Learning New Things

About a year and a half ago, I sent in a DNA sample to ancestry.com. The initial results came back and were not much of a surprise. It said I was mostly English/Norman French, a little Scots-Irish, and slight bit Norwegian. The thing about Ancestry and other companies that are engaged in this kind of work is that they are always updating their techniques and technology. The hope is that they have better diagnostic tools that can give more in-depth answers by digging deeper into the genetics.

On a whim, I decided the other day to check on my account and found that there had been some updates, big updates in fact. As of their best guess now, I am 59% English/Norman French, 24% Scottish, 7% Norwegian, 5% Swedish, 3% Welsh, and 2% Irish. For a guy that grew up being told his family was predominantly Irish, this was a bit of a surprise. This was a bit of a revelation to me as I never knew I had any Scandinavian blood and no idea that I had that much Scottish blood. For anyone other than me, this is a glut of boring, positively meaningless facts. But they are, to me, an explanation in part of the genetic makeup that is me.

All the test results aside, what fascinates me is that the results can change because there are better tools available to the scientists doing the testing. The newer tools at their disposal found certain genetic markers that would not have shown up in the past. These refinements allow for future testing to be even more accurate as the science continues to be refined and developed.

In much the same way, my faith has been refined through the years. While God is no different, my understanding of God and who God is and how I relate to God has changed considerably. First, it had to do with learning about the bible by being given certain tools like topical bibles and concordances to help me begin learning to study. As I learned more about these tools in college, I was also given other tools—books from noted scholars through the ages, and new ways of studying God and the bible. I began to accumulate more and more of these tools and then in seminary I acquired even more precise tools that helped me to learn things like biblical languages, historical context, cultural definition, and other means of study that speak to the bible and our understanding of God in both academic and personal ways.

In all of this I have discovered something very important: I don’t have God figured out and I never will. I daresay neither does or will anyone else for the simple reason that if their finite mind were able to understand the infinite God we claim our belief in, then God would no longer be infinite because we would have explained God. And a God that can be defined and figured out to that degree isn’t much of a God. When it comes to our advances in understanding the ancient text and culture it was written in, we find tools that have gotten better through the years—history, archaeology, anthropology, and other social sciences—and can now open the doors of understanding even wider. Yet even with all that, we are still as Paul says “seeing through a glass darkly” or in other words, seeing shadows of things but not the thing itself.

I thought about all this considering the passage from a week ago from Romans 14,

Welcome the person who is weak in faith—but not in order to argue about differences of opinion. One person believes in eating everything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Those who eat must not look down on the ones who don’t, and the ones who don’t eat must not judge the ones who do, because God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servants? They stand or fall before their own Lord (and they will stand, because the Lord has the power to make them stand). One person considers some days to be more sacred than others, while another person considers all days to be the same. Each person must have their own convictions. Someone who thinks that a day is sacred, thinks that way for the Lord. Those who eat, eat for the Lord, because they thank God. And those who don’t eat, don’t eat for the Lord, and they thank the Lord too. We don’t live for ourselves and we don’t die for ourselves. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to God. This is why Christ died and lived: so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God. Because it is written,

As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

I say all that to simply say this: don’t be quick to pass judgement on what you think you know when none of us knows nearly enough. What might seem clear and direct to our understanding may not be so much so if we were better informed of had better tools to work with. Our experience may give us insight into our way of seeing but it cannot give us complete insight into all things otherwise, we’d be God. Be patient with those who disagree with you. Be encouraging to those who, like you are still walking their path on their journey. Be open to instruction from the Holy Spirit, even it means learning things you may not have always thought of in that way.

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