Thursday, 13 March 2008

Biblical wisdom, Biblical folly

What does it mean to be wise, and what does it mean to be foolish?

In the modern west, we're trained to think of these things in terms of "cleverness". Professor Boffins is wise, for he has many letters after his name. The Bible, though teaches something radically different.

In Biblical terms, the foolish person is not the slow person. It is rather the person who leaves God out of their thinking. On the other side of the coin, the wise man is the person who begins his thinking with his Maker. The two classic verses on these subjects are these:
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction." - Proverbs 1:7
"The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'"- Psalm 14:1
To modern secular thinkers, this itself sounds foolish. To the modern secularist, "religion" is something personal, private and doubtful. The philosophers, theologians and others can discuss it - but it's something of a side-issue as far as the daily mechanics of life are concerned.

Given, though, the reality of God, the Bible's teaching on wisdom and folly is actually the only thing that can fit with it. Modern secularism is really atheism in a poor disguise. Given that we are created and live in a created universe, sustained at all times by our Maker - what could be more stupid than to treat him as irrelevant or a debatable point? In him we live, move and have our being. We cannot keep our own souls alive; he is the basis for all the essential phenomena of human life: our existence and consciousness as personal, willing and acting moral beings: maker, sustainer, provider and final judge. It follows as night follows day that wisdom means to walk in his fear and to seek him. To behave as if we are independent of him is the highest foolishness.

The Bible, then, treats wisdom and folly not as intellectual matters but as moral ones. You can be a professor at Oxford University and yet one of the most foolish men on the planet. Which brings us on to the Bible's explanation of just why people like Richard Dawkins take the stance they do. Psalm 14:1, begun above, continues as follows:

"They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that does good."

God's word traces the human tendency to leave him out of our thinking to a prior moral failure. We say "no God" and act that way, because we want to. We desire there to be no God: we wish to act autonomously, as if we were answerable to no-one. It suits us to call ourselves "boss", and do as we feel is best for our own interests. It's hard, though, to fight against our created nature. The leopard can't remove his spots, and we can't actually achieve the autonomy we wish existed. Why do Professor Dawkins and those of his ilk get so angry about the being who they say has no existence? Would it make sense for me to lose my rag about how my wife burns my dinner every day - whilst also insisting that I'd never been married? I think not!

True wisdom is to submit to God in Jesus Christ. The Bible's explanation of wisdom and folly exposes the fact that it's not just Dawkins & co. who have a problem with folly. The roots of it lie in all our hearts, though expressed in different ways. True wisdom today means to live deliberately and self-consciously for the honour of your maker, and to believe in his Son, receiving forgiveness and power from him to live in a God-pleasing way.

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