Looking for Wisdom
I suspect I’m like a lot of people in that I tend to think most people are pretty much like me. I tend to think others not only think like me, but tend to sin like me. Thus, my concerns about the habits of the church at large tend to follow my concerns about my weaknesses and failures. I preach against my own sin, believing that it is not all that unusual. There is wisdom here, but danger as well. When we are our own yardsticks, it is rather easy to miss how crooked we are. In order to get a real handle on what God’s Word says, we need to step outside what is merely normal to us and seek to see the Bible objectively, to use it as a mirror.
Too often it is the “normal” that encourages us to practice simultaneous translation. We come to the Bible expecting little, so we miss the greatness of the promises. We reduce them down to something manageable, something safe. Sometimes the Bible is so straightforward in what it promises, however, that we can’t turn it into something safe. What we do instead is determine that while we can’t know what the text means, it certainly can’t mean what it says. Once more, I suspect that many Christians do this, because I know that I do this.
I’m confident I’m not alone among Christians when it comes to certain other things as well. First, I have had for decades now a deep longing for wisdom. Second, like that old country song about looking for love, I have spent most of my life looking for wisdom in precisely the wrong places. Because I was enamored with the wisdom of this world, for too long I believed that that would be where I would find wisdom.
I remember spending hours as a teenager scanning the books in my father’s library. Mercy, he had nearly a dozen Bibles. He not only had God’s Word, but a fair representation of the work of those teachers with which God has blessed the church from the beginning. There were the complete works of Martin Luther and the collected writings of Jonathan Edwards. My father had, and still has, as do I now, a complete set of John Calvin’s commentaries on the Bible.
Instead of reading these wise works, however, I chose books from an obscure corner of his library. I found the books he owned, I’m confident, so that he would be equipped to deal with the folly of the world, and mistook them for books of wisdom. I remember reading through (thankfully, at that young age, I wasn’t smart enough to get truly poisoned by this nonsense) my father’s books written by Sigmund Freud. I remember taking On the Interpretation of Dreams to bed with me and reading into the wee hours. I read Civilization and Its Discontents, finding myself horribly discontented with it. I thought psychoanalysis would equip me with wisdom, and proved myself to be a fool.
Perhaps worse than looking for wisdom in all the wrong places is looking for wisdom for all the wrong reasons. I sought out wisdom as a means to an end. I was not driven by a love of wisdom, but by a love of self. I wanted wisdom for what it could do for my ego. (What I really needed was a stronger super-ego to keep me in check.) I was more interested in seeming to be wise than I was in being wise. I wanted to establish a reputation among my peers as being a source for wisdom. I wanted to be a teenage sage. And so I became sophomoric, a wise fool. I looked for wisdom in ponderous lyrics from obtuse rock bands. Indeed, at that age I might have defined wisdom precisely as the ability to say ponderous things and to think ponderous thoughts. I was proud when I should have been ashamed.
James, a book some have suggested is the New Testament book of wisdom, begins with the beginning of wisdom. James writes his letter not as the brother of our Lord. He does not begin by affirming his role as the bishop of Jerusalem. He does not remind his readers that he presided over the first ecumenical council, the Jerusalem gathering recorded in Acts 15. No, he begins the revelation of God’s wisdom by wisely affirming the real ground of his standing, that he is a “servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1). Wisdom not only will not make us great before men, but will cause us to flee such carnal desires. Wisdom tells us, after all, that the first will be last. James writes wisely as one consumed with the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). And we do not fear God unless or until we believe God.
This excerpt is taken from Believing God by R.C. Sproul Jr.