Look,” Eva said. “I listen to all these people on the radio-smart people. Smarter than you or me, boychik.* So if Yeshua is the Messiah, why don’t all the smart people believe in him?”
I shrugged. “Maybe for the same reason that Aristotle never discovered that the earth is round.”
From Eva’s expression, I could tell that I’d lost her. “What?” she asked.
“When it comes to ‘smarts,’ Aristotle had us all beat,” I said. “And when it came to astronomy, he had some very clever speculations about the way things run in this universe. But if we believed everything he believed, we’d still be worried about falling off the edge of the earth. Somehow, with all his intelligence, he never got beyond thinking that the world was flat.”
“Maybe it is flat,” Eva parried with a laugh. It was her way of telling me that she didn’t want to pursue the matter of who was right or wrong, so I let it go for the moment.
That conversation reminded me of an important truth: coming to faith in Yeshua is not a matter of intellectual deduction. It is not merely an intellectual matter. Now don’t misunderstand. It’s not an anti-intellectual matter, either. Since God gave us brains, he certainly expects us to use them. To be sure, many have discovered the intellectual truth that Jesus is the Messiah. Yet few will act upon this truth unless they are motivated by something greater than academic appreciation.
The notion that intellectual inquiry by itself will lead us to spiritual truth makes two assumptions: that we do, indeed, want to know the truth; and that we’d be willing to act upon the truth that we discern.
But do we really want to know? And would we act? What if discovering the truth amounted to learning that we’d been wrong about some cherished, time-honored traditions and presuppositions? Would we be willing to believe that we’d been wrong?
Some time ago while distributing our Jewish gospel broadsides I was approached by a young man who demanded, “Tell me why you believe this. I want to hear why you believe!”
“I believe it because it’s true,” I told him.
He shook his head. “Come on, come on. Give me some reasons for why you believe.”
“Tell me this first,” I said. “If I showed you from the Hebrew Scriptures that the Messiah has come, would you believe?”
“No,” he replied.
“Then we really don’t have a lot to talk about right now, do we?” I concluded.
Would Aristotle have been willing to believe that the earth was round? Would he have been willing to believe that he’d been wrong? Would we?
And if we did discover the truth through intellectual investigation, would we be willing to act upon it, despite the social consequences we might incur?
Once after examining the Scriptures with an acquaintance, I asked him what he thought. “If I were religious, I think I’d believe what you believe,” he told me.
“But?” I prompted.
“But,” he continued, “it really isn’t that important to me at this point in my life.”
Would Aristotle have been willing to admit that the earth was round? Would he have been willing to admit that he’d been wrong? Would we?
Comprehending the truth about Yeshua is one thing; confessing him as Messiah is something else. And bridging the gap between comprehension and confession is the matter of conviction. We do not believe in Yeshua merely because we have been convinced by the weight of empirical evidence. We believe because we have been convicted by the righteousness of God. It is the presence of conviction together with the desire for pardon that compels a person to act upon what he or she has discovered to be true.
Coming to Yeshua is not a matter of intellectual perception. It is a matter of individual repentance.
In our society we place intelligence at a premium, and well we should. We must remember, however, that discovering the truth about Yeshua does not require a brilliant mind. It merely requires a broken spirit and a contrite heart. Those are God’s conditions regardless of one’s I.Q.
* Boychik is the Yiddish equivalent of the term “boy” used to express familiarity based on superiority of the speaker over the one spoken to.