Insight for engaging a broken new world
Written by Philip Gunther
“Two things are infinite. The universe and human stupidity.
And, I’m not so sure about the universe.”
Attributed to Albert Einstein
Holy Grail Knight’s advice to Indiana Jones
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
“The fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.”
Psalm 111:10a (NLT)
Some time ago I read an article where the author was studying safety labels on merchandise. He described this venture as being quite humourous. Some of the examples he used to make his point included:
- On a hair dryer: Do not use while sleeping.
- On a bar of soap: Use like regular soap.
- On a sleeping aid: Warning: May cause drowsiness.
- On a chain saw: Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands.
- On a child’s superhero costume: Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly.
I must admit, I chuckled. If safety labels like these are required, I wonder how long the human race can survive. There seems to be a definite dearth of common sense among homo sapiens. Humour aside, we face a very serious and expanding problem among us, a lack of wisdom. My seminary professor Tremper Longman III said that wisdom is a knowing how – that is, knowing how to navigate life. According to Longman, wisdom (hokma in Hebrew) is “…the skill of living. It is practical knowledge that helps one know how to act and how to speak in different situations. Wisdom entails the ability to avoid problems, and the skill to handle them when they present themselves.” Wisdom is the ability to avoid life’s pitfalls and reap life’s blessings. Wisdom is not intelligence, per say, but includes it. Theologically, Anglican Priest Tripp Prince claims that “Wisdom is the knowledge of God and a life lived for God.”
More and more I see a lack of knowing how in the church. Although wisdom is often preached about and prayed for, I’m not sure the church is doing what is necessary to possess hokma.
Why is this pertinent for the church in 2021? Today the church is in a situation of unique realities:
- We are emerging from months of pandemic restrictions pertaining to church gatherings. These restrictions caused the rapid evolution of hybrid worship experiences – in-person and digital. Now, what is the way forward? Will congregants decide to return to ‘normal’ worship services?
- The discovery of unmarked graves on former residential school sites is fueling anti-church sentiments toward Catholic, Protestant and Anabaptist (MB) faith communities. Consider for example the July attempted arson of Central Heights (MB) Church (Abbotsford). What is our role in reconciliation?
- A growing number of research studies report a significant loss of trust in pastors, priests and churchgoers among the unchurched. How do we restore this lost faith?
- The emergence of hyper-individualism, racial conflict, religious intolerance, and gender identity confusion. How do we speak into these issues?
- The phenomenal rise in burnout, PTSD and depression among disciples of Jesus. How can we help the affected heal?
My point is that the Church of 2021 will need much wisdom to navigate these and other profound challenges. The good news is that unlimited wisdom is available to disciples (and by extension the Church) who are serious about obtaining it.
It has been forty years since the first Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark came out. Who didn’t want to be like Indiana Jones – handsome, intelligent, and courageous? And, talk about adventure in foreign lands with awesome jungles, caves, snakes and people. Makes me want to watch it again! For me, the most memorable thing about the movie was Indiana’s passion and drive. Nothing would keep him from finding the Ark of the Covenant because he understood its precious and powerful nature. I believe I need to pursue wisdom like Indiana pursued this ancient artifact. Consider the Bible’s counsel: “Wisdom is supreme; therefore, get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7). “…wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her” (Proverbs 8:11).
In his search for the historic ark, Indiana Jones followed a series of clues which he had recorded in his personal leather-bound journal. Similarly, the Bible gives us clues. As followers of Christ, a primary source in our search for wisdom is his written word: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do very good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT). It also serves to anchor us in an unchanging hope and joy. Charles Spurgeon once said, “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”
So, what clues does Scripture offer concerning the obtaining of wisdom?
- Honour God and obey His commands – “The fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom. All who obey [God’s] commandments will grow in wisdom” (Psalm 111:10 NLT).
- Allow God to help you know yourself (Psalm 139:23-24; Lamentations 3:40; 2 Corinthians 13:5).
- Learn from life experiences, especially mistakes (Psalm 90:12; Proverbs 24:30-34).
- Acquire insight from godly wise people – “Walk with the wise and become wise” (Proverbs 13:20).
- Ask God for it – “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you” (James 1:5 NLT, Proverbs 2:6).
If we stopped here, the Preacher (usually identified as King Solomon) in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes would caution us about pursuing wisdom simply to gain wisdom. He is right; pursuing wisdom for itself is vanity. There must be a greater good one is seeking – a higher value, a purpose beyond ourselves. God is that greater good and we pursue wisdom to please him and align ourselves with his will. Furthermore, the Preacher did not know of Jesus. If he had known Jesus, I am convinced he would declare that all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom are found in Jesus. Such a claim would be in harmony with the Apostle Paul’s assertion that Jesus is the “wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24,30; Colossians 2:3). Christ Jesus is the higher and greater ‘good’ we seek in our pursuit of wisdom. As disciples, ultimately our quest for wisdom will lead us back to Jesus; he is the fullest revelation of God’s wisdom.
I have much hope that individual disciples and the collective Body of Christ will recommit themselves to a pursuit of biblical and godly wisdom. Furthermore, I continue to be convinced that disciples need to pursue wisdom like Indiana Jones pursued the biblical Ark. Such a quest will likewise be filled with adventures.
Whatever our life circumstance, if we want to avoid life’s pitfalls and reap life’s blessings, my initial counsel is to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and follow the instruction he provides in His Word. As the Preacher surveyed his life he declared “Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty” (Ecclesiastes 12:13b NLT). On this side of the cross, my counsel is to look to Jesus, the wisdom of God incarnate. Jesus not only helps us navigate life’s pitfalls, but he is also the One who gives us right standing with God when we stumble into one of those pitfalls (1 Corinthians 1:30). Jesus helps us reap life’s blessings, but even more than that, he is the source of them (Philippians 4:19).