To gain a better understanding of this Points to Ponder, I would suggest that you read it slowly or in two sittings. Although we use the word understanding often, sometimes it doesn’t mean what we think it does. Psychologists tell us that understanding is the procedure of attaining knowledge about oneself or other people or comprehending the meaning or significance of something, like a term, idea, argument, or occurrence.

It begins with the mind, says Linda B. Glaser at Cornell University Department of Psychology, because the mind that thinks our thoughts is a special place for understanding to grow. But is it distinct from the brain? Is there a soul directing our thoughts, or are they determined entirely by the output of our biology? Could that bug in your garden be thinking deep thoughts, or are humans unique?

Some psychologists say that the mind would function just as it does without a body. Others say the mind is extraordinary – it’s not just a fascinating and complicated machine. Trees and tables, and billiard balls can be explained by physics and biology. Still, you need to add something extra, some non-physical property, to explain human consciousness that brings understanding.

Rhode Island counseling psychologist Will Meek explains that our brains perform so many functions that sometimes it becomes a confusing mess. For example, how often have you had mixed thoughts, feelings, ideas, solutions, and memories clamoring for your attention while trying to stay focused on something? Cognitive psychologists have attempted to make sense of this for many years.

Meek offers three types of minds for us to consider. Perhaps we’ve used all three reading this post. But, once we get a good sense of them, they should become more understandable and easier to work with.

Engaged Mind

It is the state of being immersed in, or connected to, what we are doing in the present moment. When we are fully present in a conversation, skiing down a mountain, crying after hearing about a friend having cancer, or taking the first bite of the best slice of pizza in the world, when our thoughts and attention are fully connected to what is happening here-and-now, that is an understanding mind.

Automatic Mind

Our brain is constantly conducting an enormous range of tasks. For example, we become aware of any changes in our environment or any pains or bodily sensations that deserve noticing. We effortlessly make evaluations and judgments about things being positive or negative, categorize our experiences, and make decisions about things we need to do and must remember. We have scenes from our past triggered and have feelings and sensations about things that might occur in the future. This non-stop flow of information is part of human understanding, and we spend many of our lives swimming in this stream.

Analytic Mind

Since we are self-aware creatures, we can intentionally step back from our current thoughts, feelings, and experiences to observe them, manipulate information in our minds, and solve problems. All the complex reasoning we can do is called an analytic mind. Since there are many, the analytical mind can work. For instance: Observe: We can observe other people and the workings of our minds. Reflect: We can replay events in our memories and arrive at new perspectives. Solve: We can take immediate issues and problems and find solutions or understanding. Plan: We can plan deep into the future and create backup options. Focus: We can sustain attention on something important. Imagine: We can use our imaginations to run through how something may play out so we can understand so we can react appropriately.

Psychologist Jesse Marczyk of the Psychology Today Blog says that understanding per se is to be distinguished from the awareness of understanding. While understanding per se refers to the actual connections among your mental representations, the perception of understanding refers to your mental representations. The sense of understanding is an awareness and understanding of one’s thought processes – you’re thinking about your thinking. Much like understanding per se, the consciousness of understanding comes in varying degrees: one can feel as if they don’t understand something as though they do understand it completely and anything in between.

With this distinction made, we can consider some good questions: what is the connection between understanding per se and comprehension? What behaviors are encouraged by the reaction to understanding? What functional outcome(s) are those behaviors aimed at achieving? Finally, given these functional outcomes, what predictions can we draw about how people experience various degrees of emotion as they formulate their understanding?

The University of West Alabama, in their Psychology and Counseling News, tells us that the way we interpret and respond to the world around us makes up who we are and contributes to understanding our quality of life. The study of emotional psychology allows researchers to dive into what makes humans react as they do to certain stimuli and how those reactions affect us both physically and mentally. While the study of emotional psychology is vast and complex, researchers have discovered quite a bit about what constitutes our emotions and behavioral and physical reactions to them.

We know that emotions have helped humans survive. According to Emotional-Psychologist and former professor at the University of California San Francisco, Paul Ekman, who developed the “wheel of emotion,” said, “It would be hazardous if we didn’t have emotions. But, on the other hand, it would also be a very dull life. Because our emotions drive us.” That is why we must be able to understand emotions, as they play a vital role in how we behave.

Ekman argues that emotions are fundamentally constructive. They are influenced by what is suitable for our species and what we learned during our upbringing. Therefore, they guide our behavior in a way that should lead us to a positive outcome. However, emotions can become destructive if the feelings we’ve learned are the correct response no longer fit our situation or subconscious emotions cause reactions we cannot understand. Emotional awareness is being in touch with your feelings and turning your understanding into action. Being able to do this with others is also referred to as emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions. The term was coined by researchers Peter Salovey of Yale University and John D. Mayer of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, and made popular by Dan Goleman, an author, psychologist, and science journalist. In his 1996 book, they are defined as the ability to recognize, understand and manage our emotions, and recognize the influence of others.

Those with emotional intelligence open themselves to positive and negative experiences, identify the emotions, and communicate them appropriately. Emotionally intelligent people can use their understanding of their affections and the sentiments of others to move toward personal and social growth. Those with low emotional intelligence may be unable to understand and control their feelings or those of others. It could leave others feeling bad when they don’t understand their emotions, feelings, or expressions.

Since everything said so far about the mind, emotions, reactions, and understanding applies to our spiritual life, what does God’s Word say about understanding? The ancient believer Job had some enlightening thoughts about understanding: He said, “Behold, reverence for the LORD, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.”[1]Then he added God’s question, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand.”[2]

Perhaps King David learned from this grand patriarch. As a Psalmist, he says, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together, they have become corrupt; none does good, not even one.”[3] But for the faithful, David said, “When I thought how to understand, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into God’s sanctuary; then I understood what will happen to the wicked.”[4] That helped him later after he learned that “Reverence for the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those practicing it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”[5]

One of David’s subjects, who wrote the longest Psalm, stated: “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.”[6]Further on, he learned that “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.[7] Added to this, we have David’s wise words, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure.”[8]

It is possible that David’s son Solomon was taught these things by his kingly father. He begins his wise thoughts by saying, “Making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understand; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand reverence for the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Then you will understand righteousness, justice, and equity.”[9]Solomon adds, “Discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness.[10]

Then Solomon turns to the personal side of understanding by saying, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your understanding. In all you do, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Blessed is the one who finds wisdom and gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.”[11]

Solomon concludes, “Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.[12]So, “Do you hear wisdom calling? Does not understanding raise her voice?”[13] Remember, “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.”[14]Isn’t it better to get wisdom than gold! To get an understanding is to be chosen above silver. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears and understands the word. He bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and another thirty.”[15] That’s why, “Whoever restrains his words has gained knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”[16] We know that “Fools take no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”[17] Think of this, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”[18]

But the First Covenant preachers and prophets are not silent about understanding. Jeremiah asks us, “Do people gain anything from their hard work? I saw all the hard work God gave us to do. God gave us the ability to think about His world, but we can never completely understand everything He does. And yet, He does everything at just the right time.”[19] Jeremiah goes on to share a word from the LORD “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth [20] Listen and learn, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?”[21]To which Isaiah adds, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable.”[22]

But the Final Covenant writers also have something to say about understanding. Luke tells us that as Jesus began teaching, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”[23]And the Apostle Paul joins in by saying, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”[24]That’s why sinners are “Darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, due to their hardness of heart.”[25] That’s why he told young Timothy, “Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.[26] So, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”[27]

Not only that, but to the congregations scattered throughout the area, Paul had this to say, “From the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.[28]And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in the Anointed One, Jesus.”[29]

Finally, the Apostle Peter adds, “As Paul does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. Some things in them are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”[30]And the Apostle John declares, “We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true; and we are Him who is true, in His Son Jesus the Anointed One. He is the true God and eternal life.[31]

[1] Job 28:28

[2] Ibid. 38:4

[3] Psalm 14:2-3

[4] Ibid. 73:16-17

[5] Ibid. 111:10

[6] Ibid. 119:34

[7] Ibid. 119:130

[8] Ibid. 147:5

[9] Proverbs 2:2-6, 9

[10] Ibid. 2:11-16

[11] Ibid. 3:5-6, 13-18

[12] Ibid. 4:7

[13] Ibid. 8:1

[14] Ibid. 14:29

[15] Ibid. 16:16

[16] Ibid. 17:27

[17] Ibid. 18:2

[18] Ibid. 20:25

[19] Ecclesiastes 3:9-11

[20] Jeremiah 9:23-24

[21] Jeremiah 17:9

[22] Isaiah 40:28

[23] Luke 24:45

[24] 1 Corinthians 2:12

[25] Ephesians 4:18

[26] 2 Timothy 3:1

[27] Ibid. 2:7

[28] Colossians 1:9

[29] Philippians 4:7

[30] 2 Peter 3:16

[31] 1 John 5;20

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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