When a famous professor said on TV that science had demonstrated that there is no Creator, Grandma muttered, “Any old rock knows more than that smarty-pants!” She spoke from the wisdom of many years of knowing God through the Bible, and from seeing Him reveal Himself through His works around her in the world. Grandma was no anti-intellectual, but she had little respect for scholars without common sense.
Either as a student or as a teacher, I’ve been in school for almost fifty years. You understand, then, why I’m wary of becoming one of Grandma’s smarty-pants academics.
Though God says much about wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, He sometimes appears to contradict Himself. Proverbs 4:5, for example, tells us to pursue wisdom, but 1 Corinthians 3:20 says, “the thoughts of the wise are futile.” These apparent contradictions (called ‘antinomies’) stem from the differences between godly wisdom and human or worldly wisdom. Godly wisdom and worldly wisdom differ not in amounts or kinds of education, but in what they consider to be true and important.
Godly wisdom begins with the fear of God (Prov. 9:10); it knows that He exists, and that we depend upon Him for our past (He created us), our present (He cares for us now), and our future (our hope for eternity). A worldly person is arrogantly self-reliant, and “in all his thoughts there is no room for God” (Ps. 10:4). “Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you when you say to yourself, ‘I am, and there is none besides me’” (Is. 47:10). Romans 1 says that godless thinking is futile and foolish (v. 21-22), leading people to abandon Truth for lies (v. 25).
God’s true wisdom isn’t acquired in universities. Where we last attended church there were two very different individuals who illustrate this fact--Scotty and Jerry. Scotty is a delightful teenager with Down syndrome, and Jerry is a retired Air Force major general with a Ph.D. in astronautics. While their intellectual capacities clearly differ, what they share is much more important. Both love to memorize scripture, and both have the humble, godly wisdom which only comes from knowing God through His Word and obeying Him.
Such wisdom delights Jesus! In Luke 10:21-22, Jesus rejoices in the grace of His Father, who reveals Himself to those who approach Him in childlike dependence, but hides Himself from ‘the wise and learned’ who depend only upon themselves.
We can each know God and His wisdom, but not because we are smart enough to discover these things by ourselves. No, the most profound truths of the universe are those God reveals to us by His grace: “You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand” (Ps. 16:11).
Through meditating on and obeying His Word, God liberally gives wisdom to those who seek it:
Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,
for they are ever with me.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on Your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts. (Ps. 119:98-100)
There’s nothing wrong with intelligence, with education, with practical or theoretical knowledge and wisdom--as long as it acknowledges God. That’s why, while working on my most recent graduate degree, I always had 1 Chronicles 28:19 taped beside my computer screen: “David said, ‘All this is in writing from the hand of the Lord upon me, and He gave me understanding in all the details of the plan’.” Many times throughout my research I reached the limits of my intellectual abilities. But then, when I asked, God would ‘turn the lights on,’ and I would gradually understand something that had previously made no sense to me.
On our own, we can do nothing (John 15:5), but, if we look to God for what we lack, “the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and under¬standing” (Prov. 2:6). In fact, James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (1:5).
Instead of striving to become ‘smarty-pants,’ let’s go to God for the wisdom He promises.