4.2.1.4 Reason

Reason is a gift of God that distinguishes human beings–as the image of God–from all other creatures. It is of particular help in structuring their existence and comprehending their environment.

Reason is revealed when human beings think and act while engaging their intellect and knowledge. In so doing, they are accountable before God and themselves, whether they know it or not (see 4.2.1.3). Human beings are capable of recognising circumstances and interpreting the connections between them. They recognise themselves as individuals and see themselves in relationship to the world. Ultimately, reason is a gift of God to human beings, which can guide them to proper conduct: "Counsel, and a tongue, and eyes, ears, and a heart, gave He them [mankind] to understand" (Ecclesiasticus 17: 5-6).

Mankind received from God the commission to "subdue the earth" (Genesis 1: 28). With their inquisitive minds, human beings seek to access and make use of that which is available to them in the creation. When they do this out of a sense of responsibility toward God and the creation, human beings act in a reasonable manner, in accordance with the gift of God.

In the Bible, reason is also described using the term "wisdom". Understood as the ability to know, it is attributed to the activity of God. "For He [God] hath given me certain knowledge of things that are, namely, to know how the world was made, and the operation of the elements ..." (Wisdom of Solomon 7: 17). Apostle Paul also used the term "human wisdom" to refer to reason. It equips human beings with the cognitive faculty by which they endeavour to penetrate divine mysteries (1 Corinthians 1: 20-21). If human beings were to elevate themselves over divine ordinances and thus over God Himself, they would thereby dismiss divine wisdom as foolishness. Ultimately this means that reason would reject faith (1 Corinthians 2: 1-16). In so doing, human beings would ultimately fail to understand the purpose of their lives. Since the Age of Enlightenment, such a tendency can be clearly identified in many areas, especially in the industrialised world. It always reveals itself wherever mankind's inquiring mind is not subordinate to his responsibility toward God and the creation.

In this respect human reason is always imperfect on account of sin. It is for this reason that, from the perspective of faith, an attitude that defines reason as the measure of all things is exposed as foolishness: "For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.' Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (1 Corinthians 1: 19-20).

It is impossible for human reason in its finiteness to grasp the endlessness of God. His actions transcend all human reason. Therefore, human beings must always be aware that they can never succeed in completely penetrating divine matters with reason (Romans 11: 33).

Although reason cannot be the measure of all things, it is still needed, for example to recognise the interconnections of the gospel, and to perceive and understand words and images in Holy Scripture. We also need it to profess the doctrine of Jesus to others. Reason is a valuable divine gift, but not the highest good (Philippians 4: 7). Accordingly it must never become the only standard of measure.

Whenever reason is tempted to rise up against things divine, the individual must be aware that he is not properly engaging the gift of reason, but rather demonstrating a lack of responsibility toward God. Through faith, human beings know that it is their duty to fight against such presumption, "casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10: 5).

SUMMARY

Human beings exhibit reason when they think and act by engaging their understanding and knowledge. In so doing they are responsible toward God, themselves, and the creation, whether they are aware of it or not. (4.2.1.4)

Reason is a gift of God which can lead human beings to proper conduct. (4.2.1.4)

In its finiteness, reason is incapable of comprehending God in His endlessness. God's actions transcend all human reason. (4.2.1.4)

Even though reason cannot be the measure of all things, it is nevertheless needed in order to understand and profess the interconnections of the gospel. (4.2.1.4)

See also