This is why wisdom is difficult: it aims at a longer outcome. The short term is much easier, and it’s easier to follow people aiming for the short term. They are trying to make their kids happy; so they buy them ice cream. Or they are trying to make their kids healthy; so they make them eat kale. But wisdom looks down the corridor of time five, ten, fifteen years and aims for wise, cheerful, and Christ-loving grandchildren, which means you won’t get your report card on how you did with the kids today until one of their kids comes over for an afternoon in about two decades.
This is why wisdom requires faith. You can’t see that far really. You can squint, but it doesn’t really help. But God’s Word is right here in front of us. It’s clear, and it doesn’t change from day to day. It’s simple, but it certainly is not simplistic. It says quite a bit about how to live today aiming for the future. You can tell if someone believes God by whether they read the Bible regularly, extensively and then apply it to their lives. This need not have any kind of showy-ness to it, but nevertheless, your stories should be full of phrases like, “We used to… and then I learned that God thinks… so we started…” That’s wisdom. Folly keeps doing the same things hoping for different results. Wisdom looks to the source of all wisdom (Christ) and His Word (the Bible), and trusts and obeys.
Now one of the most difficult things to judge and decide when it comes to being wise and making wise choices is when it comes to the gravity or undertow of various and sundry judgment calls in life. These are actually resident in millions of our decisions, and for those who trust in Christ, we can cling to His sure promises that His grace drenches our lives – such that we need not live in constant fear and agony (vanilla or chocolate?!). Nevertheless, these decisions do add up to directions and trajectory over time, and those directions have a gravity, an undertow that is pulling you, me, us in directions we are often not aware of.
A little while ago, I took my kids down to Ocean Beach in San Francisco, and since we’re from Idaho and it was over 50 degrees outside, all of my kids got into the water. And I watched as they splashed and ran up and down the sand, chased by the foamy surf, and sure enough, little by little, they would drift, not at all in random directions but in one direction, down the beach, the direction of the tide, pulling them silently away from me.
When you step into the water, you hardly notice the pull. And the words of a parent reminding the kids to stay close, to keep looking up to see where they are, can almost seem silly. Now imagine if the pull is even slower, it takes weeks, months, years to drift. On the one hand, some may think it’s safer. Possibly, but really only if you’re making constant corrections. Slower may also be more dangerous. Slower may seem less worrisome, and looking up may seem more confusing. It’s all the same beach, after all – and what’s 20 or 50 yards really? The current is going so slow, I can just walk back over to where we began at any time.
And the slowness can tempt people to be more offended by warnings. Pride is such a suckerpunch. The less dangerous a situation seems, the more pride comes out to play. What are you saying – that I’m compromising with egalitarianism? With feminism? With liberalism? C’mon, man. You’re such a culture warrior, another one of Machen’s warrior children. Go get a life and stop raining on everyone’s parade.
I recently heard a pastor give a great analogy. He pointed out that in olden days, currency was real precious metal (silver, gold, bronze, etc.). Scammers would sometimes trim the edges of their coins and pass them off as genuine. To the untrained eye, the gold pieces and silver pieces looked no different than the others. Only a trained eye or a true scale would detect the fraud. And then of course, the fraud would still only be very minor, but again, over time, the precious metal clippings would add up, and a great deal of value really would be lost.
Part of the challenge of leadership of all sorts (pastors, parents, teachers, etc.) is that the currency of Scripture isn’t exactly uniform or standardized. And nevertheless, it’s our job to pass on the true value of Scripture to our people: the diamonds, rubies, gold, and silver of God’s Word. And we have to realize that in addition to the many direct assaults on truth and wisdom out there, many of the greatest threats are inside the Church, defrauding the people of God, by passing off partial truths as whole truths.
Sometimes this happens when well-meaning Christians say some true things while bowing to various gods and goddesses in our culture. Truth has been stated, but it has been stated in a context that ultimately castrates it of its true potency. Sometimes this happens when leaders fail to guard their people from dangers and pitfalls. The people want/need a positive vision, we are told, and so all that the pastors teach on is positive. And every last word may be absolutely true, and yet without all of the Scriptural negatives, what is actually presented is only half-true. You’ve defrauded the people of God. You’ve promised to preach the whole counsel of God, but you’ve lied and robbed them.
The gospel itself is not merely positive. It’s come and welcome to Jesus Christ, and it’s run the Hell away from sin and the devil. It’s put on the new man in Christ, put on the full armor of God, and it’s put off the old man, and put off the works of the flesh. And back to wisdom, so much of that work is telling people to look up, to see how they’ve been drifting. Why that haircut? Why that dress? Why’d you share that wonky article? Why’d you “like” that post? Why do you talk to your children that way? Have you noticed how your children don’t obey you right away?
In order to be fully faithful to Jesus and His Word, we must not trim any of the gold He offers, and this is the only way to grow in His wisdom.