If we are to know God, we need to behold Him. When we “behold” something, it means that we are not merely to look at it. Behold means see or observe something, something that is truly remarkable or impressive.
As J.I. Packer introduces us to God in his book Knowing God, he shares the special characteristics of our Savior that he feels we should behold: God does not change, God is majestic and the current chapter “God Only Wise.” Packer wants us to behold our God’s wisdom.
Wisdom is a very special quality; to be honest, who would not want it? Packer writes “wisdom is a moral as well as an intellectual quality.” It is much more than just intelligence, much more than cleverness, much more than cunning. Many may have intelligence or even wisdom but if they don’t use it for what Packer calls “a right end,” this unique quality may be abused.
“Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it” [Packer, 90].
God never suffers from the temptation to misuse wisdom. “He alone is naturally and entirely and invariably wise….God is never other than wise in anything that He does. Wisdom, as the old theologians used to say, is His essence, just as power, and truth, and goodness are His essence—integral elements, that is, in His character” [Packer 90].
Human wisdom is another animal. Human wisdom can be frustrated by many things beyond a wise person’s control. Pride is one factor that comes to mind. Many wise individuals have fallen prey to the distorted idea that they are special because they are wise. They can become over-confident, haughty and begin to have feelings of superiority. They think that they are always right, always have better answers than others. The desire for power is another human weakness associated with wisdom. It is natural to want some sense of control in life, some sense that we can have influence over outcomes. Power can come from wisdom as we can see clearly what to do and how to do it. We can use human wisdom to influence others and get our way. Sometimes the urge to influence others becomes so selfish that wise people help only themselves at the expense of others.
God’s wisdom is not adulterated with such temptations. God’s wisdom is allied to His omnipotence. Packer states “Power is as much God’s essence as wisdom is. Omniscience governing omnipotence, infinite power ruled by infinite wisdom, is a basic biblical description of the Divine character [of God]” [Packer, 91]. Job 9:4 “His wisdom is profound, His power is vast.” Job 12:13 “To God belongs wisdom and power.” Job 36:5 “He is mighty in strength and wisdom.” Isaiah 40: 26, 28 “He has great power and mighty strength… and His understanding no one can fathom.” Dan 2:20 “Wisdom and power are His.” Romans 16: 25, 27 “Now to Him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel…God only wise.”
God’s wisdom is always “active” and it never fails. As humans we may look at the work of God and not see wisdom but that is not God’s fault. That is our own limited vision. Packer writes “we cannot recognize God’s wisdom unless we know the end for which He is working” . This raises the question, what is the goal of God’s wisdom? When God made us, He wanted us to love and honor Him, praising Him for how He put together this wonderfully complex world. We have fallen but God has not forsaken us; He still wants us to love and honor Him, and He wants us to share that love with each other. Did God know we would fall? Of course He did. Does God have a plan in place for fallen man to achieve glory in this life and ultimate glory in the next world? Of course He has. Packer states “His immediate objectives are to draw individual men and women into relationship of faith, hope and love toward Himself, delivering them from sin and showing forth in their lives the power of His grace, to defend His people against the forces of evil; and to spread throughout the world the Gospel by means of which He saves.” .
Where do we fail to see God’s wisdom in everyday life? “All His works of creation and providence display it [God’s wisdom], and until we can see it in them we are just not seeing them straight” . At this point, (to use a cliché) I think it is good to put some “meat” on the bones with a specific example. Too many times in this life, Christians think that “God is love” means that giving your life to God means that He promises a trouble-free life for all. It does not matter what your “moral” or “spiritual” state is. We think that when we declare our love for God, He promises us that we will not experience any pain, any upset. Illness, accident, injury, loss of job, the suffering of a loved one are off the table. If anything like this occurs, that means God’s wisdom and God’s power are not what they are supposed to be. Packer says this is a “complete mistake,” that He never promised “to keep a fallen world happy” or to make “ungodliness comfortable.” God’s wisdom is so profound that our comfort is not always His ultimate concern.
I have seen Christians in tough situations say things to others that are not helpful in hard times. A loved one becomes ill, a spouse may pass away or a relative or friend experiences job loss. Maybe you see a friend struggle with addiction or spend time incarcerated. At those times, people directly affected cannot look at the “big picture.” They can’t even begin to consider God’s “long-term view.” They are too embroiled in the painful present.
Even though saying things like “trust in God; when bad things happen to good people, God can turn them to good” may be hard to understand at difficult moments, this may indeed be God’s wisdom at work. Yes, he can take painful episodes and make good from them. He can do this and He will do this. God’s complex purposes, God’s infinite wisdom, God’s divine plan may include suffering in order to get to His goal.
When miracles work out, it is easy to declare “behold our God’s wisdom.”
When hardship happens, it is not so easy to declare “behold our God’s wisdom.”
In a world where God’s wisdom is active and it never fails, we need to grow our faith to the point where we see His wisdom at work all the time.
Yes, in the good times and yes, in the bad…