Mark Ward is known to say, “Edification requires intelligibility.” If we take “intelligible” to mean “able to be understood” as it does after a brief Google search, then Ward’s claim is simply false in nearly all sectors of life. If Ward means something other than “able to be understood” then clearly he has introduced one of his own False Friends into the conversation and we don’t know what he means by “intelligibility”.
Assuming Ward does mean “able to be understood”, let’s break that definition down and see how much of edification falls into the category of “able to be understood”.
So what constitutes ability? Simply put, one is only able if they have the requisite faculty, opportunity, and the time. If you are blind you are not able to see the sun. Therefore you are unable to see the the sun because you lack the faculty of sight. If you are seeing, but in extreme solitary confinement, you are still unable to see the sun. Therefore you are unable to see the sun because you haven’t the opportunity. If you are seeing and free to see the sun, but you work third shift during the winter in Northern Canada, you will sleep during the few hours the sun is up. Therefore you are unable to see the sun because you haven’t the time.
Is the blind man edified by the sun even though he cannot see the sun? Indeed, he is. Is the imprisoned man edified even though he cannot see the sun? Indeed, he is, for without the sun there would be no food for him to eat and no guards to let him out of his cell 1 hour a day. Is the third shift worker edified even though he cannot see the sun? Indeed, he is and so is his family for whom he sacrifices who lives by the sun while he works by the moon.
But what about understanding beyond the senses? Do the same criteria of faculty, opportunity, and time apply to intellectual understanding? They, in fact, do.
Consider a simplistic example of the interrelation of the college professor, the chemical engineer, and the business owner. The college professor has a faculty for abstract thinking, the opportunity to acquire post-graduate degrees, and the time to do so. The chemical engineer has a faculty for advanced mathematics and chemical composition, the opportunity to work for a large semiconductor company, and the time to do so. The business owner has good business sense, the opportunity because his father owned the factory, and the time to be a business owner.
Does the business owner understand how microchips are made? No, probably not. In fact, he very well many not know how to install one in the computers he uses to run his business. Is the business owner edified by what he does not understand? Most definitely especially if you included his house in the Shenandoah Valley and the Beach House in Boca.
Does the chemical engineer understand Divine Command Theory? Probably not. But he is edified by the fact that moral absolutes are indeed expressions of God’s good and perfect will. Does the college professor understand how Amazon Web Services works? No, he probably doesn’t. Is he edified though he does not understand? He very much is every time he uses the internet to order books from Amazon.
If you don’t have the time to learn and to be a college professor, business owner, and chemical engineer then you never understand these things but you will be edified by them. If you don’t have the faculty for the abstract or advanced math or good business sense then you will never understand these thing but you will be edified by them. If you don’t have the opportunity to get the kind of education or receive the kind of position necessary to know and do these things you will never understand them but you will be edified by them.
Do you have the faculties, opportunity, and time to examine all the things in your food? I venture that for most of us we do not and yet we are edified by the food we eat. Do you have the faculties, opportunity, and time to understand your car? Again, I think for many the answer is, no, and yet you are edified by the existence and use of that car.
But I can hear it now, “You are using ‘edify’ in an old [and more robust] way. Edification has an exclusively moral/religious slant to it.”
Do the lost understand God – I mean Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus? Well, sort of. Apart from Scripture, they understand that God is angry at them and desires to judge them. They have just enough understanding to be eternally destroyed.
And yet the image after which God they are made and the conscience which the living and true God put within them brings about moral and religious edification. The God that they do not know gives them daily grace and mercy restraining their wickedness. Billions of people in the world do not understand the Triune God but are morally and religiously edified.
Are the secularists morally and religiously edified by the God they do not understand? Well of course the answer is yes. The presence of the God they do not understand among the people of God they do not understand curbs, redirects, and condemns the immorality of the secularist. The God they do not understand calls them to a holiness they do not understand and that call in itself edifies.
What of the Christian? Many Christians inflate their capacity for free will and they misunderstand the sovereignty of God and yet they are edified by God’s sovereignty in their lives. Many other Christians have become fatalists and misunderstand the role of free will in the life of the Christian but nevertheless are edified by the godly sanctified free choices they make every day by the power of the Holy Spirit.
What about the Bible? Is my two year old edified by the Bible even though she does not understand a single word? She indeed is because her parents know the Bible and as a result we take her to church and sing the Psalms in her ears and teach her truth and obedience. My two year old daughter is edified morally and as a person because of the Bible she does not understand.
This post is already long and we haven’t even begun to discuss degrees of edification. That is, I could listen to a Kenyan Church singing their liturgy and thereby be edified by the symmetry, beauty, comradery, friendship, union of persons, and voices before God as an act of worship without understanding a single word. It is safe to assume that many Christians do not understand the Trinity as one substance in three subsistences but that does not mean they are not edified by fact that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God. Christian’s may not understand what it means for God to reconcile all things to Himself, but they are edified by this truth nonetheless.
Then there is the act of prayer. Christians all over the world are edified through prayers they never heard offered up by people they may never meet. Understanding?! Christians in Ukraine don’t even know who is praying for them or what is being offered up and yet those same Ukrainian Christians are being edified through those prayers. Shucks, prayer itself is something we often misunderstand but we are still edified by it.
Put simply, the list of things that we “are not able to understand” but are nevertheless edified by is so long it is difficult to understand why Ward would say something so clearly false as, “Edification requires intelligibility.”