My two-year-old has recently mastered counting to ten. And by count, I mean she can list the numbers one through ten in the correct order; but she has no understanding of what the numbers represent.
A few days ago, she ate two bananas for a snack, but when I asked her how many she ate, she couldn’t tell me. So, I said, “Everly, you had two bananas,” to which she replied “Two, three, four, five.”
She has memorized the numbers by repetition and so she only understands them as a sequence, not yet grasping the conceptual difference between two and five. She believes that nine comes before ten, not because she has experienced the difference herself, but because I told her.
Aren’t we like that when it comes to the Bible? We know lots of verses, many of them memorized in our childhood years, but we don’t necessarily have a real concept of something like God’s faithfulness, especially when everything seems to be going as we envisioned.
We feel like we understand doctrinal concepts about God’s sovereignty and His kindness, His omnipotence and faithfulness, His kindness and omniscience.
We talk of trust and hope and peace. But what do we really know of these things? We have believed them because our heavenly Father told us in His infallible Word, but until they are put to the test, we cannot fully know them.
A Biblical Example
The book of Job illustrates this concept. Satan believed that Job only feared God because He had blessed him. If God took these earthly blessings away, Satan theorized, Job will curse God. And so God allowed Job to be tested. But how does Job respond?
“‘The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:22 ESV)
Throughout the subsequent chapters, Job’s attitude does not remain perfect but he does ultimately persevere and repent of his failings. And he comes out the other side with a faith that has been tested and refined in the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48:10). This leads Job to say in chapter 42:5-6:
“I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
He is humbled and awed by his firsthand experience of both God’s sovereign power and His faithfulness.
Putting our Knowledge to the Test
As I write this, we are in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Now, more than ever, we need to give teeth to those verses that we know forwards and backwards. To borrow Jen Wilkin’s illustration, we have hopefully made many deposits in our Scriptural knowledge bank and now perhaps more than ever, we get to apply the verses we’ve stored up in our memory.
What does it mean to have peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7)? To believe that goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives (Psalm 23:6)? As we sit in quarantine, do we see that the Lord is good and that we trust in Him (Psalm 34:8)?
Applying What We’ve Learned
My daughter will soon use what she has memorized to count how many cookies she’s eaten, and eventually she’ll apply that knowledge when she learns division, multiplication, algebra and calculus. What used to just be a series of words will prove true through trying and seeing that two plus two always equals four.
The bigger concepts don’t work if we can’t trust those basics. So as our head knowledge of the Bible is tested, we should consider it all joy, because these trials will test our faith, grow our endurance, and make us complete in Christ (James 1:2-4).
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God maybe complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
As we continue to draw on our own Scripture knowledge and memorization, may we be encouraged to teach these things to our children so that their minds are rooted in infallible truth for the difficult days ahead. May they be able to count their cookies and their blessings.