The Struggle for the Soul of Science, pt7: True Wisdom image

The Struggle for the Soul of Science, pt7: True Wisdom

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The epistle of James [or more accurately, Jacob], brother of Yeshua of Nazareth, was written to Jews who believed Yeshua to be their promised Messiah, scattered throughout the Roman empire. It has the genre of a ‘wisdom’ book, which means not philosophy but thoroughly practical advice for those facing religious persecution, discrimination, and economic oppression. When discussing complex and controversial matters like creation/evolution, scientific naturalism, and Biblical theology, the letter of Jacob can serve as an important reminder about what true ‘religion’, ‘faith’, or ‘wisdom’ should actually look like in practice. “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behaviour his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.” (3:13)

In between a meditation on the perils of unbridled speech and a criticism of quarrels and conflicts in the community of God’s people, there is a neat little discourse on the nature of false wisdom and true wisdom.  False wisdom is opposed to wisdom that comes from God, and is therefore defined as “earthly”, “natural” (or physical), “demonic”, and characterised by “arrogance”, “jealousy”, “ambitious rivalry”, “disorder” and “every worthless thing” (3:14-16).  We have already noted how the Secular Genesis narrative is founded on philosophical ‘naturalism’, rejecting the divine in favour of the earthly alone.  Evolution has been described in terms of the ‘selfish gene’, competing with all other life forms for survival, relying on vast amounts of death and disorder (random mutations) to generate evolutionary progress.

It would be foolish, however, to suggest that those who hold to Secular Genesis are any more arrogant, ambitious, or jealous than those who argue for Biblical Genesis.  Creationists may be learning how to express their convictions and frustrations with mainstream science in more measured language than they once did, but their manner must display true wisdom as much as their message.  It is not just Young Earth Creationists, though, who find themselves at odds with worldly wisdom.  Wherever a believer chooses to draw the line of God’s intervention in world history – Adam’s creation, the Flood, Abraham, Moses, David, or even the resurrection of Yeshua – they will find themselves at odds with mainstream culture and academic scholarship.  How should the believer respond to this sort of contradiction?  The letter of Jacob can give us some pointers.

(1)  “But the wisdom from above is …”

True wisdom is always from God, or expressed another way, all true wisdom is God’s wisdom.  Truth, whether scientific or philosophical, must therefore be consistent with God’s revelation as conveyed by the writers of Scripture.  There is no substitute for immersing ourselves in the Bible, seeking its guidance for every area of practice and belief, and submitting to God’s authority by loving Him with all our minds.  “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation…” (2Timothy 3:14-15)

(2)  “first pure

True wisdom, as expressed in the Word of God, will enable us to analyse our own reasoning; “For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)  Through the Spirit’s expert application of the Bible to our thinking, we will be able to refine our ideas by separating off unworthy motivations – fear of man, greed for wealth or academic position, idolatry, pride, or unbelief.  True wisdom is pure wisdom.

(3)  “then peaceable

True wisdom does not look to win the argument, but rather win the person; the goal is not proof but peace.  As Paul counsels Timothy, “But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce fights.  The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” (2Tim 2:23-26)  This is not intended as an accusation of those holding any particular view, but rather a warning to any who believe they do in fact have “knowledge of the truth”.  There is a difference between patiently correcting those who oppose Biblical doctrine and quarrelling with them.

(4)  “gentle / courteous

True wisdom starts with simple faith in things that the world views as stumbling blocks and foolishness.  It is meant to be understandable to children, and those who think they have a more profound insight into the deep things of God and mysteries of faith must be gentle with those who ‘just believe the Bible’.  Paul speaks sober words to those presuming to teach the church in Corinth: “Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.  Let no man deceive himself.  If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God.” (1Corinthians 3:16-19)  We cannot afford to destroy the consciences of others, or allow others to persuade us to deny our conscience.

(5)  “reasonable / willing to yield

True wisdom remains open to persuasion, compliant and willing to be reasoned with.  There is undoubtedly an important place for resisting the temptation of “Did God really say…?”, but like a child learning to eat solid food rather than milk, we should be ready to let God reveal more of His true wisdom to us than we have so far known.  In this, it is vital that our compliance is not with human logic but with that of the Holy Spirit.  “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (1Cor 2:4-5)  Apologetics is valuable for encouraging believers and for removing hindrances to receiving the good seed of the gospel, but true and lasting faith must be empirical, not merely logical.

(6)  “full of mercy and good fruits

True wisdom appears to be foolish from a worldly perspective, but this is because it cannot be divorced from morality.  It is therefore a privilege of the spiritually mature, “who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Heb 5:14).  Believers who have come to know God’s ways by diligently obeying Him in everyday decisions, then “do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away…” (1Cor 2:6).  Even in matters of academic knowledge, therefore, whenever there appears to be a conflict between certain ideas or explanations, it will always be wiser to trust spiritual maturity over intellectual competence.  True wisdom can be recognised by the abundant mercy and good fruits that will always accompany it.

(7)  “unwavering

True wisdom offends Satan, who “Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).  Truth demolishes his strongholds (2 Cor 10:3-6), sets his prisoners free (John 8:31-32, 36), and is a sign of his imminent imprisonment and destruction (Philippians 1:27-28; Revelation 12:9-12, 17).  We must not be surprised, then, if Satan does not ignore those who speak the truth (2 Cor 2:11; 1 Peter 4:12).  We should prepare for vicious attack in the form of slander (1Pet 2:12), temptation (1 Tim 6:3-10), exploitation of any legal ground we give him (Ephesians 4:25-27), and infiltration of our communities in order to twist the truth (2 Cor 11:12-15; 2Tim 3:5-7), not to mention illness (Luke 13:16), accidents and attack on loved ones (Job 1:12, 18-19).  Let us stand firm against the roaring lion (1 Pet 5:8-10), fully equipped with the belt of truth around our waist, and the rest of the very real spiritual armour made available to us by the Messiah (Eph 6:10-17).  In fact, if you are not being attacked by Satan or his agents, this should seriously make you question whether you are any threat at all to him, because “anyone who wants to live a godly life in Messiah Yeshua will be persecuted” (2Tim 3:8-13).

It is not wrong to be suspicious of those who see conspiracies behind every controversial issue, but in the area of academic consensus we must not be ignorant of the fact “the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, that the light of the gospel…would not dawn on them” (2 Cor 4:3-4).  There most certainly is a conspiracy against the truth by the enemy, though that does not necessarily mean that members of the establishment are consciously conspiring to suppress the truth.  On the other hand, Peter did specifically warn us that in the last days mockers will be “wilfully ignorant of this fact, that by the word of God the heavens existed…through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water” (2Pet 3:5-6).  In the last days there will be a choice made to ignore evidence for creation and Flood, which will have a direct impact on people’s readiness for the events of Messiah’s coming in judgement and re-creation.  May we not be found mocking in these days.

(8)  “without hypocrisy.”

True wisdom does not try to convince people by preventing them from seeing the other side of the debate.  On the contrary, as Paul said, “we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2Cor 4:2).  True wisdom encompasses all of reality, both spiritual and physical, which should give us the confidence to participate fully in intellectual inquiry.  If the Bible’s plain meaning is true, it will be able to be shown to be true to anyone willing to consider the evidence (both internal and extra-Biblical) with an open mind.  This will also enable the believer to endure seeming contradiction between historical records in the Bible and scientific evidence, long enough to find a convincing account for the anomalies.  There is no advantage in playing down the scale of disagreement between the academic establishment and the Biblical story of origins; if the Bible is true, all of the evidence will eventually be found to be fully consistent with it, given enough honesty, humility and Spirit-directed research.

(9)  “And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

True wisdom will produce the fruit of righteousness in its hearers, which must always be the goal of those who teach in the Church, and even in academia.  “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.  For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.” (1Tim 1:5-7)  These words are as true today, with regard to the first few chapters of the Law of Moses, as they were when Paul wrote them.  If we lose our focus on the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of those we teach, we will find ourselves straying into worthless and foolish ideas about the Scripture.  “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”  “If I…know all mysteries and all knowledge…but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1Cor 8:1; 13:2)  May we pay close and persevering attention to our lives and to our teaching, which will save both ourselves and those who hear us (1Tim 4:16).

Ultimately, true wisdom is wisdom ‘from above’, so in complicated matters such as creation/evolution, about which there is so much disagreement even within the community of faith, we would be wise to turn to the Spirit of God Himself for instruction.  Jacob starts his letter to believers among the Diaspora by urging them firstly to endure with joy the various trials which test their faith, and secondly, if they need it, to ask for wisdom from God “who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without any doubting…” (1:5-6)  Life will not be easy for those who choose to stand firm on the proven reliability of Scripture, whichever aspect of its truth might be under fire, but in the midst of endurance we can trust the Holy Spirit to reveal ever more understanding to us.  Let us love the LORD our God with all our minds as we look forward to the glorious appearance of the Wonderful Counsellor, our Messiah Yeshua.

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