Wisdom and Government Part 1
When a society abandons God and His Word, it abandons the only true source of wisdom, and the result is folly in our personal, social, and civil governments.
The Threat of Government
John Whitehead, an American civil rights attorney with a long and distinguished career battling for freedom and justice, in his recent book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging Police State (2013), has warned decisively that the citizenries of the West are being conditioned to become accepting of the usurpation of their liberties by civil government and its bureaucrats:
Americans are finding themselves institutionalized from cradle to grave, from government-run daycares and public school to nursing homes. In between, they are fed a constant, mind-numbing diet of pablum consisting of entertainment news, mediocre leadership, and technological gadgetry, which keeps them sated, distracted, and unwilling to challenge the status quo. All the while, in the name of the greater good and in exchange for the phantom promise of security, the government strips away our rights one by one – monitoring our conversations, chilling our expression, searching our bodies and our possessions, doing away with our due process rights, reversing the burden of proof and rendering us suspects in a surveillance state.[i]
Illustrations of this retreat from wisdom and freedom proliferate weekly, from Extremism Disruption Orders in Britain to Toronto bureaucrats banning a Christian band from singing in a city square because allegedly singing praise to Jesus in public is illegal proselytizing, whilst Islamic festivals, pro-pot marches, pride parades and Hindu celebrations are warmly welcomed. The diet of media pablum was never more apparent than in the recent Canadian elections. The English commentator and member of the European Parliament, Daniel Hannan, commenting on the recent federal election said, “Justin Trudeau, the new Canadian PM, is like a depilated Occupy protester: pro-tax, anti-business, pro-pot, anti-American.”[ii]
We might add, pro-stimulus (i.e. inflation), pro-climate change propaganda, and swept to power on promises of ‘security’ from daycare to pensions. At the same time, the emerging Canadian dynasty is one with a history of serial adultery and fornication with pro-Islamic and Marxist sympathies; a dynasty which brought every aspect of the sexual revolution into Canada in the late sixties, opening the floodgates to abortion, sexual perversion and the destruction of the family, manufacturing a Charter that has been used to browbeat Christians ever since. Many Christians are left scratching their heads and asking what has happened to wisdom and virtue in our culture.
Wisdom and Virtue
Until relatively recently two of the characteristics that have been looked for and prioritized when selecting religious, political and legislative leaders in the Western world have been wisdom and virtue. Because of the deep influence of Christianity in the Anglosphere, both competency and character mattered as qualifications for leadership. This was because, for the most part, the peoples of the Anglosphere themselves considered wisdom and virtue to be noble aims and core goals in the character development of the young through family life and education. The word virtue comes from a Latin word and originally meant strength, courage and moral excellence. The words in the biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek translated as ‘virtue’ essentially mean moral strength, a prudent use of one’s abilities and a general competency.
Wisdom is a related and central concern of the Bible. Wisdom (Grk. sophia) in biblical terms is not simply the accumulation of information. Rather it encompasses the practical knowledge of how to regulate one’s relationship with God; prudence in dealing with others; judiciousness in the handling of circumstances; and skill or expertise in the application of knowledge to the diverse areas of life.
Wisdom is such an important theme in Scripture that in the book of Proverbs the very voice of God is personified as wisdom, and Christ himself, in Paul’s letters, is the one in whom are hid all treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3). We are told in the Scriptures that wisdom is a blessing (Prov. 3:13), the foundation of a good life (Prov. 24:3) and so the principal thing to seek, prize and treasure (Prov. 4:7). In the New Testament, the apostle James reveals the importance of Christians praying for this wisdom and God’s willingness to supply it to those that ask him:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (Jam 1:5).
We should also note that in Scripture the wisdom that God gives is not limited to one area of life – such as wisdom for your personal life with your family, or for church-related activities. Rather, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are available in Christ (Col. 2:3). In God’s written word the Holy Spirit has deposited the true, foundational principles for life and peace, virtue and excellence, in each area of life. In 1 Kings 10:24 we read of the wisest head of state in the ancient world, noted author of the book of Proverbs, King Solomon, who had famously asked God for wisdom above everything else. The result was that “King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the world in riches and wisdom. The whole world wanted an audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom that God had put in his heart.”
In one case, the queen of Sheba (likely an Egyptian queen), having heard of Solomon’s great wisdom, came to test him with difficult questions: “She came to Solomon and spoke to him about everything that was on her mind. So Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too difficult for the king to explain to her” (1 Kings 10:2-3).
Moreover, we see in Scripture (i.e. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs) that the wisdom Solomon had was: zoological or scientific, economic, political, philosophical, ethical, cultural, marital, familial and much more. It is therefore a serious mistake to limit the wisdom of God to one small area of life (my personal piety) as though mere human wisdom is competent for regulating social order, education, law and other cultural pursuits and disciplines. It was God who put wisdom into Solomon’s heart to answer all kinds of questions and to rule wisely.
In fact we are repeatedly told in the Bible that it is by wisdom that God himself sustains and governs all things in all creation (Prov. 3:19; Jer. 51:15). If that is so, how can we as mere mortals dispense with God’s wisdom – even in the building of houses (Prov. 24:3), let alone the government of human affairs? Thus, in the biblical worldview, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10). Wisdom and virtue, then, or what we might call good character, are the most important attributes for all leaders to display, since they both publicly set the example for others, and are entrusted with responsibility in various areas of government in human society.
The Way of Folly
There is, of course, another possible approach to life. Over against the way of wisdom, human beings in their individual lives and within their social orders can pursue the way of folly. As a consequence people will find themselves with leaders who will play the fool for them. Few worse things can afflict any people than to be led by fools. To understand folly biblically one must see it as the opposite of God’s wisdom. In Scripture, wisdom is the path of life and light and folly is the way of death and darkness.
The fool in Scripture is not an uneducated dunce or illiterate ignoramus – in fact the world has an abundance of brilliant and gifted fools. Rather the path of folly is the one which rejects or denies the reality of God and so determines to live, work, plan and govern in studied ignorance of him. First the fool nurtures in his heart the desire that there would be no God (Ps. 14:1). But there is much more to folly than this. It is the implications that flow from this position that constitute that path of foolishness. In a telling passage concerning the coming of righteous rulers and just government, the prophet Isaiah shows that what characterizes the fool is speech that is not informed by God’s wisdom; a mind that plots iniquity; a lifestyle that is godless; a heart that spews out falsehoods about God and ultimate issues (or speaks religious falsehood); and an imprudent and self-centred outlook that destroys the vulnerable or deprives those in need, leaving people impoverished (Isa. 32:6). By contrast, “the noble person plans noble things; and he stands up for noble causes… the result of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quiet confidence forever” (Isa. 32:8, 17).
Clearly to forsake the source of all wisdom, which is God, is to be a fool who ruins his life and the lives of others who come under his sway, no matter what human credentials a fool may have. Such a person depends solely upon their own ideas, intellectual powers and native strength, not the wisdom of God.
This means that in an essentially spiritual world (that is, a world that is intimately related in all its diversity and in every way to God), they are spiritually blind and in obstinate rebellion against God, his truth, purposes and ways. This leads to the hostility of fools toward all those who represent God’s wisdom, since they are an inconvenient reminder of the fool’s rejection of the living God and his truth which they suppress in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Indeed for Paul, this deliberate suppression of the knowledge of God is the root cause of what makes a person a fool. So Paul declares, “claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22).