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Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it. In Scripture wisdom is a moral as well as an intellectual quality, more than mere intelligence or knowledge. To be truly wise, in the Bible sense, one's intelligence and cleverness must be harnessed to a right end. What does the Bible mean when it calls God wise? Wisdom is, in fact, the practical side of moral goodness. As such, it is found in its fulness only in God. He alone is naturally and entirely and invariabley wise. "His wisdom ever eaketh," says the hymn, and it is true. God is never other than wise in anything that He does. Wisdom, as the old theologians use to say, is His essence, just as power, and truth, and goodness, are His essence -- intergral elements, that is, in His character.

God's almighty wisdom is always active, and never fails. All His works of creation and providence and grace display it, and uuntil we can see it in them we just are not seeing them straight. But we cannot redognise God's wisdom unless we know the end for which He is working. Here many go wrong. Misunderstanding what the Bible means when it says that God is love (1John 4:8-10), they think that God intends a trouble-free life for all, irrespective of their moral and spiritual state, and hence they conclude that anything painful and upsetting (illness, accident, injury, loss of a job, the suffering of a loved one) indicates either that God's wisdom, or power, or both, have broken down, or that God, after all, does not exist. But this idea of God's intention is a complete mistake. God's wisdom is not, and never was, pledged to keep a fallen world happy, or to make ungodliness comfortable. Not even to Christians has He promised a trouble-free life; rather the reverse. He has other ends in view for life in this world than simply to make it easy for everyone.

What is He after, then? What is His goal? What does He aim at? When He made man, His purpose was that man should love and honor Him, praising Him for the wonderfully ordered complexity and variety of His world, using it according to His will, and so enjoying both it and Him. And though man has fallen, god has not abandoned His first purpose. Still He plans that a great host of mankind should come to love and honor Him. His ultimate objective is to bring them to a state in which they please Him entirely and praise Him adequately, a state in which He is all in all to them, and He and they rejoice continually in the knowledge of each other's love -- people rejoicing in the saving love God, set upon them from all eternity, and God rejoicing in the responsive love of people, drawn out of them by grace through the gospel.

This will be God's "glory", and man's "glory" too, in every sense which theat weighty word can bear. But it will only be fully realized in the next world, in the context of a transformation of the whole created order. Meanwhile, however, God works steadily towards it. His immediate objectives are to draw individual men and women into a relationship of faith, hope, and love, towards Himself, delivering them from sin and showing forth in their lives the power of His grace: to defend His people against the forces of evil; and to spread throughout the world the gospel by means of which He saves.

When the old Reformed theologians dealt with the attributes of God, they used to classify them into two groups: incommunicable and communicable.

In the first group, they put those qualities which highlight God's transcendence and show how vastly different a being He is from us, His creatures. The usual list was -- God's independence (self-existence and self-sufficiency); His immutability (entire freedom from change, leading to consistency in action); His infinity (freedom from all limits of time and space: i.e., His eternity and omnipresence); and His simplicity (the fact that there are in Him no elements that can conflict, so that, unlike man, He cannot be torn different ways by divergent thoughts and desires). The theologians called these qualities incommunicable because they are characteristic of God alone. Mankind does not and cannot share any of them.

In the second group, the theologians lumped together qualities like God's spirituality, freedom, and omnipotence, along with all His moral attributes -- goodness, truthfulness, holiness, righteousness, etc. What was the principle of classification here? It was this -- that when God made man, He communicated to him qualities corresponding to all these. This is what the Bible means when it tells us that God made man in His own image (Genesis 1:26) -- namely, that God made man a free spiritual being, a responsible moral agent with powers of choice and action, able to communicate with Him and respond to Him, and by nature good, truthful, holy, upright (Ecclesiastes 7:29): in a word, godly.

The moral qualities which belonged to the divine image were lost in the Fall (Genesis 3:1-24); God's image in man has been universally defaced, for all mankind has in one way or another lapsed into ungodliness. But the Bible tells us that now, in fulfilment of His plan of redemption, God is at work in Christian believers to repair His ruined image by communicating these qualities to them afresh. This is what Scripture means when it says that Christians are being renewed in the image of Christ (2Corinthians 3:18) and of God (Colossians 3:10).

Among these communicable attributes, the theologians put wisdom. As God is wise in Himself, so He imparts wisdom to mankind.

Whence comes wisdom? What steps must a person take to lay hold of this gift? There are two prerequisites, according to Scripture. First, one must learn to reverence God. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 1:7: 9:10: 15:33). Not till we have become humble and teachable, standing in owe of God's holiness and sovereignty ("the great and terrible God" Nehemiah 1:5; 4:14; 9:32; Deuteronomy 7:21; 10:17; Psalms 99:3), acknowledging our own littleness, distrusting our own thoughts, and willing to have our minds turned upside down, can divine wisdom become ours. It is to be feared that many Christians spend all their lives in too unhumbled and conceited a frame of mind ever to gain wisdom from God at all. Not for nothing does Scripture say, "with the lowly is wisdom" (Proverbs 11:2).

Then, second, one must learn to receive God's word. Wisdom is divinely wrought in those, and those only, who apply themselves to God's revelation. "Your commands make me wiser than my enemies," declares the psalmist, "I have more understanding than all my teachers." why? -- "I love your law! I meditate on it all day long " (Psalm 119:97-99). So Paul admonishes the Colossians: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom" (Colossians 3:16). How are we of the twentieth century to do this? By soaking ourselves in the Scriptures, which, as Paul told Timothy "are able to make you wise unto salvation" through faith in Christ, and to perfect the man of God for "all good works (2Timothy 3:15-17).

But what sort of thing is God's gift of wisdom? What effect does it have on a person? Here many go wrong. We can make clear the nature of their mistake by an illustration.

If you stand at the end of a platform at a train station, you can watch a constant succession of engine and train movements which, if you are a railway enthusiast, will greatly fascinate you. But you will only be able to form a very rough and general idea of the overall plan in terms of which of all these movements are being determined (the operational pattern set out in the working time-table, modified if need be on a minute-to-minute basis according to the actual running of the trains). If, however, you are privileged enough to be taken by one of the railroad managers into the main signal station, you will see on a diagram the entire track layout for five miles on either side of the train station. You will see little glow-worm lights moving or stationary on the different tracks to show the signalmen at a glance the location of every engine, car, and train. At once you will be able to look at the whole situation through the eyes of the persons who control it; you will see from the diagram why it was that this train had to be signaled to a halt, and that one diverted from its normal running line, and that one parked temporarily in a siding. The why and the wherefore off all these movements becomes plain, once you can see the overall positions and plan.

Now the mistake that is commonly made is to suppose that this is an illustration of what God does when He bestows wisdom: to suppose, in other words, that the gift of wisdom consists of a deepened insight into the providential meaning and purpose of events going on around us, an ability to see why God has done what He has done in a particular case, and what He is going to do next. People feel that if they were really walking close to God, He would impart wisdom to them freely, then they would, so to speak, find themselves in the main signal station. They would be able to discern the real purpose of everything that had happened to them, and it would be clear to them that in every moment how God was making all things work together for good. Such people spend much time poring over divine 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.

Christians suffering from either physical, mental, or spiritual depression may drive themselves almost crazy with this kind of futile enquiry. For it is futile; make no mistake about that. It is true that when God has given us guidance by application of principles He will on occasion confirm it to us by unusual providence, which we recognize at once as corroborative signs. But this is quite a different thing from trying to read a message about God's secret purposes out of wisdom consisting in the power to do this, the gift actually presupposes our conscious inability to do it; as we shall seen in a moment.

We ask again; what does it mean for God to give us wisdom? What kind of gift is it?

If another transport illustration may be permitted, it is like being taught to drive. What matters in driving is the speed and the appropriateness of your reactions to things, and the soundness of your judgement as to the scope of the situation. You do not ask yourself why the road should narrow or screw itself into a dogleg wiggle just where it does, nor why that van should be parked where it is, nor why the person driving in front of you should hug the middle of the road so lovingly; you simply try to see and do the right thing in the actual situation that presents itself. The effect of divine wisdom is to enable you and me to do just that in the actual situations of everyday life.

To drive well, you have to keep your eyes focused to notice exactly what is in front of you. To live wisely, you have to be clear-sighted and realistic -- ruthlessly so -- in looking at life as it is. Wisdom will not go with comforting illusions, false sentiment, or the use of rose-colored spectacles. Most of us live in a dream world, with our heads in the clouds and our feet off the ground; we never see the world, and our lives in it, as they really are. This deep-seated, sin-bred unrealism is one reason why there is so little wisdom among us -- even the soundest and most orthodox of us. It takes more than sound doctrine to cure us of unrealism. There is, however, one book in Scripture that is expressly designed to turn us into realists: and that is the book of Ecclesiastes. We need to play more heed to its message than we commonly do.

This text was taken mostly from: Chapters 9 and 10 of: "Knowing God" by J.I.Packer, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois 60515.

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