The Hammer and Nails–An Analogical look at Reason

How many of you have used a hammer? What would you rate your level of expertise? A novice, a tradesman, or an expert craftsman? A hammers primary purpose is for driving something. There are several types of hammers that have been created for specific purposes. The hammer you chose to use will be dependent on the project you are attempting.

My wife has a tack-hammer for driving small nails to hang pictures, or Christmas lights, or any other decoration that her little heart can imagine. Her hammer is small and light and made specifically for the purpose she uses it. That’s the only hammer she possesses, but I have several different types in my garage.

There is the sledge-hammer that is used to deliver blows with extreme force. Say, for instance, when I am splitting firewood and my maul gets nicely lodged. I use the sledge to pound the maul through a tough piece of ash or oak. I have a hammer with a hard rubber head (aka. a rubber mallet). This hammer is used for hitting things that I do not want to ding or damage. For example, when I’m installing wood floors in a home. When I was younger I would watch my grandpa and dad use a ballpeen hammer for various mechanical work (i.e. automotive, etc.) I’m not much of an auto mechanic so I don’t own one.  And then, there is the nail-driving hammer (to say nothing of the hammers used by brick layers, drywall hangers, and HVAC workers).

A nail-driving hammer comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Some have straight claw and others have a curved claw (for pulling nails). The weight (at least here in the US) is measured in ounces (16, 20, 24). I would imagine most use a 16oz to 20oz variety, but when I’m doing a lot of rough framing I prefer my 24oz framing hammer. The longer handle and heavier weight of this hammer makes driving nails possible in one blow. Of course, if you are not careful the force of your swing and its consequent impact may just bend the nail.

It is always somewhat amusing watching people try to effectively drive a nail for the first time. Inexperienced nail-drivers tend to choke up on the hammer to swing and hit their target. They normally have a hard time hitting the nail in the center of the hammer’s head. As I teach my boys how to use a hammer, I am reminded of my younger days, when my grandpa first instructed me in this fine art.

“Wait a minute, did you say art?”

Oh yes, my friends there is an art to swinging a hammer and driving a nail. If you use the tool properly, then it is a wonderful thing. However, if you do not use the tool correctly there are worse things that can happen than bent nails. I learned this the hard way in my late teens, when I lost not one, but two thumb nails in the same week. A beautiful day, to be sure, but painful nonetheless.

At the time I was working for my grandfather’s construction business. We were building a new home and this was going to be the first time I would get to use my new hammer; freshly purchased. As we began laying the subflooring on the main floor of the home, I eyed my target and began my swing. The arc of the swing and its accompanying speed seemed perfect. The hammer’s grip felt wonderful in my hand. The nail was done for, it days of being on its own were over, for it was about to be joined between two pieces of wood. However, I missed my intended target, it was safe, my left thumb was not so fortunate; it paid the bloody price. A little while later (not the same day), his twin on my right hand joined the party. To this day both of my thumbs are still sensitive to too much pressure.

Now, I do have a point with all this talk of hammers, nails and bloody thumbs. Tools are created for specific purposes. If they are used as intended, then they are truly wondrous things.

“You mean there is a right way and a wrong way to use a tool?” Yes, there is.  However, to use them correctly and effectively requires much practice. Any fool can swing a hammer to drive a nail, but not any fool can swing a hammer and drive a nail correctly/effectively. The same is true with reason.

Reason is a mental tool. Everyone uses reason, but not everyone uses it correctly and effectively. From the moment we entered this world we have had the capability to reason. This is a gift of God given to His creatures as His image bearers. Whenever we are presented with a problem or a line of evidence, we use the tool of reason to find the best possible solution and make the right logical inferences. The use of reason is what enables us to come to truth.

A very simple case of reasoning is found when we teach our children to cross the street. As adults we know that there are a variety of dangers which are present any time we approach an intersection of traffic. Bicycles, cars, trucks, buses all have the potential of seriously harming, maiming or killing us at any moment. To protect our children, we give them some simple instructions to avoid the danger of these things: “Look both ways before you cross. Look left, look right, and look left again, then hurry your little butts across the street.” At that moment we have just aided their reasoning ability.

Tis true, before we spoke they could’ve used the tool of reason that they had been born with, but what would’ve been the result? Without the guidance offered by parental instructions, they may have just looked across the street and started advancing on what they wanted. Sometimes, kids are hurt or killed because they have chased a ball into a street. All they thought about the moment before impact was “I lost my ball…I need to get back to the game, I’m losing…or, something may happen to my possession.” Did they use the tool of reasoning? Absolutely, but they did so poorly, and the result was disastrous.

Parental instruction gives necessary guidance to help them use their tool of reasoning correctly and effectively. These guidelines warned them that there were dangers to crossing the street, and they needed to be aware of these hazards. When we teach our kids such things we are aiding their reasoning ability, teaching them to use the tool that God has equipped them with in the right way. And, this aid does not end with instructions on crossing the street.

We teach our children to walk around the pool (“Don’t run”), we instruct them to be careful when walking on ice (“take your time, go slowly”), we warn them that the stove is hot (“Don’t touch that, you’ll get burned”), to take a bath, to brush their teeth, to be kind and mannerly to other people, respect your elders, finish your homework, time to go to bed, etc., etc., etc. The list literally goes on and on. Every day of our life we have been given guidance on the proper way to think and to reason through every circumstance we face.

 “Okay, okay, we get it,” you say. “Why all this talk about hammers and nails and all this talk about reason?” you ask. To get you thinking. Hoping, that in so doing you will see that God never gave us the tool of reason to use as we see fit. Unaided reason is a farce, it is folly.

Over the past few posts I have addressed some important issues in regards to witnessing to the lost. We testify to the world the truth of the Christian worldview, because we are God’s creation, created to glorify and love Him. Our love for God spurns our love for our neighbors (enemies and all).  We do this by walking in the steps of our Lord and Savior, imitating him, honoring Him by standing firmly upon His Word. We dare not lay this precious Scripture aside, because neutrality is not possible nor desirable for the blood bought Christian. Our only common ground is in our heritage as fellow image bearers with all mankind (human beings, people) that is where we make our appeal. And as important as evidence and facts are, they must be interpreted…they do not speak for themselves. This interpretation will flow naturally from the worldview that the person adheres to. In short, they are incapable of reasoning out the truth on their own. Their reason needs guidance.

The very moment I present this claim internal objections are made. Objections from without and within the body of Christ. Everybody uses reason. “Reason is the intellectual common ground of all human beings,” some will say. I will grant that every person on this planet past, present and future has used the faculties of the mind named reason, but the point is that not everyone uses it well. What is necessary in order to reason correctly and effectively? To whom should we turn if we hope to come to the right conclusions about anything, any fact, any line of evidence, any propositional truth?

How about the one who created us?  God gave us the tool of reasoning to be sure, but He did not do so in order for us to use it in a cavalier fashion, apart from His revelation. Unaided reason is a farce, it is folly, because God never intended His creatures to use their reasoning abilities apart from His Word.

We’ve seen how this played out in various parental scenarios, in what follows, I will seek to demonstrate this from various biblical texts. Stay tuned…