HOW SMART IS FORREST GUMP?
I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. (Psalm 119:99)
How smart is Forrest Gump? If you’re like millions of other people, you’ve seen the hit movie starring Tom Hanks, and you know that Forrest Gump isn’t very bright. Some people call him “the local idiot.” He has an IQ of only 75, and there’s a lot that he just doesn’t understand.
The funny thing is, Forrest keeps meeting famous people, he keeps achieving amazing things, and he even changes history. Where does Elvis Presley learn to swivel his hips? From watching the way little Forrest Gump totters around in leg braces. What happens when poor Forrest is mocked and chased by mean kids? His leg braces fall off, he learns to run without them, and he runs so fast he becomes an All-American football player. Forrest Gump meets presidents Kennedy and Johnson and Nixon. He wins a medal of honor for saving his friends’ lives in Vietnam. He’s in a hotel one night, and he makes a phone call to complain that the light from flashlights in a room across the way are keeping him awake. It’s the Watergate Hotel. Eventually, Forrest owns an entire fleet of boats, and he has money invested in a new company that he thinks “sells fruit or somethin,'” because the company name is Apple. That makes him a “gazillionaire,” as he puts it.
It’s fun to watch Forrest Gump bumble his way through the 1960’s and 70’s. But there’s more to this film than the nostalgia of looking back at those times, or the laughter of watching a simpleton do so many great things. The most striking thing about Forrest Gump is that, with his IQ of 75, he seems to be smarter than most people about the things that really matter.
Forrest loves his mother. He’s gentle and kind to others. He’s faithful to his friends. He thinks people shouldn’t hurt each other. He feels awe at the beauty in creation. He doesn’t get bogged down in worrying. He trusts that God answers prayer, even if it’s not always the way we expect. He believes he’ll go to heaven someday. He endures cruelty and tragedy but never becomes bitter or cynical. Forrest Gump can cry about grief and death, and yet he’s at peace. He knows he’s not smart enough to figure it all out.
So how smart is Forrest Gump? When it comes to brainpower and IQ, he’s obviously not very smart. But when it comes to the things that really matter, he seems to be very smart indeed, a lot smarter than people with higher IQ’s. If somebody tells Forrest he’s stupid, he just replies by quoting his mother: “Stupid is as stupid does.” And at one point he says, “I may not be very smart, but I do know what love is.”
Something about Forrest Gump has sent people flocking to the movie. And in spite of the fact that it’s just a movie, and in spite of the fact that it has its crude moments, it makes you wonder. It makes you wonder whether events which seem completely random can at the same time be destiny, part of God’s plan. And it makes you wonder whether it just might be smarter to be simple than to be sophisticated.
The fiction of Forrest Gump got me thinking about the truth of Jesus Christ. When you read the Bible, you find over and over an emphasis on simple, childlike trust. You often find that smart, well-educated people just don’t get it when it comes to faith in God, while simple people do. Jesus himself says, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure” (Luke 10:21). The apostle Paul says the same thing when he writes, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27).
There are people who think it’s silly to pray, who think it’s foolish to trust God no matter what. They say it’s intellectual suicide to simply believe whatever the Bible tells you. But here’s the truth of the matter. If you know Jesus, you know something more important than all the facts in the world put together. If you know your Bible, you have more spiritual insight than the most brilliant scholar will ever discover on his own. The writer of Psalm 119 says, “I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.” Sometimes a simple approach is the smartest.
If it seems foolish to trust Jesus, then be a fool. If it seems childish to obey the Bible, then be a child. Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). You need to become a child all over. “You must be born again,” (John 3:7), says Jesus, to enter God’s kingdom. If you’re a newborn in God’s kingdom, you know more than the grownups outside it. If you’re a fool in God’s kingdom, you’re smarter than the scholars outside it. They may know a lot of things, but you know the things that really matter.
Jesus says, “I praise you, Father … because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” Now, what does Jesus mean? It sounds like God prefers people who don’t think too hard. Is there some kind of spiritual advantage in not being too bright? Does he like simple people better than smart people?
Or is there another side to all this? You might wonder whether the emphasis on childlike faith is just a ploy to get people to stop thinking and leave their brain at the door of the church. Do you need a lobotomy before you can take the teachings of the Bible at face value? Do you need an IQ of 75 to be a Christian in the modern world? If so, it doesn’t sound very appealing. Forrest Gump is fun on film, but he’s fictional. And even if there are some real Gumps out there, people with simple beliefs who are nice to others, that doesn’t mean their beliefs are true. Is the Bible so irrational that only a mental midget can accept it? If so, why not just put your faith in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy instead?
Well, as we’re going to see, Christianity is not anti-intellectual. It’s just that God’s wisdom won’t fit the tiny compartments of our little brains. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
If you make your own thoughts the measure of what is rational, then you can’t accept a wisdom that goes beyond human intelligence. The Bible is rational, but it is God’s brand of rationality and not ours. God does want us to think, but he wants us to think his thoughts and not just our own. And so before we can really know God or live for him, we need to give up on our own ideas of what God ought to be like, and listen with childlike humility to what he says he’s really like.
The more you try to figure out God, the more you try to figure out life with your own brain power, the more frustrated you get. You can have a high IQ and a string of university degrees, but if you think you’re too smart to simply accept God at his Word, you’ll never get an inch closer to God’s kingdom. God says in the Bible,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:19-20)
The Lord often confounds experts and calls simple people. When God wanted to reveal his truth, did he send his Son to a great intellectual center? No, Jesus grew up a carpenter’s home in the hick town of Nazareth in the backward district of Galilee. Jesus had no formal education, as far as we know. And yet his insight was astounding. People couldn’t help asking, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?” (John 7:15)
And look at how Jesus chose his disciples. He didn’t go after the cultural elite. He chose fishermen and other common people. And yet these people weren’t afraid to challenge more educated leaders with the truth of Jesus. The Bible says that when the leaders saw the boldness of the disciples and “realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Jesus gave unschooled, ordinary men and women astonishing insight and boldness. As the gospel spread, it was ordinary housewives and business people, soldiers and slaves, who most often became Christians. Meanwhile, many religious leaders and philosophers refused to believe the crazy story that a crucified carpenter was God’s Son, and that he had risen from the dead.
And so it was that people of simple faith became wiser in the things of God than many of the so-called great thinkers. It’s not that the gospel is illogical. It’s just that it goes according to God’s logic rather than our logic. The Bible doesn’t fit our way of thinking. It expresses God’s way of thinking. So if you want to become truly wise, then start by trusting Jesus and believing the Bible–even if it strikes you as foolish. “For,” says the Bible, “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
There is more wisdom in God’s Word than in all the world’s books put together. A simple person who takes God’s Word to heart is wiser than the most sophisticated person who never gets beyond his own ideas. The writer of Psalm 119 puts it this way:
Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:98-100, 130).
Let me tell you about Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper was a brilliant thinker. He had all sorts of education and academic degrees. He learned the most up-to-date brand of theology, and he didn’t see the Bible as God’s Word. Then Abraham Kuyper became a pastor. He was eager to share his enlightened ideas with his congregation. But there was no glory in his message, no power, nothing to grip and transform the people.
Then an ordinary woman from his congregation spoke to Kuyper. She showed him that, as much he knew, he didn’t know God the way she did. She had a deep faith in Jesus and a strong knowledge of the Bible, and that made her wiser than her preacher. Thanks to the influence of this woman, Kuyper was transformed. He found himself trusting in Jesus and believing in the Bible as God’s Word. Did Kuyper shut his brain off at that point. No, he was as brilliant as ever, but he started using his brilliance to declare God’s message rather than parroting the intellectual fads of his age.
In the history of the church, reformation and revival often start when common people rediscover the message of the Bible. Instead of just going by whatever some authority figure tells them, they read God’s Word for themselves. They gain more insight than their teachers, and they share that insight with others. Then, as more and more people learn what God is really saying, the entire church is aroused, and many people come to a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Great things happen when ordinary people read the Bible for themselves.
The reverse is also true. The church goes downhill the moment people leave all the thinking to the experts. In the past, many people would simply bow to the authority of church leaders. They didn’t search the scriptures for themselves, and their leaders didn’t want them to. They said that only the clergy could tell the people what to think. Whenever that happened the church became weak and corrupt.
Today some people still let preachers and church bureaucrats do their thinking for them. For most folks, though, the tendency isn’t so much to bow to the church as to the university. If some researcher or scholar says something, many of us will swallow it almost without question. Who are we to challenge someone so brilliant? Who are we to say, “I have more insight than my teachers”? So we stop trusting the Bible, we start trusting the experts, and God withdraws the blessing of his Spirit and the church deteriorates.
Many of us are too lazy to study the Bible, or else we’re too ashamed to take our stand on it. We don’t want to seem simple-minded or stupid. But to borrow a line from Forrest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does.” You need to judge a way of thinking by what it produces. Refusing the Bible’s wisdom ruins individuals, it ruins the church, and it wrecks society. Stupid is as stupid does. And the reverse is also true: Wisdom is as wisdom does. In Jesus’ words, “wisdom is proved right by her actions” (Matthew 11:19). So before you say whether a way of thinking is wise or stupid, you need to look at where it leads.
Sir Francis Crick is a Nobel prize winner. He’s one of the discoverers of DNA. Few people alive are more brilliant than Francis Crick. This genius can’t accept the simple idea that there’s life on this planet because God created it. But Crick knows too much about the awesome complexity of cells and bacteria to think they could have simply evolved in the time available. So what’s his theory? Crick says that perhaps beings from outer space sent primitive life forms to earth in a spaceship. He’s too smart to believe in a divine Creator, so he starts talking about extraterrestrials instead.
Sir Francis is also too smart to believe the Bible’s claim that all human life is sacred. That’s not scientific enough. So what is his enlightened view? “No newborn infant should be declared human,” he says, “until it has passed certain tests regarding its genetic endowment, and if it fails these tests it forfeits the right to live.” He wants to kill babies who don’t measure up to his standards. Sir Francis Crick may have won a Nobel prize, but stupid is as stupid does. Ignore God’s wisdom in the Bible, and you’re apt to swallow the craziest ideas and approve cruelest deeds.
Believe the Bible, and even though you’ll never be as brilliant as Sir Francis Crick, you’ll be wiser. You’ll have more insight into the things that really matter. You and I can’t do anything wiser than yield our lives to Jesus Christ, and believe every last word of what God tells us in the Bible.
When Billy Graham was still a young preacher, he was faced with questions and challenges to the authority of the Bible. One night he knelt and prayed and told God he would take the Bible’s message by faith, that he would accept the whole Bible as God’s truth, rather than doubting or questioning it.
Charles Templeton, a friend of Billy Graham, says that it was intellectual suicide for Graham to do this. He was was no longer free to reject biblical ideas that didn’t make sense to him. He was no longer free to formulate his own ideas and pursue his own goals. But was it really intellectual suicide? Perhaps it was simply intellectual surrender. Perhaps Billy Graham realized he would be wiser taking God at his Word than going along with the latest fads of human experts.
Templeton thinks this view of the Bible is much too limiting. Well of course it’s limiting! The word of Christ limits your movement the way a solid foundation limits a house’s movement. If you want to be unlimited, if you want to be blown about by every wind of teaching, if you want to be washed along by every flood of trouble in your life, then by all means don’t build on the rock of Christ’s teaching. Build on the sand of your own opinion instead (see Matthew 7:24-27).
People who refuse the Bible’s authority and try to figure everything out on their own think they’re intellectual and free. They have no deep convictions or commitments. All sorts of ideas flit through their brains without ever gripping their hearts. As the Bible puts it, they are “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). They study everything but believe in nothing. They are so open-minded that their brains fall out. Their IQ may be 175, but their spiritual IQ is zero.
Once again: stupid is as stupid does, and wisdom is as wisdom does. If your heart is full of Christ and your mind is full of Scripture, you’ll have a warmer love, a brighter joy, a deeper peace, a stronger character, a firmer assurance of your eternal destiny, than those who take their own brain as the final authority. You’ll be able to say, “I have more insight than my teachers.” Wisdom is known by her actions. History shows again and again that whenever God’s Word is believed and held in honor, people are transformed, churches grow, and societies flourish. When God’s Word is despised, the opposite happens. Wisdom is as wisdom does, and stupid is as stupid does.
The Bible says that although God’s truth seems foolish to worldly minds, it is in fact “a message of wisdom … God’s secret wisdom… This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:6-7,13).
Spirituality is not stupidity. Simple faith doesn’t make you a simpleton. The call to be childlike is not a call to be an ignoramus. It’s a call to listen to God’s wisdom as humbly as a child who wants to learn something from its parents, to realize that you don’t know anything about God except what God tells you through his Word and his Holy Spirit. There’s nothing more glorious than to read your Bible again and again, to think about what the Spirit of God is saying to you, and to discover a profound wisdom that can’t be found anywhere else.
And the call to be childlike is a call to trust God no matter what. This isn’t foolish. What could be wiser than to trust in a wisdom far greater than your own? What could be wiser than trusting Christ? There’s no nothing more marvelous than to know you are in God’s hands, to know that no matter what happens or how confusing it is, the Lord controls your destiny.
I started the program by asking, “How smart is Forrest Gump?” But now I want to ask, “How smart are you?” I don’t care what your IQ is, or how educated you are, or how much data you’ve stored away in your brain. The question is, Do you have the wisdom that comes from God? Have you surrendered your heart to Christ? Have you surrendered your mind to the Bible? Is your life filled with the fruit of God’s Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Those are the things that really matter.
Father in heaven, help us to become as children before you. Soften our hearts and open our minds to the supernatural wisdom of the Bible. Draw us into fellowship with Christ, fill us to overflowing with your Spirit, and help us to live with integrity and love, as your Word teaches. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.