Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
How many times did you hear that proverb during your years in WCG? How often do you COG folks still hear it today? I heard it a lot, and I’m sure many of you still do.
Well, it’s straight out of the Bible, isn’t it? The literal word of God, if we are to believe God actually inspired that sainted book. But does it make any sense? I mean, really?
Think about it. Just think what that second phrase actually means. “Lean not on your own understanding”? Why not? What could possibly be wrong with your own understanding?
After all, if you understand the Bible, and you understand what you’ve been taught, why shouldn’t you lean on that understanding? I can see trusting God with all your heart, if you are so inclined, but what is so bad if you “lean on your own understanding”?
Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?
What Does It Mean?
When you lean on your own understanding, it sounds like you’re leaning on your own ability to see, hear, observe, and reason. God reportedly gave you the mind to do all those things, so why shouldn’t you use it? Why would any preacher, prophet, or other leader urge you not to use it? It doesn’t make sense.
Those words were written several thousand years ago, allegedly by the wisest man who ever lived (I say allegedly because it’s hard to imagine any man who had 300 wives and 700 concubines as being very “wise”; horny, maybe, but not so wise). Solomon was a king and highly respected. Kings in those days had a habit of telling other people what to do, and sometimes killing them if they disobeyed. But why would even a king tell people not to think?
Because that’s what it amounts to. If you turn off your “own understanding”, you are shutting down your seven senses — touch, taste, smell, see, hear, reason, and think. Anyone who does that is cruising for trouble, because those senses — your “own understanding” — were put there to keep you out of trouble. In my last article, about human nature, I pointed out that human nature is nothing less than your survival instinct. Your own understanding is also part of that instinct. God (or evolution or whoever) gave you the ability to take in data, weigh it, evaluate it, and make decisions as a result. What’s the point of taking in data if you’re just going to ignore it and let someone else tell you what to do?
“When the Bible tells us not to lean on our own understanding, it is encouraging us to be irrational.”
If you’re going to let someone else tell you what to think!
We were also told that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death”; that one fits hand in glove with not leaning to your own understanding. When you marry the two admonitions, you get something like this: Leaning on your own understanding is the way to death.
The Ways of Death
There is a certain logic to the “ways of death” scripture, of course. Assume, for example, that it “seems right” to me to rob a liquor store. I need some money, the store has money, and all I have to do is take it. That might seem right to me. But it could get me killed, even if I don’t shoot the clerk and get gunned down by the police. The clerk might have a gun and shoot me first.
But that wasn’t how they used the scripture in WCG. Their version was that we might think that if we already pay taxes we don’t need to pay 3rd tithe. After all, the government uses our tax money to fund welfare for those in need. But, according to WCG teaching, God says that we will burn in hell if we fail to pay 3rd tithe.
Another example they might use was that we think the local minister is a monster, and we shouldn’t have to obey someone like that. But God says that God chose that minister and placed him over us. Therefore, leaning to our own understanding (by refusing to bow down to an ordained tyrant) will lead to our eternal death.
In the World of COG
Many of you may not remember. You may have been gone too long, or maybe you came during the later years when some of the most restrictive teachings had been relaxed. But in the World of COG (sort of like a science fiction planet), there was the physical plane and there was the spiritual plane. Those of us who were mortal could only see the physical plane. On the physical plane, everything was logically linked together. You had cause and effect, and it didn’t take a genius to see that if you did A, the result would be B.
But those immortals in charge of Planet COG had a mysterious channel open to the spiritual plane. The spiritual plane (according to those immortals called Local Elder, Preaching Elder, Pastor, Evangelist, and Apostle) frequently contradicted the physical plane. Everything that was logically linked together on the physical plane was overridden by the information coming down the channel from the spiritual plane. It didn’t make any sense to us mortals, since we could only see and understand the physical, but the immortals were a lot smarter than we were — they could see the spiritual side and they assured us, quite forcefully, that we were wrong.
“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”
-George Bernard Shaw
Here’s an example:
Joe Church is a COG member in good standing. He pays his tithes in triplicate as required, shakes the minister’s hand, shows up for the yard sales where all the proceeds are donated to Pasadena, and regularly wins the Most Improved trophy in Spokesman Club. To all the congregation he looks terribly converted. His wife is always meek and polite and his kids stand around silent and sullen, dutifully shaking hands with all the old ladies and calling everyone “sir”.
Joanne Church, however, knows something that no one else knows. Her husband Joe is a monster at home. He yells and screams and throws things when dinner is cold or late; he chants scripture during sex, which he demands five nights weekly even when Joanne is ill. He beats the kids to within an inch of their lives and forces them to read their Bible three hours at night after they finish their homework. If Joanne dares to question all this, Joe is apt to knock her across the room.
Finally in desperation, Joanne can’t take it any more. She approaches her local minister and tearfully, quietly, respectfully, tells him what has been going on for the past so many years. Is there anything the minister can do?
[NOTE: on the physical plane, Joanne can see clearly that her husband Joe is out of control. Worse than that, he really should be arrested for various kinds of domestic violence and child abuse. It’s as clear as the nose on Joanne’s face. But I digress…]
The local minister, Mr. Preaching Elder (one of the immortals who has access to the open channel), listens to her story, a brittle frown creasing his well-tanned features, his eyes hard and stony. When she finishes asking him for help, he tells her he will get back to her. She is dismissed.
Next, Mr. Preaching Elder does one of the following:
- A)He goes straight to Joe Church and tells him he, Joe, needs to get control of his wife.
- B)He talks to Joe Church, then calls Joanne and tells her she has a bad attitude and needs to submit to her spouse, whom God placed over her.
- C)He tells Joanne she is demon-possessed and is suspended until he can figure out what to do with her.
- D)He disfellowships Joanne without further comment.
[NOTE: Mr. Preaching Elder has taken his cue from the spiritual plane (Heavenly Clear Channel); the rules from the spiritual plane are not linked to cause and effect. There is no logic on that plane. The rules are completely different. Taking action A does not result in consequence B. That is how the spiritual plane works.]
In the example above, Joanne Church leaned to her own understanding. Because she did, she believed that her husband was out of line and needed to be corrected. Any attempt by her to correct him would only result in a beating, so she went to the only authority she was permitted — Mr. Preaching Elder. Sure as hell, leaning to her own understanding got her in deep trouble. If she was already depressed enough, it might even lead to her death, if she decided to take her own life. (Don’t laugh. It has happened in WCG and COG…and not just once. See Suicide and the Worldwide Church of God on this website.)
In the Real World
Of course the death referred to by the Bible and COG is the “second death”. That was how they meant it. But the advice was bad to begin with. In the real world, that world inhabited by human beings, there are indeed things that can lead to death, but generally speaking death can be avoided if you “lean to your own understanding”.
If you understand that electricity is dangerous, your understanding can save your life. If you understand that swimming pools are dangerous, that understanding can save your child’s life. If you understand that driving drunk is dangerous, that knowledge can save your life (and mine as well, thank you very much). If you understand that…
Well, you get the picture. I could make a list a hundred pages long and still leave things out. The point is: your own understanding is all you’ve got!
The Real Reason
Earlier I asked the question, “Why would any preacher, prophet, or other leader urge you not to use [your own understanding]?”
There is an answer, of course. A very clear, logical answer. But to find it, you need to…well…lean to your own understanding. When you do, the answer will be pretty obvious.
“Ignorance breeds monsters to fill up the vacancies of the soul that are unoccupied by the verities of knowledge.”
Here’s another example:
Your minister, Mr. Preaching Elder, tells you that seeking medical treatment is a sin, an abomination to God, rebellion against God. That doesn’t make any sense to you. You figure, well, if I break my leg, I need someone to set the bone so it will grow back straight. If I swallow poison, or get bit by a snake, they have vaccines that can save my life. If I get cancer or have a heart attack, science has progressed to the point that there are treatments that might save my life. After all, am I not worth more to God and my family (not to mention the coffers of COG) alive than dead?
But Mr. Preaching Elder sneers at that point of view. Why would he do that (aside from the fact that he is nothing more than a programmed robot taking orders from a puppet-master in Pasadena)?
Well, he could be taking orders from God. Maybe God wants to heal you. But then again, how many times have you actually seen anyone get healed?
Your own understanding, however, might tell you that Mr. Preaching Elder is more concerned with your tithes right now than your life. If he lets you go to doctors, you might spend a portion of your income on health insurance, or failing that, doctor bills! Which would make it even harder, on your already-attached income, to pay tithes and offerings! Mr. Preaching Elder knows that the odds are in your favor; you’re still fairly young and in good health, and the chances are that you’ll stay healthy for another 10, 20, 30 years or more.
And if you’re already old, if you’re retirement age, it doesn’t matter anyway. Your commercial value is already used up. So why should you bother to visit a doctor? You no longer have any reason to continue living.
Do You Lean to Your Own Understanding?
The admonition against leaning to your own understanding is in the Bible. So it’s difficult for you to ignore it. As a result, you have accepted some of the most incredibly stupid orders that any human being can accept, even though it went against your logical common sense to do so. You figured that, “Well, I’m not very smart in some of these matters. Many times I’ve come to a conclusion about something only to have the minister shoot it down. I must not have enough of the Holy Spirit. I simply can’t trust my own judgment. I guess I have to do what they say.”
You said that, didn’t you?
I did. I actually said those words on more than one occasion.
But you know what? My logical common sense was right more often than it was wrong.
And you know what else? So was yours!
Your own understanding can save your life, and your family’s.
Seriously, folks, if you’re not leaning to your own understanding, you should be.