The Wisdom of God
If you have been reading this blog, you have probably figured out that it is about knowing God’s ways. I believe knowing God is life’s greatest endeavor. We can spend our days seeking God’s blessings and as a result see His hand, but those who seek to know His ways get to see His face.
To discern God’s heart, we must look past the finite to the infinite and beyond the wisdom of the world to the wisdom of God.
When we ponder God’s ways, we often think about good and evil. Many people suppose God’s greatest concern is getting the bad behavior out of our lives and replacing it with good. To walk on God’s path is to forsake evil and do good.
Yet, the difference between the world’s wisdom and God’s is far greater than evil versus good. In Jesus’s day, the Pharisees made it their life’s ambition to figure out what God thought was good and what He thought was evil. For instance, God said not to work on the Sabbath, but what was work? What could they do and not do on God’s holy day? To make sure they got it right, they created 39 rules to make sure everyone obeyed to the letter. Their guidelines forbade menial tasks like tying and untying a knot, and they even defined how far you could walk. One step over 2000 cubits (Around 1/2 of a mile) was working! You might assume since they were trying so hard to be on God’s side that Jesus would consider them wise. However, He called them “the blind leading the blind.”
To grasp the wisdom of God, we must look deeper than good and evil, and the best place to begin is at the cross. Here God put His wisdom on display for all to see. To the world the cross meant shame and failure, but to Christ it was the triumph of God.
The Jews in Jesus’s day believed they had a foolproof way to decide if a would-be messiah was from God. Many in the first century claimed the title, but if a deliverer ended up on a Roman cross, he joined a long list of failed messiahs.
The Jewish idea of what a Savior/King should accomplish came from their glorious past. David was their shining example, and future deliverers carried the title “Son of David.” Beginning with Goliath, David always put the pagans in their place. He was God’s chosen, and the proof came in battle. Sword in hand, David destroyed God’s enemies.
Other sons of David followed, often rescuing God’s people from unsurmountable peril. A little over 150 years before Christ, the Jews faced terrible persecution. Antiochus III, king of the Seleucid Empire, sought to prove himself by doing what no one had ever accomplished. He would destroy the Hebrew religion and replace Yahweh with Greek gods. In 167 BC, a country priest named Mattathias began a revolt against the powerful Seleucids. His son, Judas Maccabeus, became the leader of the rebellion and defeated Antiochus against impossible odds. Judas, who was called the Hammer of God, became a powerful messiah figure in the Jewish psyche. They celebrate his victory to this day in the festival known as Hanukkah.
People expected Jesus to be the next Hammer of God. They were waiting for God to humiliate His enemies just as He had done in the past. After all, the Lord is the one who does the humiliating. He raises Himself above all and shows He is God. No one expected the Messiah to lower Himself and become the lowest of the low. Even His own disciples could not imagine their Lord suffering a horrible and painful death on a Roman cross. It didn’t make sense, at least according to the world’s wisdom.
Yet, it was through unimaginable loss that Christ would gain us all, and through weakness and humiliation would come infinite glory. This wisdom confounds the world. How could loss lead to gain? This is foolishness! Yet, it is in this foolishness God calls us to walk.
How do we gain God? Religion, which is steeped in the world’s wisdom, says we gain the Lord by increasing our righteousness. We must be more and do more. Such was Paul’s understanding before he met Christ. He had the right identity. He was of the tribe of Benjamin. As you recall Judah and Benjamin kept their heritage better than the other tribes. He did the right things. He was an extraordinary Torah keeper. The religious world looked up to Paul as a shining example.
Yet, Paul came to see that all he once valued was dung compared to the righteousness of Christ. Therefore, Paul underwent a monumental change in wisdom. Instead of gaining righteousness, he purposed to lose his righteousness, and in this loss, he would gain Christ as his measure. To Paul, losing his boast in himself was like dying. It was the loss of all things.
I wish someone told me about God’s way of gaining God when I was much younger. Though I received Christ early in life, I spent many years trying to do and be more to get closer to the Lord. I tried to pray more, study more, worship more, go to church more, repent more, even fight the Devil more. I thought I was walking toward God, but I was really running from the Lord. I did not understand that the Lord wanted me to come to the end of my righteousness that I might know the measure of Christ. Yet, God’s kindness is so vast that even our straying leads to Him. At the end of myself I found God’s rest. I am no Paul, but I have had a glimpse of what the apostle meant when he said he suffered the loss of all things that he might gain Christ. This road of loss is one we all walk, and we are blessed when we recognize it.
The world’s wisdom is that is it a pretty good idea to gain the whole world. The world obtains through strength, becoming more and getting more. If we can just become the person we want to be and possess the things we want to have, we will be complete.
We idolize those who are good at gaining the world. We love the winners, but not the losers. We look up to those who have, not those who have not, and we love the somebodies, but not the nobodies. We even call them stars, those who shine more brightly than the rest of us. If we can just be one of those who are above, we will have arrived. We even enlist God’s help in getting there. If we keep our faith and give God what He wants, He will give us what we want. After all, He wants us to be happy, and we want Him to be happy with us. Sounds wise.
However, the Lord’s wisdom is astonishingly different. In the Kingdom of God, the way to be full is to become empty. God wants us to lose our life that we might gain Christ as our life. No doubt when the Lord commanded His followers to take up their cross and deny themselves, He was talking about Paul’s loss. To deny our own righteousness is to deny self.
Yet, there is another dimension to losing our life. Our life is not just what defines us. It is what we trust to complete us. We all have something we live for, something we love above all else. Years ago, a popular t-shirt appeared which read “Running is Life.” To a runner, this slogan could ring true, for running is where his or her heart is. Soon other t-shirts appeared: “Football is life;” “Baseball is Life;” and finally you could find a shirt proclaiming whatever you loved most was life. Our life is what would be on our t-shirt. It is what we believe completes us, makes us full, and gives us worth. We will give our heart to whatever we think will accomplish these things, and to lose our idea of life is like dying. Yet, that is what God calls us to do.
The gospels tell the story of a rich young ruler who encountered Jesus. He was a wealthy young man who seemed to have it all. He was rich, he was somebody, and he was a good man. Yet, he did not have God.
He approached the Lord and asked what he must do to gain eternal life. He was not asking to go to heaven as much as he was asking for God. Jesus answered that he must obey the commandments. “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and your mother, and You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 19:18–19).” At first the young fellow grew excited. “All these things I have done from my youth!” He was probably expecting Jesus to give Him God right then and there.
Jesus paused and said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me (Matthew 19:21).” The young man went away grieved, because the price was too high, the loss too great.
What was Jesus trying to get this fellow to do? Is was not to try harder. It was to lose his life. Money was this man’s life. It made him somebody, and he could have whatever he wanted. Jesus was trying to get him to let go of the finite for the infinite and the wisdom of the world for the wisdom of God. Yet, the young man chose to save his life.
We are all a little like the rich young ruler. I spent years trying to save my life, and I even tried to get God to help! Of course, the life I wanted was all for God’s glory, or at least that is what I told myself. In reality, what I saw as God’s profit was really my ego’s profit. While I was fighting to save my life, God was working to bring me to the end of it. At that end, He was waiting there for me. Once we meet the Lord at the end of ourselves, we no longer need any life but Christ.
God calls us to walk in His wisdom, and at the heart of His wisdom is the cross. We gain through loss. We can spend our lives seeking to experience God’s acts, and the Lord will bless us with many good things, for God is good. Yet, for those who seek His face, this is not enough. The only thing that will suffice is to know Him and His ways. We willingly choose the foolishness of God over the wisdom of the world. We embrace the loss of all things that we might gain Christ.