Few people would argue that education is not important Scripture teaches us there's no intellectual road that takes us to heavenly wisdom. So how does one become truly wise? Today on Truth for Life, we're concluding a message titled, Who Is Wise?
Alistair Begg is teaching from the book of James chapter 3, we're in verses 13 through 18. Yale was founded in 1701. And the reason for the founding of Yale was because congregational believers—that is, believers in the congregational church—were disappointed by the growing apostasy at Harvard. And Edwards and his colleagues emerged from Yale and said, We'd better try another place.
And they founded Princeton University as a reaction to Harvard and to Yale. What is the point of declension at every point? It is the departure from wisdom and the embracing of earthly perspectives.
Simplistic analysis? Undoubtedly. Faithfully true?
Yes. In other words, such cries are far removed from the contemporary president of Harvard, who said just recently, Things divine have been central neither to my professional nor to my private life. I admire his honesty. At least it's true. But it is a long way removed, isn't it? Let's just pause and acknowledge something that is patently obvious. Ideas have consequences. And people know that ideas have consequences, and that's why advertising is as profoundly impactful as it is. David Myers wrote a book called The American Paradox. Spiritual hunger in an age of plenty was the subtitle.
It was published, actually, by Yale University Press. And this paradox he described as follows. We're better fed, better paid, better housed, better educated, and healthier than ever before, and with more human rights, faster communication, and more convenient transportation than we have ever known. Alongside all this largess, however, are the signs of life in pain and travail. Since 1960, the divorce rate has doubled, teen suicide has tripled, violent crime quadrupled, the number in prison has quintupled, illegitimate children six times sextupled, and the number of those cohabiting has increased sevenfold.
Now, these are facts. Ideas have consequences. The idea that there is a God to whom men and women are accountable has an impact, when believed, on the lives and lifestyles of those who believe. The idea that we are simply a random collection of molecules held in suspension with no particular significance at all also has implications—not least of all in how we spend our time, our money, and with whom we spend our time and money.
And it may be with whomsoever we choose, and on whatsoever we desire, depending on the source of wisdom. I give kudos to Scotland. I take some of it back now in relationship to the Enlightenment. Scottish philosophers can't wiggle out of that one. They had a large part to play.
In doing what? In taking the notion of revelation that God has spoken in his world and putting it over in a corner and replacing revelation with rationality, so that instead of our root to God being a root which comes as a result of his revelation and his initiative, any lingering root to God would be a root that would come through our own intellect. Therefore, having set aside the notion of revelation and having embraced rationalism, we then follow that track down, and it leads us to nowhere in the end.
And no surprise! Because God has made foolish the wisdom of this world, so that man by his wisdom cannot know God, that there is ultimately no intellectual road to God. As good as apologetics are, they cannot argue to God. If you're an atheist, it won't be apologetics that brings you to Jesus. It will be the fact that God reveals himself to you.
And maybe in the strangest person, maybe in somebody that you think is a nut, maybe in somebody that couldn't even stand with you in intellectual discourse, and maybe it is in a child, maybe it is in looking into the eyes of someone and seeing the compassion of Christ there. It will be by means of revelation. But the Enlightenment shifts revelation, replaces it with rationalism. The ensuing years follow.
You fast-forward up to the twenty-first century, and where are we now? You don't have many scientific rationalists really left at all. There used to be a lot of them all over the place—Case Western Reserve, there are some, the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospital, and all of those kind of people.
But not many. It's fascinating. Talk with them. They may have crystals hanging from their mirrors. They may be asking you about angels. They may be wanting to talk to you about the healing power of prayer, although they don't believe that prayer means anything or goes anywhere or does anything.
But if it can possibly make them feel good, then they'll be happy to think about it. But of course, if you have a view on it, don't hold it in any sense vociferously, because they will know immediately that you must be wrong. Because rationalism argued for the goalposts being in place and the lines being drawn and the referee with a whistle.
But in the twenty-first century, there are no goalposts, there are no lines, there is no referee, there is no need for a whistle. Because there is no—in the minds of contemporary philosophy—there is no objective basis whereby we can deduce right from wrong. And jurisprudence is full of it. How can you have the Menendez brothers' trial, to which they confessed and in a hung jury?
First time around. And we could go through a whole host of these things. What's the problem? The problem is that the jurors who sit aren't wise. Well, they might be intelligent, but they're not wise. Because they don't have the wisdom that comes from heaven. The wisdom that comes from heaven, which is moral before it's intellectual, which is ethical and practical before it is simply intellectually absorbable. Hence the teaching in our schools. Much of it is very effective, but it is not wise. The decisions that are made in the schools, they're not wise decisions.
Why? Because in order to make a wise decision, you have to become a wise man or a wise woman. How do you become a wise woman or a wise man? By bowing down before God and acknowledging that he is the Creator, that we are accountable to him as Creator, that we depend upon him for our life and our breath and our existence and our minds and everything else besides. And contemporary man is unprepared for such an admission.
I'm not gonna bow down before someone I can't see. So what are we? Well, we're just a culture in crisis.
And the reason we're a culture in crisis or Western civilizations in crisis is because we're individuals in crisis. Because the average person can't answer the question, Who are you? Who are you? Oh, we maybe joke about, what's her name? And the coming in and going out and what she's doing, or who knows?
Any of them. I see them every so often. I try and help my wife about once a month and go to the grocery store. And there, when you're getting cartons of milk, you just get the whole civilization there. You only have to be there about a minute and a half. You get the whole deal. Who's leaving who? Who's getting back together? Who's married?
Who's divorced? Whatever else it is. And you can look at it, you can disdain it, or you can just burst into tears when you think about it. Because they don't have an answer to the who question. Who am I? You see, if a person can't ask the who question, Who am I?
and answer it properly and say, Well, I am a moral being made in the image of a God to whom I am accountable and before whom one day I will stand, then they're gonna have to come up with something else. Who am I? I am my genes. The great search, you know? The great genetic search.
We understand it from a medical perspective. But what's the big deal? Are you really that fascinated by your chromosomes? Who are you? I'm my genes. I am my sexual orientation. I am my past. I am my self-image. I am my personality.
I am my experiences. I am what I possess. I am what I eat. I am what I don't eat. I am what I do. I am what I know. I don't know what I am.
Okay, now you're being honest. Ideas of consequences. Children cannot be taught at school that they were born without reason, that they prolong themselves by chance, and they die and they go into oblivion without it will make an impact on their lives and on their tiny minds. There's all the difference in the world between putting your head on the pillow at night as a teenage boy trying to make sense of your existence, knowing that God is in heaven and he will care for you if you call out to him, and being told that there is no possible explanation for your existence.
So whether you awake or whether you die, whether you live or whether you're significant, is entirely irrelevant. Ideas of consequences. Now, let's have the wise and the understanding stand over by the tree, says James. Let me give you one long quote, and then a short quote, and then we're done. This is from Walter Lippmann in a book called A Preface to Morals, in which he describes the experience of what he refers to as man in the twenty-first century.
Listen carefully to this. Moments of blank misgiving, in which he finds that the civilization of which he is a part leaves a dusty taste in his mouth. He may be very busy with many things, but he discovers one day that he's no longer sure that they are worth doing. He has been much preoccupied, but he's no longer sure he knows why. He has become involved in an elaborate routine of pleasures, and they do not seem to amuse him very much. He finds it hard to believe that doing any one thing is better than any other thing, or in fact is better than doing nothing at all. It occurs to him that it is a great deal of trouble to live, and that even in the best of lives the thrills are few and far between. He begins more or less to seek satisfaction because he is no longer satisfied, and all the while he realizes that the pursuit of happiness was always a most unhappy quest. You say, Well, okay, fine.
No, no, no, no, not so fast. Are you gonna sign a living will and have a physician who fits that description make a decision about the end of your life? Clever enough to become a doctor, but not a wise man.
Clever enough to put the machinery in place and to understand the chemistry, but not a wise woman. Someone who, when she awakened in the morning and got in her car and drove it to the garage, said, I don't know whether it is significant for me to be a doctor or not. I don't know whether it's significant for me to live or not. I don't know whether I have any reason for existence whatsoever. But let me go in now and make sure I take care of the rest of the universe when they're all presented to me in my surgery.
Ideas of consequences. And the old pictures of the doctor with the stethoscope hanging around his neck and the black bag and everything else are all regarded as a charming past. You know, haha, that's the old days of whoever that painter was that everybody had or has that you get in garage sales with the doctor and the dentist and everybody else. What's he called?
Who? Yeah, that's in Rockwell. Plates.
He has plates. I remember that. But there is a nostalgia in that, because you can't imagine a Norman Rockwell plate, can you, for euthanasia? The Norman Rockwell plate, with the tube being removed from your grandmother's wrist?
Ideas of consequences, loved ones. Don't miss this. And don't think for a moment that this is what happens when you read books and sit in the library all day. This is down at the popular level.
This is down at the grassroots. 1953, Samuel Beckett's play, Waiting for Godot, or Godot, as is said here—I don't know where the emphasis should be in the syllable—but you know the play. It opened in Paris in 1953. I missed the opening.
I was only one. And it's amazing to me that that play is still out there. Have you ever seen it?
Have you ever read it? There's no plot. There's actually no play. No movement. Nothing happens. No one goes anywhere. No conclusions are reached.
No issues are resolved. And then the curtain closes, and everybody goes, Man! Whoo! That was fantastic! What did you make of that? I just wasted twenty-seven bucks. That's what I made of that. That's unbelievable. I can do that to myself. You know, I can pull my shower curtain over and sit in front of it.
How can we do stuff like that? Because we're not wise. It's an expression of foolishness. It's an expression of nihilism. It is an expression of emptiness. It is an expression of lostness.
It is the wisdom that is earthly and sensual and irredeemable. And then just in case you say, Well, you know, so what? I don't know who Beckett was, and I frankly don't care. You don't need to go there. You just need to turn your TV on. Watch the reruns. Watch the reruns.
Because Waiting for Godot has reincarnated itself a number of times, and best of all, in a show about nothing. Well, there couldn't be a show about nothing, was there? Who would write a show about nothing? Seinfeld?
Yeah? Everybody said, Hey, it's gonna be terrific! Wednesday night there's a show about nothing! Can you believe that? No, I can't. Well, you wait and see.
It'll be terrific. Thomas Hibbs says, A show about the comical consequences of a life in a world void of ultimate significance or fundamental meaning. The comical consequences of life in a world void of ultimate significance or fundamental meaning. That's what it's all about.
And that's why, you see, in that show, it always goes back to the bass guitar, doesn't it? Now we're off, and George is having a cup of tea with somebody. And now Elaine is over here trying to get Kramer out of wherever else it is. You say, Well, how do we get from here to there? Doesn't matter! It doesn't matter. There is no from here to there.
They're all disjointed random events in a random world full of random people going nowhere at all. It's fools' wisdom. And the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Socrates, my final quote, All of the wisdom of this world is but a tiny raft upon which we must set sail when we leave this earth. If only there was a firmer foundation upon which to sail, perhaps some divine word! Tiny raft, hanging all of our hopes on fools' wisdom! If only there was some foundation! If only there was a lifeboat coming from somewhere!
And there is! The foolishness of the cross is the wisdom of God. And the wisdom of God is powerful in its impact. We used to sing about it when we were small. We made it easy living on the Clyde in Glasgow, because these huge ocean-going liners came up—navy liners and commercial liners—but they couldn't navigate the Clyde until the pilot went out, down by Gourach or Greenock. And as a boy, I would always watch as the tiny tugboat went out, as the huge liner got so far and stopped, and then the fellow would climb up the steps, and he would get on, and then the thing would reconvene, and then it would be taken safely into the harbor. The guy got it so far but couldn't get it to his destination, and then the pilot came.
And at Sunday school, we taught a little song. It was, Do you want a pilot? Signal then to Jesus.
Do you want a pilot? Then bid him come on board, and he will safely guide, across the ocean wide, until at last you reach the heavenly harbor. There is only one person in the whole world that can make it possible for any one of us to safely reach the harbor of heaven, and that is Jesus Christ himself—a notion which is regarded as abject, total foolishness, but which is, says Scripture, the very wisdom of God. I commend you to Jesus as your only Savior and as our only hope in life and in death. The wisdom that comes from heaven is moral, it's ethical, and it's practical before it's ever intellectual. We become wise only when we love and honor God. We're listening to Alistair beg on Truth for Life, and Alistair returns in just a minute to close today's program.
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Popular titles sell out quickly though, so don't delay. To see what's currently available, go to truthforlife.org slash store. Now here is Alistair to close with prayer. O God, our Father part us now with your blessing. May those of us who are wrestlers on the sea of life cry out to you as a pilot to come and take control of our zigzagging lives, of our threatening upheavals, to meet with us in our storms and in our frantic attempts to get who knows where.
Forgive us for thinking we can do it on our own, figure it out. We put our hands over our mouths and we say, O God, come and take control today. Fill me with the Lord Jesus Christ in all of his wisdom and his righteousness and his truth. And may grace and mercy and peace from the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit be the abiding portion of all who believe today and forevermore. Amen. I'm Bob Lapine.
Thanks for listening. If true wisdom isn't a product of advanced education or some kind of super intelligence, then what is it that defines it? Join us tomorrow to find out how the book of James describes wisdom from heaven. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
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