Elusive Wisdom


Before we get to the second part of my posting on being a Church family, I want to add some thoughts on wisdom in a modern age. I couldn’t stop thinking about the issue this weekend, and as I was out on my tractor for several hours Sunday, I had plenty of time to think.

I was interviewed for a radio show called “Wise People” this last Saturday and will be again this Saturday. But the fact is, despite the title of the show, I find wisdom elusive.

I’m 47 years old, and if I were asked to comment on the pat answer about getting older and gaining wisdom, I’d have to say that the conventional wisdom on wisdom and age just doesn’t work. Or at least it doesn’t work in the conventional sense.

At the age of 21, I didn’t have a lot of room for “wisdom” that didn’t meet my preconceptions. I was pretty much the standard angry, young know-it-all. Sadly, that was a state that persisted for far too long.

But as I’ve gotten older, I seem to have fewer prepackaged answers and a whole lot more questions. The list of “Stuff I Don’t Get” gets added to daily.

When you get down to it, all practical wisdom concerns making sense of people and God. In 47 years, what I have come to understand of people is that I don’t understand them at all. And while I can definitely see God  moving in certain situations, it’s those situations in which I don’t see Him that I come to realize that my understanding of God could fill a thimble—one made for Barbie.

The supposedly wise person makes sense of people in light of sin. Understand the nature of sin and you understand why people do what they do.

But honestly, the older I get, the less satisfying that response becomes. And it is less satisfying because no one can know the future, and it’s our relationship to the past, present, and future that makes understanding humanity so difficult. How sin informs the past and present is hard enough to comprehend, but add the future and I don’t see how any nonprognosticator can make predictions.

Now put God into that mix. The result, at least to me, is too big to get one’s head around.

Which is why Romans 8:28 is so hard for me to understand:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
—Romans 8:28

The first part is hard enough to grasp, but it’s the phrase after the comma that makes my head spin.

If you’re couple who spent years trying to conceive, and finally that blessed bundle comes, what is to be said when the little baby dies unexpectedly? Did that babe get in the way of your purpose in life? Is it a good thing then that the baby died? And what can be said when no more children come?

Or you’re a missionary couple with kids, and after 25 years of marriage the whole couple thing crumbles. One day you were sharing the Lord with lost tribes of people in the backwaters of India, and the next day you’re in divorce court. PotholeHow did it all go so wrong? If the calling to marriage and mission were there, why did it end up like this?

Or you’re part of a leadership team at your church, and one by one every person on that team gets hit with calamity: cancer, divorce, depression, suicide, and so on. Do all those calamities really work together for good? Is it enough to say, “I survived,” and call that outcome good?

I talked about Christian maturity in the radio interview, but defining maturity is hard. We tend to think of it as some kind of Ph.D. in theology, but if my own experiences are any indicator, perhaps it’s something else entirely. And perhaps there’s some other meaning behind Romans  8:28 that eludes us.

Karl Barth, when asked to summarize the contents of his massive book Church Dogmatics, responded, “Jesus loves me/This I know/For the Bible tells me so.”

A children’s song.

In response to Barth’s answer, I’m sure some “wise” people snickered. Yet when faced with all the craziness, the nonsensical happens, the head-shaking personal calamities in the lives of ordinary people, the godly decisions that went south, the hopes that fell to pieces, and the general nastiness of human existence 2010, perhaps Barth’s answer is the wisest of all.

God knows that I don’t understand life—or Him—any better than that.

{Update: I had originally thought J.I. Packer was behind the “Jesus Loves Me” quote, but it was Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth.}

What the Church Is Not Learning


Carnage is the best word to describe what is happening in New Orleans. I pray the Church in this country is watching. What we are seeing may very well be the future, although on a scale restricted to one city in this country. Should more cities than one be involved in a more catastrophic event many days from now, it won't be pretty.

This is not a happy post. People may never want to come back here again after reading this, but I feel compelled to write.

I don't consider Jerry Falwell a spokesman for American Christianity. I want to say that up front. But on 9/11 he commented that perhaps what happened in New York that day was the judgment of God against America's sin. After being shouted down by a protest spearheaded by other Christians, Falwell was forced to retract that statement.

After hearing Falwell's comment, rather than immediately taking sides on it, I thought about it for a long time. Though I never did come to a firm position on what he said, Hurricane Katrinawhat shocked me was that so few people were even willing to consider for a brief moment that what Falwell said might be true.

Now we have a monstrous hurricane decimating a city known for it profligacy and overt sensuality. We have the gambling centers of Mississippi washed out into the Gulf. A couple folks have proffered the same reasoning as Falwell for the wreckage of New Orleans and Biloxi, but once again no one is listening.

Again, I don't have the perfect answer here. Judgment of God or not? I'm still pondering that. What troubles me is that so few Christians are willing to entertain for a second the possibility that Katrina is Wake-up Call #2.

Why does this trouble us so thoroughly that we relegate this possibility to the dumpster so quickly? Can we take a day to ponder this before we say that this is not the judgment of God against this nation? If it's not, then we move on. But what if it is?

The Church here has something to learn through all this. If we cannot discern the judgment of God, a judgment His righteous people easily saw in our Scriptural examples, what does that say about the American Church today?

The images and stories coming out of the Gulf are shocking. They so clearly show the utter depravity of Man that I can't see how we can be the same country after this. All the bravery that we hailed in New York almost four years ago has been swept away. The courageous stories of Katrina are buried in the rubble of vice and sin we see paraded on our TV screens.

What unnerves me about this is that the Church here does not understand that what we are seeing and hearing in New Orleans is far closer to the truth about Man than some are willing to admit. Worst of all, the events in Louisiana only prove that we as a Church are not prepared.

How are we unprepared? Look at the ripples this Gulf event is creating through all the strata that make up this experiment called America. The glaring weaknesses in our government, our energy reserves, our food and water supplies, and most of all, our souls, are on display for all to see. I read today that the area that makes up the most afflicted parts of the Gulf contributes a little less than two percent to the American economy. What if five or ten percent had been affected? Would total chaos reign nationwide?

It saddens me that the Church is largely unprepared to meet a major meltdown in America. We are not planning for a day when times get brutal. In truth, we act as if bad days will never come, the veritable grasshopper to the ant. Only in this story, there appear to be no ants.

He answered them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' And in the morning, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.
—Matthew 16:2-3 ESV

Church, should we not be the ones who interpret the signs of the times? Have we filled our lamps with oil or have the reserves gone out?

Did we learn anything from 9/11?
Did we learn anything from the prolonged recession from 2000-2004?
Are we going to learn anything from the aftermath of Katrina?

From what I can see, we ignorantly go on, blithely brushing it all aside. What else can explain the fact that we have not changed our course?

Just the other day I read that the underground Church in China is praying that persecution will come to America so revival will break out here. While I don't exactly side with that way of thinking, are we prepared if God answers the prayers of the persecuted Church in China?

I don't want the Church here to learn the hard way, but it looks as if we need a more catastrophic event to wake us from our slumber. God help us all should that catastrophe come and we are unprepared.