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Saturday, October 07, 2017

The Study of Plate Tectonics (or What Do I Do Next?)

Which way do I go? How do I respond to THAT? Should I wait, or should I act now?

The answers to such questions are not merely of academic interest to the Christian. From time to time, one choice or another gives rise to significant consequences, either good or bad. Other times nothing we choose to do or say matters in the slightest; what happens would have happened anyway.

But of course we don’t know that when we’re choosing, do we? So we find ourselves asking God for wisdom.

Diverse Matters

I suspect it’s this sort of very practical, real-life, down-to-earth scenario James has in mind when he says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

Don’t get me wrong, some of us think it would be nice to understand the mechanics of the Genesis flood and how that fits in with current scientific theory about the age of the earth. Many young Christians would consider it cool to receive an infusion of divine knowledge with respect to the somewhat obscure references to glaciation, volcanism, plate tectonics and maybe even dinosaurs found in the book of Job. And it may come as a surprise to some readers, but in the New Testament the word “wisdom” can (and often does) refer to precisely this sort of esoteric knowledge.

The word “wisdom” is a translation of the Greek sophia, which has an exceptionally broad range of possible meanings. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says:
“… used of the knowledge of very diverse matters, so that the shade of meaning in which the word is taken must be discovered from the context in every particular case.”
That’s certainly true. In this case, context is critical.

Biology and Humility

Matthew makes reference to the “wisdom of Solomon”, which we’re told extended to songwriting and the biological sciences. This is probably not the sort of wisdom James has in view. Luke uses sophia to describe irrefutable speech. Again, probably not what James was thinking about at the time. Stephen makes reference to the “wisdom of the Egyptians” that Moses learned growing up in the household of Pharaoh’s daughter, which likely extended to all manner of arcane interests, none of them being the sort of wisdom James says we should ask God for.

I’d suggest what James does have in mind is spelled out for us in his third chapter, where the words “wisdom” and “wise” occur four times in five verses. James says the sort of wisdom that comes from God is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” He’s talking about the knowledge of how to behave when in conflict: “By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.”

Wisdom That Doesn’t Show Up On Cue

That sort of wisdom doesn’t always just show up on cue, and it certainly isn’t instinctive; there’s nothing natural or fleshly about it. It is “from above”, as James puts it.

It’s possible to develop this sort of objective, honest, essentially prudent way of responding through years of reading scripture and walking with the Lord. Many older servants of God have done just that. Then again, some of us can’t afford to wait that long. If we do, many things in our lives are likely go horribly wrong in the interim. We need God’s wisdom right now: in our marriages, in our dealings with our children, in relating to other believers, on the job and in every sort of daily situation.

James’s advice? Go right to the source and make a special request: “Let him ask God.”

With No Doubting

It is in this context, I believe, and with this sort of need, that we are to “ask in faith, with no doubting”. I cannot be sure an understanding of plate tectonics compatible with the book of Job really matters in any way shape, or form; therefore, I can hardly pray for it in faith, can I? Sure, it may interest me, but I can have no real confidence that an influx of mere information is going to bring glory to God or advance the claims of Christ in the here-and-now.

Likewise, I cannot be sure that knowing God’s road map for my life (always assuming he has one) is either necessary or even helpful to me in living it. It may be that having too strong a sense of where I’m headed would make me arrogant, shortsighted or reluctant to do anything outside my very narrow concept of what God has designed me to be. Better, perhaps, to take what comes as he brings it to me.

What we can be very sure about is that God wants us to act prudently, honorably, consistently, sincerely and impartially — as fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, citizens, employees and saints — and that he is prepared to equip us to do just that provided we are unconditionally surrendered to his will.

THAT sort of practical wisdom we can certainly ask about in full confidence of a prompt and appropriate heavenly response.

So ask away.

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