We’ve all come across these people. You know the situation: you’re on a forum and you make some comment implying that you are intelligent/educated/well-versed in Bible history, theology, or your Bible college education, or indeed anything. Not meaning to blow your own trumpet, of course, but just to illustrate that you probably know just as much as anyone else how to at least talk about the incomprehensible – and yet, so close to us – Being we call God.
And then some oik comes along and tries to puncture your entire balloon by declaring that ‘God frustrates the wisdom of the wise’, or some other such comment designed to put him/her on an ‘equal footing’ with you as far as shooting down your qualifications, education, wisdom, experience or whatever.
And in some ways, they’re right. Not only do none of us have a ‘monopoly’ on the knowledge of God, but also God is capable – and willing! – to give wisdom to anyone who asks for it, having realised their lack! (Jas 1:5) If God can speak through animals, children or even a glorious sunset, then He can speak through anyone, educated or not.
But, to me, it’s quite obvious when certain ignorant* people are just parroting Scriptures that they have been taught, without understanding. In many ways, they are “…seeing but never perceiving, hearing but not understanding…” (Mk 4:12, Mt 13:13-15 fulfilling Isaiah 6:9) and they can’t imagine anyone knowing more than they do. Or, it might just be that they are afraid of feeling ‘small’ in the things of God and say these things to bolster their own confidence. I don’t know; being Autistic, I find it difficult to relate to others’ feelings. (And I wouldn’t presume to make any assumptions about what others are thinking, either).
In this essay, then, I would like to address this problem by describing the differences between certain types of ‘wisdom’.
Now, it’s funny, but as I have mentioned before on my blog, I don’t come across all that well in face-to-face discussion; I’m not all that articulate!
But I am still a professional man, Bible College educated and with two University degrees in science (a Bachelor’s and a Master’s), and I have been recognised in the past as a Polymath – that’s someone who is very good at a lot of things. I say this not to boast, but to set the stage for this piece in which I would like to try to address the problem that a lot of Christians seem to have with people who are clever and/or knowledgeable.
While I fully understand that some people who are not all that clever may feel belittled, maybe threatened or put-down by others appearing smarter than they are, I firmly believe that it takes all sorts. Everyone has value, and intelligence and knowledge are only two of a whole multitude of amazing abilities that humans have. We can create fire and cook wonderful meals. We can kick a football with such accuracy in terms of mass, speed, trajectory and such that it arrives in a specific spot in space and time, hopefully beyond the goalkeeper’s reach. The ‘keeper’s brain is also performing a set of automatic calculations which might – just might – help him to put his body, or at least his hand, in a place that will stop that ball going in the goal. We can drive vehicles at speeds that our brain was never designed to cope with; even a standard 70mph is a phenomenal speed compared with the speeds our bodies were originally supposed to move at: usually up to 3-5mph, and certainly no faster than 20mph, at least not without steroids 😉 Even driving a car, then, is an utterly amazing thing to be able to do, a thing which is not rendered any less clever and special because most adults can do it; that it’s not rare does not make it any less amazing.
So, just because one does not have all that much intelligence or knowledge – two ‘abilities’ which are supposedly highly prized in the world today, although sometimes I doubt it – does not mean that one has to belittle those who do have them, and particularly when that belittling is likely in response to one’s own insecurities. It’s vitally important to remember that we each have our own talents, and they are all amazing in their own right. And we are all equally valued by God.
I know that many Christians immediately answer an assertion of intelligence with a Scripture salvo containing the idea that ‘God frustrates the wisdom of the wise’ and all that sort of thing. Let’s address some of those Scriptures, shall we? In that passage about the ‘wisdom of the wise’, in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2, St. Paul is talking about the wisdom of the world; the fleshly wisdom that comes only from a non-spiritual person (1Cor 2:14). There’s more about this passage below. Sure, St. Paul wrote about all his former ‘spiritual education’ and theological knowledge being ‘rubbish’. But that, firmly in its context (Phil 3:8), was what he thought of the stuff he considered he ‘knew’ before he met the Risen Jesus.
In other words, Paul was saying that, compared with what he was learning in Jesus, the Wisdom of God personified, the former things were indeed a load of old rubbish, of no remaining value whatsoever, fit for nothing but to be thrown away as worthless!
But here’s the thing. An educated believer is not someone whose intelligence God frustrates. No; instead, He builds them up in wisdom and knowledge so that they can be of service to their fellow believers. In other words, God gifts the body of Christ with intelligent people so that they can use their gifts for the common good. This is what I am doing with my blog – I hope! The Secret of the Lord and all that…
If nothing else, the sometimes complex and convoluted theology of Paul should be a case in point for what happens when a highly intelligent person gets hold of the Gospel and applies it with the wisdom of God, and then uses that wisdom and knowledge for the building-up of others. He brings out points of theology that can satisfy both the simple and the wise, who can go into as much or as little depth as they want to do – as long as they acknowledge that there are some parts they don’t understand as well as they do others. And so, Paul’s writings have survived nearly 2,000 years and are known and loved word-for-word by millions of people worldwide, and they continue to build people up, right up to this very day.
I could go further with this and quote the two main Scripture passages used by people to attempt to bring down, or level, those of high intelligence. But I won’t; I would instead encourage people to respect their own intelligence and read it for themselves, and hear what Jesus is saying through the words. The passages are 1Cor 1:18 – 2:16, in which St. Paul quotes from Is 29:13-16. Those (1Cor and Isaiah) are the two main passages that spring to my mind at the moment. Interestingly, this Isaiah passage is also a passage that Jesus quotes (Mt 15:9, quoting Is 29:13) about how humans make up their own religious rules, and in fact these are the ‘wisdoms’ that Isaiah declares that God is going to frustrate, and St. Paul’s reference to that Scripture in the context of man-made religious rules is no coincidence. In fact, it strongly suggests to me that Paul is referring to human wisdom in things involving spiritual matters. In these things, things about which we really don’t have an awful lot of clue, if we’re honest, the wisdom of men is pretty useless and only those things revealed to us by the Spirit have any value anyway (Jn 16:13; Jn 16:13 KJV)
And so, please let’s not belittle or otherwise disregard the intelligence of the intelligent, or the wisdom of the wise; not when they are people of the Spirit speaking of spiritual things; not when their wisdom is rooted in the Cross and the Resurrection and all that Jesus did there. By all means, we should take only what we need and what speaks to us in what they are saying, and discard the rest. But let’s not knock it. We will already know that, in fact, the Bible praises wisdom greatly, and if we want that to be true for us, how then can we discount all (even Godly) wisdom, and count it all worthless? That’s just plain daft. The first four chapters of the Book of Proverbs are full of exhortations to wisdom; we cannot discount it simply because others have it. In fact, mocking those who are wise is also not all that clever an idea, mainly because you miss out on what they have to contribute.
How long will mockers delight in mockery
And fools hate knowledge
– Prov 1:22
…and also, comparing ourselves with others isn’t always a healthy thing to be doing either. Personally, I prefer just to rest in who I am in Christ, use the gifts He has given me for the benefit of others, and rest in His Presence. There’s no better place to be.
*Ignorant in its true sense: being in a state of not knowing. A state which we are all in, to some degree, but some more than others.