What is wisdom, really?
We note that the Bible describes the Lord as “the only wise God” (Rom. 16:27) and instructs believers who lack wisdom to “ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5) In other words, God is himself wise, and he imparts wisdom to his creatures, but this presents us with two important questions. First, how do we find divine wisdom? And second, what exactly is divine wisdom?
In answer to the first question, J. I. Packer gives two biblical prerequisites. The first is that we must learn to reverence God. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” (Prov. 1:7) We cannot receive wisdom if we do not first recognize the unchanging majesty of the Lord and stand in awe of him, and this is in fact the reason that so few Christians have true wisdom. Packer observes that, “many Christians spend all their lives in too unhumbled and conceited a frame of mind ever to gain wisdom from God at all.” And the second prerequisite to wisdom is that we must learn to receive God’s word. Paul’s instruction to the church at Colosse is clear, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.” (Col. 3:16) But do we spend enough time or effort in the word of God to learn wisdom? Packer thinks it unlikely, as he says, “Again, it is to be feared that many today who profess to be Christ’s never learn wisdom, through failure to attend sufficiently to God’s written Word.” Do we truly give the Bible its due? Or do we spend more time keeping up with the news or on Facebook?
But if we are going to seek wisdom, we must identify it, so that we can recognize what it is and what it is not. Packer is very helpful here, because he explains that many Christians believe that if they are really close to God, he will give them a bird’s-eye view of things so that they would know at every moment how the Lord was making all things work together for good. He says, “Such people spend much time poring over the book of providence, wondering why God should have allowed this or that to take place, whether they should take it as a sign to stop doing one thing and start doing another, or what they should deduce from it. If they end up baffled, they put it down to their own lack of spirituality.” The problem with this kind of thinking is that is entirely un-biblical and certain to end up in disappointment and disillusionment with God. If God’s wisdom is that which enables him to know what is best and the will to choose it, then the same thing must be true of the wisdom he gives us. It must be that which will allow us to see and do the right thing in actual situations of everyday life.
The book of Ecclesiastes provides us with the basis for true wisdom as opposed to what passes for wisdom in this unbelieving world. In it, Solomon declares, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” And Packer explains that, “the preacher wants to show…that the real basis of wisdom is a frank acknowledgment that this world’s course is enigmatic, that much of what happens is quite inexplicable to us, and that most occurrences ‘under the sun’ bear no outward sign of a rational, moral God ordering them at all.” The author of Ecclesiastes is not speaking as a hardened cynic, but he understands that wisdom demands that we have a realistic view of the world in which we live. Packer says that the reason this world defies reasonable explanation is “that God in his wisdom, to make and keep us humble and to teach us to walk by faith, has hidden from us almost everything that we should like to know about the providential purposes which he is working out in the churches and in our own lives,” Nevertheless, we can be assured that the God who created this world and has brought about our redemption through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, can be trusted to do all things well, even when we cannot discover his plan. So we must conclude that the wisdom that God offers “is not a sharing in all his knowledge, but a disposition to confess that he is wise, and to cleave to him and live for him in the light of his Word through thick and thin.”