T. PIERCE BROWN
While preparing questions on Proverbs for the Bible Bowl I was impressed again with Solomon’s statement in Proverbs 4:7, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” I decided to write an article on the subject, but to my consternation I discovered that I did not have enough wisdom to do it properly. I seemed to have far more questions than I did answers. I remembered that James said, “But if any of you lacketh wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing doubting: for he that doubteth is like the surge of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed” (James 1:5-6). So I asked God for wisdom. After I asked for wisdom I am not sure that God gave me what I needed to answer all the questions that may arise. The following are some of the questions that came to my mind for which I was not sure I had a good answer.
When a person asks for wisdom and has doubts that he knows for sure that God granted his request, does that mean he was not asking in faith? If you pray for a sick person and he gets well do you know that God answered your prayer? If you doubt that you know for sure, is this the same as doubting that He did? Even if you doubt that the recovery of the sick person was a direct response to your prayer, does that mean you lack faith in God or in the value of prayer?
When one asks for wisdom, if God grants his request, how does God give it to him? That is, is it given directly, or does God only provide the means or capacity to get it? Is it somewhat similar to what happens when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread?” Do we expect Him to send down manna from heaven, or merely provide the means and opportunity for us to get it? Is that wisdom the wisdom from above that is mentioned in James 3:17? Is God the source of all wisdom? If so, what is the wisdom of James 3:15 that is earthly, sensual, devilish? Is the Devil the source of that? Are there only two sources, or is it proper to say that man can get wisdom by his own power? Is there any difference in the wisdom one gets in answer to prayer and what he already had before he prayed? If so, is it a difference in degree or kind? That is, is one bestowed directly by the Lord, and the other gained indirectly by experience? Since Jesus advanced in wisdom (Luke 2:52), did He do that by natural means which are available to us, or did He need to pray for it, as James tells us to do?
If it were admitted, as it surely must be by Bible believers, that God gives each of us different talents, does He also give some of us greater wisdom than others? If He does not now give anyone wisdom directly or miraculously, did He ever do so, as in the case of Solomon? If Solomon’s wisdom was miraculously given, was the wisdom of the other wise men mentioned in 1 Kings 4:31 miraculous? If so, is all wisdom given by the Lord miraculous? If neither theirs nor Solomon’s was miraculous, what significance is there in saying that God gave Solomon more wisdom than all the men of the East and the men ofEgypt(1 Kings4:30)? If it was miraculous, does the fact that other men had wisdom in a lesser amount remove the miraculous element? If some wisdom is miraculously bestowed, and other wisdom comes naturally, at what point does the natural cease and the miraculous begin? Solomon apparently had enough wisdom to ask for more. Was there any difference in what he had at first and what God then gave him? If so, what was the difference?
The problems may get worse as we go on, for there is a problem about Solomon’s wisdom. He was the wisest man who ever lived with the exception of Jesus. How could a man that wise act like the biggest fool in the world? If he was wise enough to know that he could lose his soul by consorting with foreign wives, why was he not wise enough to not do it? Does wisdom differ from simply being smart or having a high degree of intelligence? If so, how? What is wisdom? What is the relationship between wisdom and knowledge? Does the Bible define wisdom? When it says, “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7) and “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom” (Job 28:28) is he defining wisdom, or merely noting some things that are wise?
Even if God answered my prayer and gave me some wisdom, it does not mean that He inspired me so that my answers to these questions will either be comprehensive or correct. The fact that I may not be able to answer all the questions properly does not mean that God did not answer my prayer, or that you and I should not continue to pray for wisdom. Let us at least try to answer some questions that may be raised about wisdom.
First, let us recognize that wisdom is not the same as being smart, nor is it the same as having knowledge, although all three are closely related. For example, you might have a very smart child who could learn very rapidly how to use a hammer and a nail, and which end of the nail should go toward the wood. That would not mean that he would be wise enough to see the dangers or difficulties that would occur if he drove the nail into your grand piano. The primary definition of wisdom would probably be that it is the ability to discern the value of the proper application of the knowledge one may have.
We do not need to know how God does a thing either in order to believe that he does, or accept the values of the thing. Knowledge or ignorance of how He causes what we eat to become brain, eyeballs, fingernails or hair does not alter the value we may get from eating properly. When we pray for God to heal the sick, it is unnecessary for us stipulate, “God, I do not want you to do anything special to bring about the answer to my prayers, for that would be asking for a miracle, so I will just ask you to bless the means–the medicine, the instruments, the doctor’s hands (whatever that means)–but I will not ask you to do anything for the patient except indirectly.” What God had to do to providentially get Moses into the bulrushes and Pharaoh’s daughter down to the water at the same time is really none of our business. To conclude that we are not able to perform miracles as Christ and the Apostles did in order to confirm the word, does not necessitate the assumption that God is therefore limited in doing whatever He chooses to answer prayer. I can believe that James meant “The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in his working” (James1:16) without having to determine how God is going to make it rain, heal the sick, or give me wisdom. All the questions, then, that deal with whether God has to do what we call a miraculous act, or whether He gives us wisdom in some other way are but speculative theological or philosophical questions that have no practical bearing on the question of how we get wisdom. To illustrate: Suppose I pray for daily bread, and in order for me to get it my garden must be watered. Whether or not He does something special to make it rain, or whatever may happen to get my garden watered, it does not remove the necessity of my doing whatever I may need to do to cultivate, plant, harvest, etc. in order to have daily bread. If I wait until I find out how God makes grass green before I will eat that which God has provided, I may starve to death.
So, when I pray for wisdom, it does not bother me that I have to continue to study, meditate, strive to find out the best way to apply what knowledge I already have, or may get in the process. When I look to God for the answers to how He wants me to apply the knowledge I have, then the wisdom I have is from above. When I arrogantly assume that by my own reasoning I can find the answers to all the problems of life, that wisdom is from beneath.
Both Paul and James point out that there are two kinds of wisdom. In 1 Corinthians 1:20-24 Paul shows clearly that the world by its own wisdom did not know God, and that all the wisdom of the world is foolishness compared to the wisdom of God. He specifically says so in 1 Corinthians 3:19, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” James says in James 3:13-17, “Who is wise and understanding among you? let him show by his good life his works in meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter jealousy and faction in your heart, glory not and lie not against the truth. This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where jealousy and faction are, there is confusion and every vile deed. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without variance, without hypocrisy.” It is reasonably certain, therefore, that if you depend on God for your wisdom, your life will be pure, peaceable, gentle, etc. If you boast in your own concepts and your reasoning does not coincide with God has revealed, you can be sure that it is not from above.
So, we must at least conclude some of the following things: 1. God promises to give a Christian the wisdom or ability to discern how to apply the knowledge he gains in whatever way he may gain that knowledge, either by study or by experience. 2. We may gain wisdom by the practice of applying what wisdom we already have to any problem, then correcting whatever errors we find. This principle is true in gaining strength, faith or health, or almost any other thing we want to increase. If we use our strength in proper exercise or work, then our strength will grow. If we pray for an increase in faith as did the Apostles, then fail to use our faith, it will die (James2:26). If we use what we have, though it is small enough to remind of us a grain of mustard seed (Matthew17:20), it will grow, and great things can be done. 3. Having wisdom is no assurance that we will use it properly. An alcoholic may be wise enough to know that he is losing his health, family and money, but lacks the will to stop his foolish actions. Though we may not understand how Solomon could, with all his wisdom, act so foolish, we have the same problem with ourselves. Sin is not rational and wisdom will not prevent it. There are many other values of studying about wisdom, and we hope this has provoked you to do some studying on your own, then apply what wisdom you gain to your own life.