Pearls or Just Fools Gold?

By Ben Swift

Now if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all generously and without reproach; and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)

If we understand wisdom to be the ability to make good use of knowledge and to recognise right from wrong, it would be safe to say that the path to wisdom is lined with an overwhelming amount of advice on where to find it.

Consider Plato’s Symposium: Then Socrates sat down, and said, “How fine it would be, Agathon, if wisdom were a sort of thing that could flow out of the one of us who is fuller into him who is emptier, by our mere contact with each other, as water flows through wool from the fuller cup into the emptier.”

The question we must ask ourselves then is, “What will be the source of the wisdom filling our cup?”

While the current trend in the Western World is to see wisdom subjectively and to gather it from an assortment of proclaimed truths that appeal to the individual, elements of Eastern Religion have crept into the psyche of many wearing the spiritual tag. It’s interesting to note however, the influential roots of many Eastern Religions, particularly those who have their roots in the Vedas. According to Roberto Calasso in his book, ‘Ardor’, Vedic men developed many of their ideas on wisdom while under the influence of soma, a drink containing hallucinogenic properties. Not only did the Vedic men depend on soma as their source of life but they worshiped it and its ability to give immortality. Consider the following quote as recorded by Calasso: “O King Soma, prolong our days like the sun prolongs the days of spring.”

At this point it is important to confront the popular notion that all religions are compatible and that their teachings can be co-accepted by the individual without internal conflict. Ravi Zacharias makes a strong point when he suggests, “My premise is that the popular aphorism that ‘all religions are fundamentally the same and only superficially different’ simply is not true. It is more correct to say that all religions are, at best, superficially similar but fundamentally different.”

Martin Luther recognised that ancient philosophers such as Aristotle provided a certain level of insight in regards to life’s big questions but he also understood the limitations to their wisdom. According to Luther, “There is little question that philosophy does not know the efficient cause and the final cause as it relates to the human being. As regards to the final cause, philosophy does not go beyond one’s earthly journey; and it does not know that the efficient cause is God the Creator.”

It is for this reason that true wisdom, considered as foolishness to those who do not know God, can only be found in the author of creation or ‘The Word’. Theologian Neil Cullan McKinlay suggests, “According to Christian philosophy and theology all thought that does not acknowledge Jesus Christ to be at its source tends towards the irrational because it lacks Christ as its solid or absolute point of reference.”

For the message about the execution-stake is nonsense to those in the process of being destroyed, but to us in the process of being saved it is the power of God. Indeed, the Tanakh says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and frustrate the intelligence of the intelligent.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19)

For we who earnestly seek wisdom in its true form, it makes sense that we should be concerned with Christ. This cannot be merely an intellectual pursuit but requires the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, the wisdom held in Scripture will continue to appear foolish and the narrow gate will continue to elude us as delusion takes hold. Paul makes this point time and again, particularly in Romans 12:2,

“Do not conform yourselves any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  

While there is much to say concerning the wisdom presented in Scripture, it is important to understand that our human wisdom can only be made complete in Christ. Graeme Goldsworthy in his book, ‘Gospel and Wisdom’, expresses this well when he writes: ‘Christ justifies our confused wisdom by having perfect human wisdom for us. He sanctifies our confused wisdom by patterning the truth and by giving his Holy Spirit to lead us in the paths of that truth. Finally he will glorify our wisdom when we are renewed through our resurrection and are made to reflect his character perfectly.’

Louis Berkhof suggests that all of this occurs because God always chooses the best means for the realisation of his purposes. He calls it, ‘That perfection of God whereby He applies His knowledge to the attainment of His ends in a way which glorifies Him most.’

Life can be a powerful teacher. It can help to build neural pathways that lead to a maturing ability to make decisions but let us be aware that wisdom of this kind is limited. It is better to combine what we learn from life experience with the wisdom that is made perfect in Christ. It follows then that all wisdom be tested according to the teachings laid out in God’s Word.

My Purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:2-3)  

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