God’s wisdom is the application of His knowledge to achieve His best purpose.
Daniel 2:20-22: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.”
Psalm 104:24: “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”
Romans 11:33: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
Colossians 2:2b-3: “Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”3
Discussion of the apologetic implications of God’s wisdom will be brief, as the implications of God’s wisdom for apologetics mirror those of God’s knowledge. As with knowledge, God is the source of all wisdom, or the proper understanding of how knowledge is applied. God is the “only wise God” (Romans 16:27), perfect in knowledge and perfect in the application of knowledge. Thus, as truth is that which conforms to God’s revealed truth, so true wisdom is that which conforms to God’s revealed wisdom. No higher standard for wisdom exists than God’s wisdom.
The essential nature of unbelief, God’s justice and the requirement for eternal life, and the application of the saving benefits of Christ’s redeeming work are the same in any age or culture. Therefore, God’s perfect wisdom is always right and best in any circumstance or culture. God always uses the best means to accomplish the best end, and has appointed us to use the best means to accomplish the best end. Again, different contexts in which we present the Gospel require sensitivity to culture and other issues.4 We must be careful to not create unnecessary barriers to our ability to bring the Gospel to people of a different background and experience by making non-essentials of our own culture into essentials within another culture.
Yet, our tendency to dilute or alter the Gospel and God’s revealed means of proclaiming it poses a greater problem. In perfect wisdom God has ordained both the message and the means of redeeming people from their sin. The unredeemed world, however, views the message and messengers as foolish. Unbelievers cannot discern the excellence of Christ, the Gospel, and the things of the Spirit of God, for they are “spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:6-8).
The clearer the Gospel message, the stronger will be opposition to it and our temptation to make it more acceptable to unbelief. For example, as our culture views the exclusivity of the cross as narrow and bigoted, so we are tempted to broaden the grace of salvation to include those who have not placed saving faith in Christ alone. We are tempted to deny the ultimate authority of Scripture by reducing inerrancy to concepts only, while transforming extraordinary biblical events into mere metaphors or theological illustrations, devoid of historicity. We can downplay, ignore, or redefine the true nature of sin and the need of repentance, or ignore or redefine its consequences. Opposition to God and the Gospel of Christ tempts us to substitute our finite wisdom for God’s perfect wisdom.
But, true wisdom is wisdom from God. We depend upon God for all knowledge and wisdom. God knows best. When we ignore God’s wisdom in Scripture, we depend on our own finite and corrupted opinion and imitate a world that views the wisdom of God in the Gospel of Christ as “foolish.”5 Should we be driven by a culture that views the best as worst, the wise as foolish, and the supremely excellent as worthy of death by crucifixion? Unbelieving opposition to Christ should not guide the apologetic method and message. The Gospel “commands our respect; whoever slights it, it is as much as if he slighted Jesus Christ himself.”6 Here again, to substitute our wisdom for God’s wisdom is to foolishly and irreverently exalt our authority over the authority of God.
God’s wisdom and providence in our circumstances are often discerned best in hindsight. We lack exhaustive understanding of how our circumstances fit in the greater tapestry of God’s ordering of every detail of the universe according to His purposes. We know that “all things work together for our good” and that God brings trials and troubles to refine our faith and increase our hope. We know He is sovereign over the affairs of our life. Nonetheless, our perspective and objectivity are usually greater looking back than when we are struggling in the pain and confusion of a trial.
For example, Joseph did not immediately understand the ultimate purpose of God in the actions of his brothers when he was sold into slavery and taken to Egypt, or when he was thrown into prison on the false charges of Potiphar’s wife. Joseph did not immediately understand God’s wisdom in sending him to Egypt until he became the ruler of Egypt and the savior of Jacob and the twelve tribes of Israel. We now know that God used him to save the family line through which the Messiah would come. Moses did not immediately understand the value of tending wandering sheep in the wilderness for forty years until he led a wandering people in the wilderness for forty years. Few of the mourners lining the road to Golgotha understood that the suffering of Christ was the greatest display of God’s glory and the means of their own salvation and exaltation.
God has given us all we need to trust His perfect wisdom, but as created, finite, dependent, and corrupted people, we are unqualified to question God’s wisdom in our personal circumstances.
Atheists will often deny the existence of God by pointing to the moral evil and natural disasters in the world. They ask, how could a good God exist when there is so much suffering in the world? Yet, as we cannot fully understand the infinite wisdom of God in the affairs of our own circumstances, so we are incapable of fully understanding God’s wisdom in history. Created, finite, and dependent people cannot justifiably deny God’s existence by claiming to not see God’s wisdom in the world. Great mystery will always confront created, finite, and dependent people. We can only know what God has chosen to reveal to us regarding His reign and rule of the universe. God’s sovereign rule over all the affairs of the universe is infinitely wise, whether we understand it or not.
Nonetheless, God’s wisdom in creation and providence is clearly revealed in the universe. As noted with respect to God as the creator of all things, the fingerprints of God’s power and genius are on all things, including the stars in the sky, the food on our table, and the law of God written on every heart. Sinners suppress and reject this clear, comprehensive, and convincing knowledge of God.7 Mystery, in this case, is self-inflicted.
Also, Scripture plainly teaches that humanity is responsible for the moral corruptions of the world, not God. Interestingly, those most bent on affirming the free and sovereign will of people are often the most adamant in denying responsibility for the evil it produces. Atheists, for instance, claim that a sovereign and good God cannot exist in a world where free agents are responsible for their own sin. While they freely admit responsibility for their choices, they deny accountability for them before God. Yet, even while denying His existence, many still find reason to curse God for the free actions of people. It can all be a bit confusing. In any event, “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD” (Proverbs 19:3).
Of course, unbelievers are incapable of knowing that the God of Scripture cannot exist because evil exists. Such claims exalt personal opinion over the revelation of God, the very sin of Adam and Eve that brought about the calamities in the world in the first place. The refusal to admit to mystery with respect to God’s providence is merely a refusal to accept one’s own finite and dependent status before an infinite God.
We cannot always understand the perfect wisdom of God in His providence by viewing the circumstances of this profoundly wicked world. But our limitations do not justify drawing conclusions beyond our limited human capabilities. We will not understand many things until we are in heaven and see the wisdom of God’s providence more clearly. Such is the reality of a finite creature in a world created and sustained by an infinite, transcendent God. In the meantime, we trust that “God is the best judge of the seasons of distributing his own mercies, and darting out his own glory,”8 while accepting the fact that responsibility for moral evil lies with those who commit it.
“Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
1 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 193.
2 Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 69. See also Charnock, Existence and Attributes, 270-1.
4 Again, this is not to deny contextualization, but to place limits upon it.
5 J. B. Phillips translates Romans 12:2 as follows: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.” J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, First American Edition (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1965).
6 Charnock, Existence and Attributes, 264.
7 See Romans 1:18ff.
8 Charnock, Existence and Attributes, 64.