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The Deep Wisdom of God

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

Readings: Psalm 112; Isaiah 58:1-12; 1 Corinthians 2:1–16.

The Wisdom of God

While I was a missionary in Kenya, we used to go every two weeks to the grocery store to buy food supplies. I had read a few introductory books on Western philosophy, and so when I found some of the works of the primary philosophers in the supermarket for dirt cheap, I started collecting them. And then when we returned to South Africa, I thought, “I have half of all the philosophical works, why not, over a year order the rest of them and then I’ll have a great library of Western philosophy.” So, that is what I did, and of course, the scholar that I am, I read all of them, just short of a metre and a half of bookshelf space. I managed it in just over a year (don’t ask me how much of it I understood and retained). I started with Plato and worked myself through to Slavoj Žižek, the Slovenian philosopher, cultural theorist, and public intellectual. His work is rather obscene—it’s not for the fainthearted. I read two of his books, and in the last sentence of the second book, which incidentally was the very last sentence of my philosophy reading project, he wrote, “In short, the true courage is to admit that the light at the end of the tunnel is probably the headlight of another train approaching us from the opposite direction.” So much for finding optimism and wisdom in philosophy!

I turned to philosophy for a year because I wanted to know what some of the main ideas were, and to have a bird’s eye view of the personalities, the ideas, and even how it relates and interacts with Christian theology. However, it’s not difficult to imagine that some people read philosophy to puff themselves up, thinking, “I understand something that you don’t understand.”

This kind of attitude was prevalent in the ancient Greek and Roman world during the early church, even among Jews and Christians. This formed part of a powerful heretical movement called Gnosticism. Which means “to know”. Like most movements there were variations, but the main ideas were:

1. All human beings have a piece of God in them.

2. This “divine spark” fell from the spiritual world into our physical bodies.

3. Everything material, including our bodies, was created not by God, but by some other inferior being who was said to be evil.

4. We are trapped in this physical world, and we are ignorant of our states.

5. However, the right knowledge will inform us of our true status.

6. This knowledge must come from outside of this material world, and the one who brings it to us is our saviour.

You can see how this distortion of Scripture encouraged Gnostic Christianity which claimed to have “secret knowledge” about God, the universe, Christ, and who we truly are. The ancient Church Fathers wrote many books against the Gnostic Christians. I have read a few of these works myself, and yes, my current reading project is to read through the Church Fathers. I am about a third of the way through.

Ancient Gnosticism was a serious challenge to early Christianity, however, there is also modern Gnosticism. There is quite a comeback of late even in the church. I good example of modern Gnosticism outside of Christianity is Rhonda Byrne’s little book, “The Secret”. Some of you may have seen her book. There are many others out there even in the church and in Christian bookstores. These mystical self-help books encourage you to “bend in on yourself”—they are very individualistic. The wisdom of God, on the other hand, reflects outwards, this is made clear in passages like Psalm 112, Isaiah 58:1—12, 1 Corinthians 2:1–16, and Matthew 5:13-20. As important as knowledge of God and our universe is—and I love knowledge—God invites us into his wisdom, a philosophy that is counter-intuitive and very different from man’s wisdom. God’s mysterious wisdom and his call to us to reflect it outwards to our community is the golden thread throughout these passages. Let’s dive in.

The Psalmist and God’s Wisdom

Despite his flaws, king David, the great king, and poet, tapped into this glorious wisdom in Psalm 112. The theme of the Psalm is about the good character of those who are faithful and how their faithfulness serves them, but more importantly, how it benefits others in their community.

David says that those who fear God and delight in his commands are blessed, and their righteousness endures forever. Think about it, in the bigger scheme of things, your righteousness does not only last during your lifetime here on earth, but it endures into eternity. This is because God’s character of loving-kindness, generosity, justice, and faithfulness are visible in those who are faithful and righteous. Our reflection of God’s image echoes not only in our communities but into the corridors of heaven.

And then this beautiful imagery, “Even in darkness, light dawns for the upright.” God’s presence and guidance become evident to those who imitate him, even when they find themselves in the “dark night of the soul.” Verses 6­–9 tell us what we can expect when the light dawns for the upright:

6 Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever. 7 They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. 8 Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes. 9 They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor, their righteousness endures forever; their horn (or dignity) will be lifted high in honor.

The Prophet Isaiah and God’s Wisdom

In Isaiah 58:1–12, the prophet is sent to confront the hypocrisy of God’s people. These people sought after God, they seemed eager to learn God’s ways, they asked God to help them with their important decisions, they seemed eager for God to come near to them, they humbled themselves and they even fasted. Note the word, “seemed”. These are all good things. Yet, something was amiss.

God’s people wanted to know God, apparently, and they did this by humbling themselves and by fasting, probably only for one day (see verse 5), and then went along with their business. And did you know that there is such a thing as false humility? That may have also been what was going on here. These verses are a bit of a check for our own lives, aren’t they?

And so, Isaiah proclaims with assertive boldness the true way of God’s wisdom and blessing. God will not be used like a vending machine or a genie, and so God’s people find themselves frustrated because their religion isn’t working the way it is supposed to, at least according to them, and their wrong-headed attitudes. The problem was that God’s people were living out their religion according to their knowledge and wisdom. So, it did not take them long until they figured none of this was working for them. After all, true faith is not what is acceptable to human ideals, but it is that which is accepted by God. There is no room for false devotion.

There is an “if … then …” condition to God’s message to his people through Isaiah.

If you loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke; set the oppressed free and break every yoke; share your food with the hungry; shelter the poor wanderer; clothe the naked; and don’t turn away your family members (verses 6b–7).

Then (and I love this) your light will break forth like the dawn. Isaiah continues, “and your healing will come quickly; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard; then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I (verses 8–9).

The people were focused on themselves, not on the implications of their faith. In other words, they failed to live that faith out in their social life. God called them to be his image bearers and to live out their lives in a way that is consistent with his nature, to reflect him and show others what God is like. Being loving, kind, patient, and generous towards others, even those we don’t know. And how much we all falter at this, I think of myself especially.

Jesus picks up this idea in Matthew 5:13 and 16 when he calls us to be the salt of the earth, and then says, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” What Jesus means is that we need to influence our world and community for the good, and we do this by having the kingdom of God in us and living out our faith so that those who do not yet have the light of Christ may also be ignited.

I hope this passage is challenging you as much as it is challenging me. There is deep wisdom going on here, and it can only be found in the holy Scriptures. And of course, the one who demonstrates this wisdom most beautifully and perfectly is God himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Apostle and God’s Wisdom

The Apostle Paul was one of those who experienced the dawning of light even in his darkness. He too embraced this wisdom of God and was not ashamed to proclaim it.

Paul was one of the most learned people of his time, and certainly was the most learned writer in the New Testament, and likely of all the authors of the entire Bible. He could talk “scholar talk”. Yet, he avoided using Greek rhetoric in which he was trained. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion and public speaking. It was an essential skill for people who participated in public life. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle developed three primary ideas for his style of rhetoric, the first was the text of the argument and how the speaker developed their argument around facts and evidence, this is called the “Logos”. The second appealed to the speaker’s character, that is, the trustworthiness and authority of the speaker and usually manifested in tone. Aristotle called this “Ethos”. The third idea was “Pathos”, which appealed to the emotions, sympathetic imagination, beliefs, and values of the audience.

Greek rhetoric is of course extremely helpful. But instead, Paul focused on the message of the cross and desired that the people, in this case, the Corinthians, put their faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, not his learned abilities. He was well aware that intellectual persuasion does not save anyone. Faith in Christ comes with the power of the Holy Spirit who changes our hearts as the gospel is proclaimed. Paul makes it quite clear, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:4–5).

As someone who stutters and is somewhat socially awkward, I find myself encouraged, not so much by Moses, who supposedly stuttered (there is some scholarly debate whether he did), but with the Apostle Paul who came preaching in weakness with great fear and trembling. Yet, not by human wisdom, but by God’s power. It’s not God’s humour that puts someone like me in a pulpit, or in the kind of work I do, no, it’s by his wisdom and power—as weak and as unworthy as I am.

And so, the Holy Spirit builds a bridge between our human heart and the deep wisdom of God and enables us to understand the message of the cross when we proclaim the good news and his wisdom with ordinary words. Otherwise, with great human wisdom, God’s revelation and deep wisdom become incomprehensible and meaningless.

God’s deep wisdom is centered on Jesus Christ and includes his plan of salvation from eternity past to eternity future. And it also includes the way he works among us, often in a topsy-turvy kind of way, a way that is strange and unexpected.

It seems that Paul was writing directly to the Christians who valued wisdom more than they should have, and some may have entertained Gnostic thought. He writes in verse 13, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” His focus is on spiritual people because only the Holy Spirit can make clear the message of the cross and make it understandable. Genuine Christians are spiritual people who are led and empowered by the Holy Spirit because we have the mind of Christ. Those however who do not believe the message of Christ do not have the spiritual aptitude to understand the mind of God or his deep mysteries.

Concluding Thoughts

I return to the great philosophers of the past. After I had read all their works and grappled with their ideas, I came to one conclusion, all of them even combined, have nothing on the deep wisdom of God in Scripture, and the simple but clear teachings of Jesus. Knowledge is the acquiring of facts and information, wisdom, on the other hand, is the ability to apply knowledge and experience in everyday life, and because God is the creator and sees all things at all times, his knowledge is perfect and complete and so his wisdom is mysterious and infinitely deep.

As for the Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Žižek, yes, the world may become dark, but for those who are righteous and love Jesus Christ, the light at the end of the tunnel is not the headlight of an oncoming train, no, it is the light of the breaking dawn, the light of Christ and his righteous ones.


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