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The Pursuit and Limits of True Wisdom

The Pursuit of True Wisdom.

Our pursuit of wisdom ought to be conditioned by the truths we have already considered. When we look into the Bible for guidance in connection with the psychology of learning we do not find that the primary emphasis is upon study or intellectual perception. One may exhaust oneself in the pursuit of knowledge but if one is off course from the outset it will all be in vain. "Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh." (Ecclesiastes 12.12) A mere absorbing information or development of mental powers is futile without the right starting point. What is necessary first of all is a correct attitude of heart. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." (Proverbs 9.10) A right relationship for creatures to their God is one of reverential awe and humble submission. When we reckon ourselves to be standing in the presence of the Holy One and consider that he requires of us to be as he is we have understanding. It is then that we know that only as we humbly depend upon Him and look to Him have we any prospect of making progress. All our proud self-confidence must be put away. Improvement depends not upon our acuteness but His grace. "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." (Proverbs 3.5,6)

When we have this faith commitment and self-renunciation we will call upon God to help us in his way. James encourages us in this duty. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." (James 1.5) Likewise Solomon persuades us that we are not to seek it elsewhere, "For the Lord giveth wisdom; out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding." (Proverbs 2.6) God's knowledge is original, ultimate and complete and we must draw from Him, the fountain of living waters. When we do so our dependent and partial knowledge rests upon a firm foundation. It is sometimes said that we must "think God's thoughts after Him." He gives, we receive. If we would be wise our daily disposition must be one of penitence, humility, faith and prayerfulness.

Turning to the question of the ordinary means that God uses in giving wisdom we find that the Bible emphasizes "instruction". Whatever role personal experience has to play as a method of acquiring wisdom it is first and foremost the instruction of godly parents, teachers and ministers that is commended to us in the Word of God. Those who have steeped themselves in the truth are equipped to lead others in true wisdom. "My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: ... so shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man." (Proverbs 3. 1,4) God equips them for the task and God requires others to attend to them. "Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end." (Proverbs 19.20) Progress in the path of true wisdom requires humility, repentance, faith, awe and prayer as well as hearing and following the "words of the wise."

What man is he that fears

    the Lord, and doth him serve?

Him shall he teach the way that he

    shall chuse, and still observe

His soul shall dwell at ease;

    and his posterity

Shall flourish still, and of the earth

    inheritors shall be.

The Limits of True Wisdom.

Before proceeding further it is necessary for us to check ourselves by considering the limitations of true wisdom. It is all too easy to embark upon the pursuit of wisdom with unrealistic aspirations. Indeed it is part of our natural pride to anticipate that every door must eventually open to the intellectual probes of men. To set out in search of a partial understanding of things strikes us at first sight as rather unsatisfying. It is however an incomplete knowledge that we must learn to be content with. We are the clay, not the Potter. We are finite creatures, not the infinite God. "When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth...Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it, yea further; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it." (Ecclesiastes 8.16,17)

Penetration to the ultimate knowledge even of earthly things is not within the abilities of the wisest of men. We are not to imagine that the greatest achievements of scientific enquiry are anything more than scratching the surface of the works of God. The Lord's words to Job remain as relevant in the twentieth century as in his day. "Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons? Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth? (Job 38.31-33) We are little people in the presence of the great God and "no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end." (Ecclesiastes 3.11b) There must be no attempt at an exhaustive knowledge of history or its environment because it would be in vain! "I said, I will be wise: but it was far from me. That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?" (Ecclesiastes 7. 23b,24)

All this is of great practical importance. The knowledge to which we can attain is sufficient for our present needs but we must beware of constructing a man-made all comprehensive system. Such is not our task. The diversity of creatures finds its interpretative unity in God's eternal decree. He has planned all things and it is the unfolding of that plan that enables us to relate all of the various parts to the whole. This eternal purpose guarantees that when we "think God's thoughts after him" our knowledge is true knowledge even though we do not know the whole completely and thoroughly as God does. He fully understands everything about all His creatures and knows all of their inter-relationships. We must be content with that measure of knowledge that is attainable by us through the consideration of His Word and works, and beware of seeking to fit everything into man-made systems of classification. Created reality has received its structures and unity by virtue of its formation by the Divine Planner and we are dependent upon this absolute system of truth and cannot proceed beyond that which has been revealed of it.

Our wisdom can never pass beyond the bounds which God has set for it and the more we recognize this the more progress we will make. Let Job have the final word. "Whence then cometh wisdom? and where is the place of understanding? Seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of the air. Destruction and death, say, we have heard the fame thereof with our ears, God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof...And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom: and to depart from evil is understanding." (Job 28. 20-23,28)

Memory Verse

"For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding" (Proverbs 2 .6)

Vocabulary

Define the following words:

conditioned, preceding, psychology

intellectual, perception, reverential awe

renunciation, ultimate, dependent

partial, disposition, penitence

embark, unrealistic, aspirations

penetration, exhaustive, environment

exceeding, diversity, interpretative

inter-relationships, attainable

Further reading

Job 38 and 39

Questions to answer

1. What does the Bible regard as the prerequisite in connection with being truly wise?

2. How should we approach God?

3. Complete the following: "If any of you lack____________, let him

ask of ____________, that giveth to all men_______________, and

_______________ _______________; and it _______________

_______________ _______________ _______________."

4. What can be said about God's knowledge?

5. What is the ordinary means God uses in giving wisdom?

6. What does human pride expect?

7. Why must we be content with an incomplete knowledge?

8. What do we learn about the limits of true wisdom from the books of

Job and Ecclesiastes?

9. Where can we find something that unifies all things as the parts of a whole?

10. What can be learnt from Job 28.20-23,28 about true wisdom?

Things to do

Make a list of the creatures mentioned in Job 38 and 39 and some of the things we know about them. In a third column state what man cannot do in connection with them.

Creatures in Job 38 -39

Creature mentioned

Things we know about it

Things beyond our knowledge and control in connection with it.

     
     

Essays

1. "I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me."

2. The horse