Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:20b-21)
This past Sunday, our sermon text included the verses above. We saw that God has chosen to draw people to himself and save them through a message and means that is foolish and weak in the eyes of the world, namely, “Christ crucified.” In this, God frustrates and “destroy(s) the wisdom of the wise.”
In other words: the heights of human wisdom, ingenuity, greatness and achievement will never attain to God and his salvation. No one will be able to say, “I, with my own mind, figured out what God is like, and how he works.” Instead, all must behold Jesus and humbly confess that “Christ and him crucified” is the only way to God. God gets the glory; not man.
Now, one question that this brings up is this: What is to be our attitude, then, to what might be called “worldly wisdom”? Does this mean there is no benefit in podcasts, books, TED talks, therapy, and the likes that are not specifically Christian? How do we respond to the likes of Jordan Peterson, Brene Brown, Stephen Covey, and the list goes on? Three considerations:
First of all, there is such a thing as general revelation. General revelation is the doctrine that God has revealed himself–to an extent–in and through the creation, in ways that all can see. And so both believers and non-believers can learn truths about God and humanity and this world simply by observing the world.
For example: sleeping 9 (or 7 or 11) hours a night is best for our bodies. Exercising helps with mental health and focus. Accepting responsibility for our actions is a better way to live than always blaming everyone else. Giving of yourself to serve others can make you happier. Patience is a virtue.
Because of general revelation, we don’t discredit everything we hear from someone just because they’re not a Christian. John Calvin gets at the same idea when he writes, “All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God.”
Secondly, our discernment shouldn’t be limited to questions such as, “Do they claim to be Christian or not?” or, “Do they reference the Bible or not?” There are some teachers and preachers that claim to be Christian and reference the Bible that teach nothing but the “wisdom of the world,” and who would direct you towards self-sufficiency and self-confidence, and away from God-sufficiency and God-confidence.
Third (and this is really the heart of the issue, and where discernment is really needed), it is often in its overall aim that human wisdom becomes opposed to the purposes of God. In much “wisdom” out there, the ultimate goal is for you to become satisfied and content with yourself. At best, the reality and authority of God is an optional accessory, only if you think he can benefit you.
Jeremy Pierre writes about therapeutic models in our world,
“Human experience is understood not from the external reference point of sacred order, but rather from the internal reference point of perceived happiness. Generally speaking, therapy is the attempt to help a person live effectively and consistently according to that perception of wholeness.”
Specifically, human wisdom aims to identify the problems in your life as YOU see them, and help YOU deal with them. Do you have guilt? Here’s how you can get rid of it. Do you dislike who you are? Here’s how you can either change who you are, or learn to be content with who you are. Do you have difficult people in your life? Here’s how to deal with them. Do you have stress and worry? Here are some techniques to deal with them.
While there is surely some valuable advice given in such responses, the overall goal is that at the end of the day, you don’t have any problems that YOU can’t deal with. That you are content with yourself, find joy in yourself, in control of yourself, even boast in yourself and what you’ve accomplished. And this is directly antithetical to the purposes of God and his gospel.
Paul sums up God’s purposes in the gospel in two complementary statements: “…so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.… so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’”
The gospel says we have a massive problem we can’t deal with: our sinful rebellion against our Creator and would-be Savior. And even when we put our trust in Christ and are reconciled to God, we don’t become self-sufficient, able to live on our own, in our own strength.
No, God’s will is that his people live continually in humble and joyful dependence on him, continually and increasingly boast in and rejoice in him above all else. And not because they think they “ought to,” but because they see that he is worthy, good, and satisfying.