“Where’s God today?” is one of the most common questions I’m asked after I tell someone that I’m a Christian. The question implies that in a suffering world it’s hard to believe a good God exists. We struggle with this question, but I’m beginning to think that we do so for all the wrong reasons.
The rhetorical question of “Where’s God today?” makes me ask the question “Why isn’t the Church making this clear?” If it’s our duty as Christians to show others who God is by living like Jesus—in love, kindness, and generosity—then the fact that this question is being asked reflects poorly on us, not God. We struggle with answering it because we, as Christian communities, are struggling with our faith.
An example: There is enough wealth in the world to solve world hunger and the water crisis, even in the midst of famines in places like the Horn of Africa. So the question isn’t “Why isn’t God providing?” but “Why aren’t we as Christians in wealthy nations responding?” Self-sacrifice has become a colloquialism in Christianity, while the way of the cross is, in actuality, being set aside.
But the world’s problems aren’t the only reason why Christians are asked, “Where is God?” We’re showing little evidence that God is here today—as an actor in our midst performing miracles and gifting us with other gifts—and is always accessible. Likewise, wisdom has become uncommon. It’s something we seek and learn through prayer, simple observations of how the world functions, and experience. (The basis for this is the sources of wisdom in Proverbs that are cited: teachers, observing people and nature, and seeking God’s direct guidance.) The experience part most of us get, but the prayer part most of us are terrible at. And many of the people in our communities that have wisdom, like the elderly, are not looked to as teachers, but instead are set aside; we as Christians often treat them like everyone else in our culture—as second class.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul presents an alternative.
For Paul, wisdom is one of the ways that God shows who He is through us. It demonstrates His presence to those around us. It’s a gift from Him. And like other spiritual gifts, it’s for the purpose of being helpful (a perhaps better gloss of “good” in 1 Corinthians 12:7). This helpfulness should be directed towards God’s purposes: growing the church and simply loving others.
The “utterance” or “word” of wisdom is steeped in tradition: primarily the book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. And related to the wisdom tradition is the story of Job, Songs of Solomon, and the Psalms.
If you want to know what it means to be wise, spend some time in Proverbs. (Every time I do, I find out how far I still need to go in my spiritual journey. Proverbs is meant to humble us and teach us; that’s precisely what it does.) Proverbs tell us “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.” It also says that when we become wise that “Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul” (Proverbs 2:6, 9–10 ESV).
And all of this is directly connected to what we choose to do about the world’s problems and what we encourage other people to do. Proverbs makes this point as well:
We learn in John’s Gospel that Jesus Himself is this wisdom (John 1:1). The same language is actually reflected here in Paul’s letter: “the word of wisdom.” (“Word” is a more literal translation of “utterance”—both are based on the same Greek word, logos.) By acting upon wisdom, we act upon the very belief set that Jesus established—His very personhood is shown through acts of self-sacrifice.
If we could simply follow the way of the sage through the power of the Holy Spirit, we would all be much more Christ like. And some are more gifted in this than others—it’s to them that we should look to when attempting to discern a difficult decision.
Wisdom is only hard to come by today because we do not seek it. In a letter by James, (likely the brother of Jesus), we’re told: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting” (James 1:5).
If we could find our way back towards valuing wisdom, and placing an emphasis on it, perhaps less people would ask, “Where is God?” and more would ask, “How can I know Him?”
Are there people in your Church who seem to be wise; do people look to them for guidance? How would you recommend we, as Christians, begin to place an emphasis on wisdom again?
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