Wisdom Wednesday: Critical Thinking and Wisdom

Wisdom Wednesday: Critical Thinking and Wisdom

Submitted by Debbie’s Dad

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

And do not lean on your own understanding. (Prov. 3:5 NASB 95)

In this well-known passage, we are instructed to trust the Lord with our hearts, and not to lean (support yourself, rest on) our own understanding. Here, the Hebrew word for understanding refers to our consideration of what we see – our discernment to comprehend clearly and gain insight. When confronted with a situation, we are to trust the Lord and discern with the guidance of God’s Word and His Spirit. This instruction to trust the Lord is repeated in Psalm 22:19, again in the context of discernment and decision-making.

But what is our own understanding? In an analysis course, I teach students the methods of rational and deep reasoning. The common term for this form of disciplined analysis is “Critical Thinking”; textbooks and courses abound for this topic. The discipline includes, briefly, three categories of knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA’s) to be a “critical thinker”:

  • Self-knowledge is necessary to objectively evaluate a situation. Self-awareness is required to understand your own thinking biases, perspective, preferences, knowledge limitations, and how your moral values influence your judgment. Intellectual honesty, impartiality, and objectivity are built when the thinkers have self-knowledge of their limitations.
  • Process skills and abilities are required to evaluate and weigh evidence, explicitly state assumptions, and then reason about a situation or topic. This includes an examination of all evidence, critical probing and questioning, development, and examination of arguments (lines of reasoning), logic, and methods of performing judgment.
  • Knowledge of the subject area (called the domain of thinking) is certainly required–a level of competence in the terms of a domain; some authors say a critical thinker must have “wide and deep” knowledge in the domain.

These KSA’s are noble and good; they provide a rational basis for our “own understanding.” But they are insufficient in all matters of life where we must “lean on” the Lord with all of our heart.

Leaning on the Lord for understanding certainly includes the cognitive thinking elements just described. Psalm 49, for example, expresses the importance of meditating, reading, and associating events with Scriptural teaching on a situation: “My mouth will speak wisdom, And the meditation of my heart will be understanding. I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will express my riddle on the harp.” (Psalm 49:3-4 NASB 95)

An explicit example of understanding in Scripture is the understanding demonstrated by the four young men, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, carried these men off from Jerusalem in about 600 B.C. The Book of Daniel describes these faithful young men and their deep trust in the Lord. The Book asserts, “As for every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all his realm.” (Daniel 1:20).

Extolling the strength of God, Isaiah asserted that “[God’s] understanding is inscrutable…” (Isa. 40:28), and indeed it is. His understanding is beyond our understanding. Yet He invites us to ask for wisdom, and He will give us the discernment we need.


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