Tuning in to Wisdom

“But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” – Psalm 130:4
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” – Proverbs 9:10

So far, I’ve written about Jesus as the only Answer to our need for purpose.  He is the only one qualified to be the Truth we can rely on, the Way to our salvation, and the Life that can restore us to what we are intended to be.  Jesus is the cornerstone upon which we must build our lives and impact the world around us, as a witness to the God who loves us and offers us a new heaven and new earth where His purpose and our purpose are perfectly aligned.

God’s “perfect system” exists only in heaven, but in this world, He calls His people to do His work, pointing the way to His kingdom. But if we are to create for His glory, we require His wisdom, which I briefly mentioned last time as “set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth”, and there, “like a master workman”[1] To all the people and kingdoms of the world, His call is to repentance. If you want utopia, you need to go through Him.

Now we come down from the almost cosmic level of the prior posts to the level of the individual.

Learning Fear

What follows started with me pondering Psalm 130:4: “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”  I read this a few weeks ago and initially thought it was backwards: why does knowing that God forgives make us fear Him more?  Shouldn’t we fear Him less when forgiven?  Also, if “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom”[2] then to find purpose we need wisdom, and to have wisdom we need fear.

Getting Psalm 130:4 to make sense with the order of forgiveness, fear, and then wisdom required a re-thinking of repentance.  My conclusion was: the one who has not been forgiven has not repented, and the reason they did not repent was that they did not fear God.  They did not understand Him properly.

But the one who has been forgiven has repented, and they repented because they understood that was the best thing for them to do.  A proper understanding and respect for God’s character makes us turn to Him with our guilt, rather than run away from Him.  We should not be afraid of God, where we are motivated to passivity – avoiding mistakes that would anger the one we fear.  We fear God in that we revere Him and respect His authority, thus actively seeking to please Him.  When we pray and ask for forgiveness, it’s often a simple prayer made with the proverbial faith of a child, but if you unpack the implications, prayers of repentance acknowledge:

1) Him as the source of the law, the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong
2) Him as the righteous judge who is personally offended by our sin
3) His omniscience, knowing we cannot hide our sin
4) His uniqueness, as there is no other God to turn to
5) His steadfast love for us, knowing He bore the cost of our sin, and therefore we can approach Him
6) His compassion since He lived as a man
7) His power and willingness to heal us
8) His consistency of character: that He is not arbitrary
9) …and more

If we don’t implicitly or explicitly believe these things, then why repent and ask forgiveness from God?  Why expect to get it?  Exploring that set of statements could fill multiple volumes of theology books, but we don’t need that knowledge.  Fortunately, in His grace, He honors our heartfelt confessions.  He paid the price for all our inadequacies – even when we don’t fully understand our own prayers or who we’re praying to.  The Spirit pleads with the Father on our behalf[3].  Without His inexhaustible grace, our doubt on any one of these points might prevent us from repentance.  Mercifully, our forgiveness is based on His faithfulness to us: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9

The righteous must live by faith because otherwise God would be playing whack-a-mole with our doubts for eternity.  Faith – our trust in God – is imperfect but it is the only thing that can bridge the gap between the faith of a child and the omniscience of God, who knows all our doubts and all their answers.  We come as we are.

In pondering Psalm 130:4, I better appreciate how complex, and in fact, miraculous, repentance really is.  Genuine repentance leads to forgiveness, which gives us a better appreciation of who God is.  We will have lived Psalm 34:8 for ourselves:

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”

Only through your acceptance of the cross, where Christ’s atoning blood was shed for you, can God in His Holiness commune with you.  Only through forgiveness will the Holy Spirit come and live in you – the indwelling referred to last time.  Only by tasting of His goodness do we really know what He is like.  It requires participation on our part.  If you never repent, you don’t know what it tastes like, only what you’ve been told.  And you might not have been told the truth.

So, forgiveness enables proper fear of the Lord, and the fear of the Lord enables wisdom, but what’s wisdom?

Upgrading Wisdom

I’ve had some sort of working definition of “wisdom” for most of my life.  As a teenager, I remember joking that it was the ability to learn from other people’s mistakes.  Sounded teenager-wise, but how do I know what’s a mistake?  Later, I read somewhere about wisdom being “skill at living life”.  Also sounds useful, but perhaps vague and worldly feeling.  Even later in life, I started thinking of it as “being able to make decisions based on facts, instead of wishful thinking.”  This has been even more useful, but which facts do you follow?  How do you choose between two “true” options?

Now I have a new definition: Wisdom is the ability to choose between the path of righteousness and the path of the wicked.  Reading the Psalms and Proverbs specifically, there is a contrast between these “paths”, and an idea that moral decisions are like a route between places.  You can be on one path or the other, and with wisdom, “you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path”[4]

You may be thinking: “that sounds like a moral compass!”  I’ll respond with: “you need to upgrade your technology.  We use GPS now!”  Let me explain.

A compass is too simple a metaphor.  Wisdom is usually not like a clear sign pointing the way, although God can use whatever means He chooses.  In our experience, wisdom is more like one voice among many on a broken Moral GPS system, that speaks about all “political, social, cultural, personal, moral, religious and spiritual”[5] factors in our environment and from our experience.  It tells us to go places we shouldn’t and not to go places we should, weighing pros and cons in multiple voices.

A pre-Christian GPS considers all these factors, and a person makes decisions as they see fit to prioritize among them.  Salvation requires realizing the GPS is broken, trusting someone who knows how to fix it, and then striving to follow the new instructions.  When this happens, a Christian gets an added feature in their Moral GPS, a “Holy Spirit download” that adds one more (heavenly, loving) voice to the cacophony.  The Spirit speaks of the justice and righteousness referred to in both Proverbs 2:9 and in Isaiah 28:17. The Spirit speaks with the wisdom needed to measure from the cornerstone and fulfill our purpose as individuals in God’s image.

As we make decisions in the world, they reflect an inner decision, as we consult our Moral GPS, but remembering that it’s still a broken system.  Proverbs 1 contains an interesting parable.  As we walk down the streets of our inner map, Wisdom calls out and raises her voice in the markets (Pr. 1:20): “If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you” (Pr. 1:23).  But the streets are noisy (also Pr. 1:20) and you continue down the wrong street (perhaps to take shelter from the voices in your head).  Wisdom refuses to answer when you discover your mistake too late.  If you respond to wisdom, you get more wisdom.

A funnier example is in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, where Lancelot is rescuing Galahad from the Castle Anthrax.  The women of the castle live alone without men and when the knights stumble by (fooled by a false Holy Grail), the women try to seduce them into staying.  Galahad should know the right thing to do, because 1) he is nicknamed “the Chaste”, and 2) the castle is named Anthrax. However, the lure of Zoot and the other women is so strong that Lancelot must forcefully drag him away.  They argue: “Can’t I have just a little peril?”  “No, it’s too perilous”.

Sometimes we have the grace of a Lancelot to save us from falling into the trap set by the wrong voices in our moral GPS.  Sometimes we’re alone.  Sometimes we’re among people who want us to do wrong.  In these cases, the strength to choose wisely must come from inside.  Back in Proverbs 1:29, wisdom says people go on the wrong path because “they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord”, suggesting that’s the deciding factor.

Absent Lancelot dragging us away, it is the fear of the Lord that makes us listen to, and act in, wisdom instead of going any which way.  It is the fear of the Lord that makes us listen to the correct voice in the broken GPS, to weigh that voice above the others.  The Holy Spirit may or may not add facts to the conversation, but it adds God’s heavenly perspective, influencing us to choose what is eternally valuable.  God does not want to drag us kicking and screaming into righteousness; He wants us to be thankful for His love and trust Him to know what’s best for us.  He knows about, and cares deeply about, every possible consequence of our actions to us and to others, not just the ones we see, or even want.

Wisdom is about taking the right action, not about accumulating facts.  Facts matter, but any voice can have facts.  In context of the Great Commandments[6], wisdom is what tells us how to love God and others actively, but in a way based on obedience that leaves the results to God.  In the book of Acts, Ananias didn’t minister to Saul, the notorious persecutor of Christians, because he thought it would end up well for Ananias[7], he did it because God told him to, and God knew that future Saul was Paul, the author of much of the New Testament.  Ananias didn’t decide based on the facts as he knew them, but he adjusted the facts in light of revelation from God.  Also, wisdom might sometimes tell you the best action is to do nothing.  Sometimes wisdom flashes a red light while others are flashing green.  “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” – Pr. 14:12 and 16:25.

Wisdom is why the Way, the Truth and the Life must be a person, not a set of rules or philosophy.   Truly, only you, in relationship with God through the Holy Spirit, can figure out what your purpose and identity in the body of Christ are.  Wisdom is proactive and specific to you.  Nobody else’s situation is your situation, and nobody else has the same relationships, abilities, and resources.  Books, advice, and experience can be helpful, but you need to “taste and see” the Holy Spirit in you, working at your very core where only He can reach.

Wisdom will put you on a path that provides you, and this world, a taste of heaven.  It is informed by a justice and righteousness – God’s law and Christ’s character – that is not of this world.  With wisdom you can build and create on the cornerstone of Christ.  The world might not like it, but the world is not your Creator.

Fulfilling our purpose requires Wisdom and Grace, motivated by Godly fear – perhaps even the boldness of Caleb in the wilderness to face giants despite the majority opinion[8].  The next post, God willing, will be about combating the other voices in the Moral GPS.

Future Topics: Mind Your Own Business, Learning from Chaos, Walking on Water, some song analysis, recycled posts from my old, defunct blog, and hopefully much more!

Thanks for reading – comment below and/or share if you want.  What was meaningful to you?  What did you disagree with?  How do you define wisdom?  How does the world?

[1] Proverbs 8:22-31
[2] Proverbs 9:10a
[3] Romans 8:26-27
[4] Proverbs 2:9
[5] See last post.  These are some arenas of opposition defeated by Christ on the cross, and that He wants His people to influence.
[6] Matthew 22:37-39.  In short, love God and love your neighbor.
[7] Acts 9:13
[8] Numbers 13:30

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