I was playing a video game the other day – one that had an enormous map to explore. While only part of it was visible at first (until one builds a ship and sails around to see what each region has to offer), the size of the entire map was visible from the start (just blacked out), giving some perspective as to how small of a region the starting island was, in comparison.
Since the game was set in the era of pirates (the fictionalized version, which is probably not much like the actual life of pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries), I wondered what would happen if I tried to sail off of the edge of the map. Perhaps the game would subscribe to a “flat earth” theory (just for effect), and have a drop-off at the edge.
In fact, sailing past the edge of the map in this game just returned me to the other side of the “world”. (I didn’t check to see what happens when sailing past one of the poles.) Even in the “Golden Age of Piracy1“, I suppose that enough explorers had established that the earth was round.
While reading the other day (probably studying for a lesson, which provides good motivation to read others’ insights), I ran across the following line from Matthew Henry’s commentary:
“While we are here, in a world of sense, we speak of the world of spirits as blind men do of colours, and when we remove thither we shall be amazed to find how much we are mistaken.”
Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. Volume 3, 1706., made available via BibleGateway.com.
I believe that this is an accurate statement, both in describing our feeble attempts to proudly describe exactly how we think things work beyond this physical world, and in how wrong we can expect to be!
Sure, I think that God gave us some insights into what happens beyond this universe, where our observations cannot reach. Studying those things and sorting out their meaning to us on this earth has value, as long as it does not take us away from living out the lessons that we learn.
However, if we think that we have God figured out, our understanding of Him is incomplete. The scope of God’s being isn’t something that we can just sail around for a while and observe. We can’t even pool our resources (across people and across time), and draw a complete map of Him, even if we used the experiences of every human being who has ever lived (except Jesus, I suppose, but even He seems to have given up a lot in order to walk this earth with us as a man). Once we get to the edge of our simple, crudely-drawn map (including inscriptions of “Here there be dragons”), we find that we haven’t reached the limits of God’s power, and we don’t “wrap around” to what we already know. Instead, He has more and more to teach us, even as there are things that He chooses not to tell us at a given time.
Although there is perhaps a better-known reference in 1 Corinthians 2:9, I’d like use this earlier Scripture to paint a picture:
For since the world began,
no ear has heard
and no eye has seen a God like you,
who works for those who wait for him!
Isaiah 64:4 NLT
If you believe in a god that you understand fully, who operates according to logic that is limited to what we can see, and who works only in this world, you have the wrong god. In fact, this is hardly a “god” at all.
The good news is that, if you have trusted Jesus Christ for salvation, and made Him the Lord of your life, then you can look forward to finding out “how much we are mistaken” in glory. In the meantime, though, we should use what we do know of God and act intelligently upon that knowledge. We learn through God’s Word, through the teachings and example of Jesus, and through the direction of the Holy Spirit. In those things, He has given us more than enough information to trust Him and to return to Him after we have turned away to sin.
Said another way, there are many details of the world beyond our own, where it won’t hurt to be wrong about them. Nor will we be able to fully understand God here on earth. However, it is absolutely critical that we get right what God has shared with us about what comes after death, and make sure that we are prepared. Being short on comprehension is one thing. However, only if we accept God’s reconciliation before we go into the next world (i.e., through the salvation that He provided) will we be able to enjoy learning the rest of the details for eternity.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
- I’m not suggesting that piracy is good or golden. That’s just the name of an era described in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Age_of_Piracy. ↩