If you set them up just right, the last domino will fall. Of course this is all joy for Michael, my grandson, who is not yet two and who, with no intent to understand the laws of physics at play here, intently watches the process just once. I almost set the dominoes up again before he intervenes to slap the bulk of them across the floor. While I anticipated destruction of one sort or another, as demolition has been Michael’s forte lately, I admit I was a bit shocked when the dominoes scattered violently. He of course smiled broadly.
Awhile back I was about to cross from the store to the parking lot with my husband. His name is Michael too. At the curb, there was a truck and a lady was getting out. There were harsh words. She was angry, and the man driving was upset. The strong possibility of a collision occurred to me. I motioned to my husband to cross behind the truck, but he didn’t want to and proceeded to walk in front of the upset driver. Of course, the disgruntled driver, oblivious to my husband’s close proximity, began to lurch forward. My husband made a gesture to get the driver’s attention who stopped not too many inches from him. Now there were two upset men.
Sometimes I ride with a driver who slams on brakes in traffic because he suddenly realizes that the car immediately in front of him is stopping. Every time this happens and it happens often, this particular driver is surprisingly surprised. Of course the pattern to this behavior is that car immediately in front had to stop because a car two or three cars further in front had put on brakes seconds earlier. The sequence of brightening taillights reminds me of falling dominoes.
The Naive and The Sensible
I read in Proverbs 14:15,
The naive believes everything,
But the sensible man considers his steps.
The synonym group is “naive, simple, simple-minded.” The grown-up ones are this way because they want to be or so says Proverbs 1:22. This is the way the simple are content to be, and it will eventually kill them (Proverbs 1:32). I read too that,
The prudent sees the evil and hides himself,
But the naive go on, and are punished for it. (Proverbs 22:3),
A prudent man sees evil and hides himself,
The naive proceed and pay the penalty (Proverbs 27:12).
But perhaps he, or maybe she, will not die before life teaches the naive one it’s best to become prudent (Proverbs 19:25), or maybe you would prefer to say wise (Proverbs 21:11).
The sensible man, the prudent person, considers carefully and diligently and acts wisely as a result of discernment. The prudent observes, pays close attention, perceives, ponders, regards, listens and learns from skillful teaching and counsel, and gains understanding, or so says Strong’s #995. The “wisdom of the sensible is to understand his [own] way” (Proverbs 14:8), but then of course
Man’s step are ordained by the LORD,
How then can man understand his [own] way? (Proverbs 20:24).
Understanding is not inherited, or “acquired” as Derek Kidner explained, like the foolishness of fools (Proverbs 14:18). No. This understanding of a man’s own ways comes to the man by way of his seeking the LORD – by seeking God’s ways (Proverbs 28:5). Knowledge is a crown that God gives to the sensible. And only the sensible can become more sensible (Proverbs 1:5; 14:6; 19:25) a thing that is quite impossible for simple-minded ones (Proverbs 14:8; 15:14) no matter how much they are admonished to get wisdom.
I think this active seeking of God’s wisdom while being simultaneously dependent on a gift of wisdom is something like “concurrence.” Professor Wayne Grudem explains concurrence this way: “God cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do.”
Of course this sets up the whole conversation about God’s relationship to evil and human responsibility and so forth and for that there are good discussions already written. I’ll list a few in the Endnotes section.
If we understand, it is because God has decided that we will. Remember, he must crown us with knowledge (Proverbs 14:18). Isn’t that a beautiful way of explaining it? It is reminiscent of the crown of life given to those who persevere in God’s way (James 1:12) and the crown of gray hair of the old saints (Proverbs 16:31).
This giving of wisdom and understanding is why I think John could say, “I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it” (John 2:20), and why Jesus said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted” (Matthew 13:11), and why Paul said, “For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Please note God’s initiative in all this. When we act wisely we can only do so because God is making us wise. His wise word must already be working in us.
Psalms 119 is the longest chapter I can think of in the Bible and it is all about God’s word and God making us wise and giving us wisdom and understanding. It is clear that the psalmist who wrote all these verses depends on God to incline his heart away from selfish gain to love God’s ways and delight in them. The psalmist wavers between his dependence on God for these things and his determination to love to walk in God’s ways. These verses make for a good study in concurrence.
James on Wisdom
James says if you lack wisdom, ask God. If you really want it, ask. If you think you have it already, be sure that it’s not the wrong kind of wisdom. Be sure it’s not earthly, not derived from man, or worse.
I’ve been listening to Harvard’s professor, Michael Sandel. He teaches political philosophy, and the class I’ve been listening to is called Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? Sandel invites students to reply to ethical scenarios by telling what they would do and why based on various philosophical premises.
So far all the reasonings I’ve heard from the students of why someone should not murder or steal are all attributed to human rationale. So far, and I’m only starting session 4, no student has evoked God’s authority to underpin an argument. Eventually you must get there – to God unless ethics are to be based on social consensus which is a scary thought indeed.
The fact that no one so far has reasoned past man to God is a great wonder to me for many reasons not least of which is the political nature of some of the scenarios since religious precepts form the basis of human rights found in our constitution. Some people may contest this, but you really have to look no further back than the philosophy of John Locke to see that this is true. I’ve said more about this in another blog, Should We Throw the Bible Out?
That kind of human wisdom that excludes God, and I’m in James 3 now, results in confusion and evil ways of doing things because understanding is colored by the sin of the thinker. James mentions embittered jealousy and selfishness. I think James and the psalmist had a similar understanding about the mingling of sin with wisdom. Sin makes you “see” differently.
At any rate, I’m convinced that that kind of wisdom for a lot of people also results partly from laziness. Conflicting views are given and easily accepted because there is no desire to dig all the way to roots of them. There is no desire to dig to see if the roots are ungodly or dig all the way to God because it might occur to the digger that he is wrong to keep on thinking and doing what he thinks and does, and it’s just too hard to change mid-stream. And if the digger does get to God then all those biblical statements about him that seem on the surface to be so conflicting must be somehow reconciled. Clarity that God’s wisdom brings, though given freely, requires effort. It requires the possibility that repentance and doing things differently may be required. It requires ponderation.
The simple in Proverbs 14:15 do not believe. Isn’t unbelief implied? They do not believe the Lord, which implies they do not fear him, so they do not seek him, and they do not become wise. J. Alec Motyer in his commentary on Isaiah summarizes that, “when people cease to believe in the Lord they will believe anything!”
If this is true, it is surely best to be sure that the wisdom you possess is that wisdom that comes from above. At this point, if you are persuaded by this argument and you want that kind of wisdom, you must believe God. That is the whole point, for it is God’s wisdom that leads you to do what is right so that you can reap the benefits. It is God’s higher wisdom, given from above, that enables you to consider where you are going not just in this life but also in the next. The wise know there is a next. Anyways, most will want to go on naively believing everything only to be destroyed by it. You may think what I just said is right, or you may say here that I’m a pessimist or that I have been reading the Old Testament prophets too much.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).
“Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.” (www.Lockman.org)
Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), pp. 317-331.
Kidner, Derek, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Proverbs, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1964), p. 103.
Motyer, J. Alec, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary, (Downers Grove , IL, 1993), p. 89.
Some resources that address God’s relationship to evil and human responsibility:
Piper, John, How Can Evil Have a Good Purpose?
Frame, John, The Bible on the Problem of Evil
Frame, John, Free Will and Moral Responsibility
Various authors on the topic of God’s relationship to evil available from Monergism
Various authors on the topic of man’s free will available from Monergism