“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isa 55:8-9
I am sure you have heard people say “just use a little common sense.” I have. My dad used to say this to us kids many times. When he could not understand why we did a particular thing or thought a particular way, that little phrase would be uttered, making us think we were stupid. What I did made a lot of sense to me. But I guess my sense was not “common sense”.
So, what is meant by common sense? According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it originally meant “the power of uniting mentally the impressions conveyed by the five physical senses, thus “ordinary understanding, without which one is foolish or insane” In other words, it is knowledge gained from our five senses without the use of formal training or education. Merriam Webster puts it this way, “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.” The traditional view then is that common sense is that which we have perceived with our senses and which we have experienced existentially.
Now these definitions are true as far as their original meanings go. However, there is another definition I would like to add which will either clear things up or muddy the waters. Albert Einstein, the brilliant German born physicist once said, “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.” And I would agree with him on this. Therefore, combining this definition with the prior two, I believe we can now see what it has morphed into. Common sense has now become a collection of beliefs based on what we are told by our five sense, our experiences and our cultural biases.
You may be asking what I mean by cultural biases? Let me illustrate this by several examples.
- A cannibal is living in the middle of the jungle. He is very hungry and sees a man from an enemy tribe. Common sense to him would probably be to kill him and eat. However, to us, this might never cross our minds. In his culture, eating man makes perfect sense. To us it does not.
- One middle class family whose parents and grandparents went to college would probably think that it is common sense for the children to go to college. However, another similar family whose parents and grandparents never went to college may not agree, thinking that common sense would lead the children to get a job and start a family.
- In the Chinese culture, when parents get older, common sense tells the son to take them in and care for their needs until they die. In other cultures, it is better to pay to put them in a place where their needs are met, and you are not burdened or put out.
These are just three examples of many that point out what cultural common sense is. In fact, I was reading an article which pointed out that common sense really does not exist, because not every society believes the same as all others, and even within existing cultures there are those who reject the consensus opinion for reasons that make sense to them. What is common sense to one person may be ludicrous to another, with both convinced, by what they know and perceive, that they are absolutely right. But does this mean that common sense does not exist? No, it does exist, however it does so in two specific forms. First, in the narrow aspect of our five senses. For instance, it is common sense not to put your hand on a red-hot surface, because if you do, it will cause extreme pain and could damage your hand. This is something common to all people and cultures only because this is something that can be proved by experience. However, according to Einstein, the second form is cultural bias’. For instance, in some cultures, common sense says marriages should be arranged by the parents and extended families, while in others, the children should decide for themselves who they will marry. This is not something that is decided by the five senses, however, culturally, there is no question that the way their culture believes is common sense to them.
When we become Christians, we leave one culture and become members of another. We leave the culture of the naturalistic and enter the culture of the miraculous. We exit the culture where our senses are the primary mechanism of attaining knowledge to the culture where our senses only give us a small amount, and God through His scriptures provides us with much more knowledge of what actually exists. Common sense in this new culture does not rely exclusively on our five senses or experiences, but on what God says, for He is the only one who actually has complete knowledge. Following are a few examples of the old and new culture in tension regarding common sense.
- The old culture says that to win a battle, you need either more people, better weapons, or both. However, in the new culture, God chose only 300 people equipped with trumpets, torches and broken pottery to defeat the entire army of the Midianites.
- The old culture says that the strongest and greatest warrior would go against the champion of your enemy, especially one who is over nine feet tall. However, in the new culture, David, a child, was chosen by God to vanquish this mighty foe with but a single stone.
- The old culture says that if you have 5000 men to feed, plus women and children, and you only have five loaves of bread and two fish, you send them home to get their own food. However, in the new culture, you lift this child’s lunch to heaven, ask God to bless it, and then feed them all and collect twelve baskets full of the leftovers.
The common sense of the old culture does not accept the common sense of the new culture. And the new culture calls the common sense of the old foolishness. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church the following, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” 1 Cor 1:25-29 (emphasis added). As a member of this “new culture”, it is important that we look at things from God’s perspective because this new culture has the complete picture of reality. We must put away the ideas that only what we can perceive with our own senses, or are told to us by those who have, is the only things that we can rely on: that these things are the true “common sense”. However, true common sense is relying on God who only can do everything, believing what God says because He only knows everything, and being with Him always and being in a constant attitude of prayer because He only is everywhere at one time. We should forget what makes sense in this world and know that what God said in the scriptures is the truth and can be relied on, that we must live by what He says no matter what. For to do otherwise is just not common sense.