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"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Proverbs 1:7 ESV)
It's a strange thing to receive a lecture from a fool. Or to have amoral people pronounce moral judgments upon you. This seems to be the operating principle behind much of the arrogance in social media today. What seems to be lacking is not only wisdom, but the "meekness of wisdom" (James 3:13).
I have spent the last couple of months in the book of Proverbs. The book opens with a refrain -- and repeats it in various forms -- "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom..." (See 1:7; 4:7; 9:10: 15:33.) Over and over again, we are told to listen, to heed, to think about, to ponder, to humble ourselves, and to diligently pursue wisdom. And it's always God's wisdom, which is a moral, obedient wisdom, not the fool's kind of arrogant wisdom. Teachability comes first, and teachability is hard to come by when we are being foolish.
The book closes with two collections of sayings, that of Agur (30:1-33) and that of King Lemuel (31:1-31). Agur gives a fitting summary of the biblical view of knowledge and wisdom...
"Surely I am too stupid to be a man.
I have not the understanding of a man.
I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered the wind in his fists?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is his son's name? Surely you know!
Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him." (30:2-5)
There is a right kind of stupid -- there is hope even for a fool -- when he realizes his limitation, his ignorance, his folly, and then in humility turns to what God himself has revealed. This is not our universe. We did not produce our eyes which see, our ears which hear, or our minds which think. This is God's universe. And even the tools of our perception are given to us by him. We are, however, severely limited in our perceptions, and our thinking is distorted by willfulness, sin, and the unbelief of our hearts.
Bruce Waltke's commentary on Proverbs is most helpful on this passage:
"Having failed in the enterprise [of unaided human reason], the Enlightenment's heirs have drawn the perverse conclusion that there are no absolutes, except that one! Agur, however, points the way out of their nihilism. Verse 2 presents the earthbound human predicament of being unable to attain wisdom; v. 3 points to 'knowledge of the Holy One' as the way out of ignorance (cf. 3:5-6) ... he implies that to be truly human entails knowing God... he is less than human because he lacks both understanding of the divinely established moral order and, though presumably instructed, he had not learned wisdom..." ~ Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31, (Eerdmans, 2005 ) p. 469.
Waltke adds two other quotations...
"If the whole of reality comes from one wise and sovereign Lord, who has ordered all things, reality is all of one piece; nothing is independent of God, and nothing can be truly interpreted independently of God." ~ Henri Blocher, "The Fear of the Lord as the 'Principle' of Wisdom", Tyndale Bulletin 28 (1977) p. 21.
And finally, "If one does not make human knowledge wholly dependent upon the original self-knowledge and consequent revelation of God to man, then man will have to seek knowledge within himself as the final reference point. The he will have to seek an exhaustive understanding of reality. He will have to hold that if he cannot attain to such an exhaustive understanding of reality, he has no true knowledge of anything at all. Either man must then know everything or he knows nothing. This is the dilemma that confronts every form of non-Christian epistemology." ~ Cornelius van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge (P&R, 1969) p. 17.
The fool, then, is one whose final reference point is himself, or in his circle of friends, usually, his foolish friends. Something is gained when we widen our reference point to those who are more wise, or good, such as family or forebears. But ultimately all such wisdom fails unless God is the "final reference point."
Waltke concludes, "Earthbound mortals cannot find transcendent wisdom apart from the transcendent Lord. Real wisdom must find its starting point in God's revelation; in his light, we see light (Ps. 36:9)." (p. 471)
So, we must begin with our stupidity. But it's the right kind of stupidity. It's the kind that humbles us, and leads us to look to God and his revealed word for true wisdom. And this in turn leads to other good things...
"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (James 3:17-18 ESV)