Humility of Understanding

As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.”

- Ecclesiastes 11:5

Without a doubt, we live in an era that possesses more knowledge about the world than any other previous era. In fact, our understanding is growing so fast that some thinkers have said the sum total of human knowledge is doubling every twelve months or so. Many others have suggested that it will not be too long before our knowledge is doubling every twelve hours.

We should be amazed at and grateful for the advances in science and technology that have made it possible to gain more insight into the world and how it works. At the same time, however, we must recognize that this increase in understanding has had a downside. We have seen a sharp downgrade in ethical wisdom; many people today know a lot of facts but often have shallow and pliable ethical standards. Moreover, we have seen a tendency to forget the wisdom of the past. Our culture often acts as if we are morally and intellectually superior to the generations that came before us simply because we have a greater number of known facts at our disposal. One must look high and low to find humility of understanding—the recognition of human limitations in what we know and the affirmation that human beings will never know everything that can be known.

Such recognition can occur only when we remember the “God who makes everything” is incomprehensible (Eccl. 11:5). We “do not know [His] work,” not in the sense that we are completely ignorant of what He does or who He is; rather, the true knowledge we have of the Lord is always limited by our finitude. Authentic understanding of Him and His ways in this world is possible, but this knowledge will never be comprehensive. We know this both from God’s Word (Rom. 11:33) and from the natural world. After all, though science has made many discoveries, with every discovery we learn just how much we do not yet know about creation. Even our understanding of human development in the womb, though it has increased since the Preacher’s day, continues to present mysteries to us (Eccl. 11:5).

The good news is that we do not need comprehensive knowledge of God and His ways to trust Him. His Word is sure and His covenantal promises must come to pass. Matthew Henry comments on today’s passage, “We doubt not of the birth of the child that is conceived, though we know not how it is formed; nor need we doubt of the performance of the promise, though we perceive not how things work towards it.”

Coram Deo

The only sure way to gain humility of understanding is to know the character of God. When we begin to grasp the immensity and incomprehensibility of the Lord, we begin to see our place in this world and we are forced to acknowledge our limitations, and acknowledging our limitations is part and parcel of true humility. If we want to cultivate the virtue of humility, we must know the character of God.

Passages for Further Study

Job 11:7–9
Psalm 145:3
2 Corinthians 2:9–11
1 Timothy 6:13–16

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