One of my pastor friends repeatedly says, "God is a genius." I react negatively to this characterization. In my experience, we usually gauge genius by human standards. To ascribe "genius" to God assaults His transcendence and brings Him down to a human level. Man ought not judge the acts of God by human standards for they are superior in quantity and quality to any human analysis.
Nevertheless, I understand the awe that the works of God demand. Isaiah wrote, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith 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) Paul asked the church at Rome, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?" (Ro.11:33-34) The Bible records the works of God in such a way that prove His wisdom.
To begin a discussion of wisdom, we must first understand what wisdom is. Most people think wisdom comes from intelligence. They assume smart people are wise people. This does not immediately follow. Smart people can act foolishly. Informed people can lack wisdom. This separates information from wisdom. Information means knowledge of facts. Wisdom is a skill, knowledge of how to do a thing. Wisdom has been defined as skill in living. A better definition is skill in accomplishing one's objectives. The more elegant the solution to those objectives, the higher the level of wisdom displayed.
When we consider the works of God, creation and providence (redemption), we see that characteristic of wisdom displayed. The wonders of creation reveal the wisdom of God. The might of God's work appears in the grandeur of creation. The wisdom appears in the interconnectedness of creation. The more natural laws that science discovers, the greater our appreciation grows for God's wisdom in creation. From minerals to biology, plants to insects, animals and rivers, mountains and galaxies, atoms to quarks, and even dark matter, all these proclaim the infinite wisdom of God. If we would applaud a watchmaker for his skill in making the intricate working of a complex machine, how much more ought we stand in awe at the skill evident in creation. To call it "genius" simply fails to capture its immensity.
Turning to redemption, the skill with which God saved His people also proclaims His wisdom. The Lord faced a knotty problem with the fall of man. His love motivated Him to reunite with His rebellious creation. On the other hand, His justice could not ignore the gravity of sin. That cosmic rebellion required punishment, and God's justice could not merely overlook the crime. How could God be wholly loving and wholly just? How could God restore a relationship with His creation and yet deal with their sin justly? Redemption shows us the answer, the only answer possible. This answer reveals both God's infinite love and absolute justice. God's love sent Jesus to the cross to take the penalty justice demanded due to man's sin. Justice and love meet at the cross.
As we mentioned before, God requires His people to imitate His character. As He is wise, so are we to be. He made us in His image, therefore His character resides within us. To be authentically human, we must endeavor to reflect that character. God expects us to develop wisdom.
As with all the other attributes of God, we struggle to imitate them due to sin. Sin has corrupted our understanding. We don't know how to be wise. We must learn wisdom. This necessity appears in an imperative in scripture. "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding." (Prov.4:7) The Christian must get wisdom.
Getting wisdom is not as easy as it might seem. Going back to the difference between information and wisdom, educators know that different disciplines require different teaching methods. Law school is different from medical school. Both are different from college or high school, and none of these looks like seminary. The content to be taught determines the method of teaching.
Informational content is taught most often by lecture. Memorize and regurgitate is the cycle of informational teaching. Wisdom is not merely informational. Certainly, without information, wisdom cannot exist. Having skill to accomplish objective requires information, but wisdom involves putting that information to good use. For skill training, educators turn away from lecture to other means of teaching. Law school uses the socratic method. Medical school uses patient case studies. Seminary uses a whole bunch of stuff, but at the essence of this training is practice. Skill learning is most easily seen in music. To learn to play the piano, you don't need to sit in endless lectures. You need to put your fingers on keys and practice. You still need a teacher. You may still benefit from some informational teaching, but at the heart of learning to play piano is practice.
Wisdom is like playing the piano. You need information. You need understanding to apply wisdom, but the only way you will increase in skill is practice.
If this series is anything, it is a skill acquisition program. The particulars we will look at are categories in which you will have to apply the information and procedures to develop answers to the situations that confront you in life. It requires discernment.
Lest you think this process is too pedagogical for you and you want some more Bible, let me direct your attention to the book of Proverbs. Most Christians understand that the Proverbs were written so that God's people could learn wisdom. It's right there in the beginning verses. "The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel; to know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion." (Prov.1:1-4)
Now let us look at a couple of verses written to teach us wisdom. "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit." (Prov.26:4-5) Notice that these verses are not taken out of context. (a thing rather hard to do in Proverbs) They appear adjacent to one another, yet they tell us to do contradictory things. Are we to answer a fool according to his folly or not? Solomon doesn't tell us. These verse teach us a number of lessons about wisdom and discernment.
Rules cannot replace wisdom
The path of wisdom challenges our thinking. The answer is rarely easy. A rule cannot replace wisdom. Parents, consider what this means for how you train your children. Don't mistake me. Rules are necessary for children. They provide boundaries and stability. They circumscribe an acceptable pattern of conduct. However, giving your children all the answers will not produce wisdom.
My father did this well, too well for some of us. (N.B. I credit my father with much of what he did well. He wasn't perfect and I know some things he didn't do well. However, I don't tell you what he did wrong. What would be the point of that?) When we were teenagers, he would often not tell us the answer to our questions, especially when we came to him for advice. He would tell us the biblical principles and force us to make decisions, good and bad. He wanted us to work it out for ourselves, to learn how to apply the Bible to life. It would frustrate us at times when all we really wanted was an easy answer. I'm thankful now that he showed us how difficult wisdom can be.
Wisdom requires understanding the situation
Returning to whether to answer a fool according to his folly, Proverbs also teaches us that wisdom is not a static solution. Sometimes it is wise to answer a fool according to his folly, and sometimes it isn't. Proverbs here requires of us discernment, the ability to analyze the probable outcome of our response. If it would humble the fool, answer him according to his folly. If it would entrap us in his worldview, don't answer him according to his folly. The situation in which we find ourselves will determine the wise course of action.
Christianity rejects situational ethics, but not situational wisdom. The proponents of situational ethics argue that morality is not a fixed concept but adjusts to the changes in life and situation. This theory, Christianity denies vehemently. As God is unchangeable, so is His character, law, and righteousness. What is good never changes. Wisdom did not overcome either justice or love, but found a way to satisfy both.
Take for example the Ninth Commandment. the duty to tell the truth never changes. How we tell the truth does. Wisdom requires, not just that we tell the truth, but that we tell the truth well. What good is the truth if we tell it in a way in which people cannot hear it?
Wisdom requires understanding yourself
Proverbs also shows us that wisdom directs different people in different ways. What may be wise for one person may not be wise for another. Returning to our text, one person may not be susceptible to being entrapped in the worldview of the fool, yet another may. Paul will speak about the weak and strong Christian and the different ways in which they should relate to situations and to each other. This requires discernment as well. Wisdom require an accurate analysis of oneself. If you don't understand your personality and susceptibilities, you may find yourself doing unwise things. Mimicking someone else in order to walk wisely is dangerous. That appears in Paul's warning about the strong Christian leading the weak Christian into sin. We have to develop wisdom by our own practicing.
It is significant that the first nine chapters of Proverbs were written to convince the reader how important getting wisdom is. Wisdom does not come easily. You cannot establish it by rule. You cannot copy someone else's work. You have to learn to apply the scriptures to every event in life. A computer programmer understands this challenge to a point. In essence, all a computer program does is take input and respond. We refer to unexpected responses as bugs. Yet that unexpected response is the result of unexpected input. Like a computer programmer, wisdom requires us to predict and prepare for all the possible events that might confront us.
Wisdom requires practice
Since we cannot predict perfectly, we learn from the bugs as we practice. Practice weeds out errors. We cannot expect that we will exercise wisdom perfectly. We have to learn it, and it is a difficult thing to learn. We will make mistakes, but just like practice, we try again to perfect our performance. It is a lifetime's work, but the improvement reaps a harvest of benefits.
You are here because you want to know how to live Christian in an unchristian world. You desire to learn how to live well, in a confusing society. You want wisdom. You want discernment. You will not find easy answers. I will not give you easily applied rules. You will have to work to analyze people, situations, and even yourself. Why do this work? Because God calls you to do it. Because you desire to honor Him by walking wisely. Only by pursuing wisdom will you be able to live Christian in an unchristian world.