) imply that trusting God and using our brains are mutually exclusive, which they are not. But sometimes we treat them as if they are.

A silly example: Should we stop and get gas, or should we “trust God” that He will get us to our important spiritual meeting on time?

One thing Mike pressed upon me before we were married and I had the bad habit of over-spiritualizing decisions is that God created physics. If we jump off a bridge, God has designed the Earth so that we will fall. We can only presume that God created physics because he wanted His world to operate in a certain way. The order in the universe reflects part of God’s character. God does do miracles – intervening in physics and the natural order to change the outcome – but for the most part, we see that God created the world to operate in a particular way.

Based on physics, if I drive at too high a speed while trying to make a turn, I’ll wreck. So is the spiritual thing to drive fast and trust God that he’ll keep me safe? Or is it to use the brain that God gave me to make a wise decision about the speed I drive?

Or another, more realistic example, Mike and I chose to have our second child close in age to Allie in part because I wanted to have children when I was younger and certain risks are lower (I’ll be 35 in July) and because of my new-found kidney issues. I have heard such decision-making likened to not trusting in God.

I fear that sometimes we give so much lip service to trusting God – which is a good thing – that we fail to acknowledge the part wisdom plays in decision making.

We have created a false dichotomy between applying wisdom and trusting God.

God created our brains. Humans, relative to the rest of creation, are really smart. We are able to figure out solutions to seemingly impossible problems, such as treatments for all kinds of diseases. Our ability to problem solve is by design. It’s not a mistake that we were able to create the automobile and frogs were not. We were created in God’s image, and part of that is our ability to think analytically, see patterns and solve problems to improve our lives.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the last century in which human suffering of so many kinds has been greatly reduced through advances in technology and medicine. Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor and the most powerful and wealthy man of his time, had at least seven children die before the age of seven. But God gave us minds that are able to solve problems. Now, in the developed world, a child’s chance of dying before the age of five is eight in 1,000 or less. We are able to vastly improve the chances of child survival, to learn more efficient ways to do agriculture, to improve the safety of our food. To believe in the innovative power of the human mind is not to be humanistic; it’s to embrace our unique design in the image of the Creator God.

An extreme, and devastatingly sad, example of “trusting God” in lieu of using wisdom and knowledge is a couple recently arrested in Pennsylvania. Their 2-year-old son died of pneumonia several years ago. In April, their 8-month-old died because they wouldn’t seek medical treatment for him, but rather trusted that Jesus would heal him.

God certainly asks us to trust Him. The writer of the Proverbs said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” But the same author said, “Do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion.”

The Bible teaches that we should trust God, but it also promotes wisdom, understanding, sound judgment and discretion. These two aren’t at odds, but should work together.

Sometimes God may ask us to make decisions that seem crazy to the outside world. Jesus did tell the rich man to sell everything he had and give to the poor. But God also exhorts us to be wise and discerning.

Sometimes I wonder if our decision making is more driven by personality – a tendency to rely too much on our own reason (my personal bent, obviously) or an inclination to “follow our heart” (which usually means doing what we want to) rather than truly trusting in God and applying wisdom.

I think trusting in God happens in concert with applying wisdom and discernment in our choices. It’s not an either or – God wants us to both trust him and use our brains. How do you think we balance the two?

6 Comments

  • Liz says:

    Amber, this is such a tough one, but so good to think out. For me practically, when the doctor told us to be done having kids, and yet I heard other stories where people ignored this, it has been tough to trust that the doctor’s are right and that adoption is the right thing for us. I could trust God to get pregnant and not have a horrible outcome, but using my brain…and trusting God…has led Joe and I to the conclusion that it would be foolish to have more biological children. But still it is hard to think through (good thing I had Krista and Sarah to scold me for even thinking about pregnancy). God gave us the wisdom of medicine, and also speaks through his word. A lot of times it is hard to discern what is right, but God tells us he will lead us…and I am trusting He is. Good questions, friend. And I am excited for you to have another baby!

  • ambernbray says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Liz! That is really tough. We have some friends going through a similar situation right now as well.

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  • Amy says:

    Fave paragraph:

    God certainly asks us to trust Him. The writer of the Proverbs said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” But the same author said, “Do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion.”

    Thanks Amber!

  • Dawn says:

    We should do our best (with what God has given us) and trust God to do the rest.

  • Mike Pratt says:

    “Frogs don’t create cars?” Great stuff. Chris Braun (A Brick in the Valley) just posted something similar. “Dig For Wisdom Like It’s Gold.” Digging for anything valuable takes work, and some brains. Sometimes lots of brains. And the source is Jesus and our relationship with Him. I think of Cuba Gooding Jr. starring in the movie “Radio.” He is asked if he wants blueberry or cherry pie. His reply? Both! Trust God-use your brain. Use your brain-trust God.

    Thanks Amber

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