“But what sort of thing is God’s gift of wisdom? What effect does it have on a man?
Here many go wrong. We can make clear the nature of their mistake by an illustration.
If you stand at the end of a platform on York station, you can watch a constant succession of engine and train movements which, if you are a railway enthusiast, will greatly fascinate you. But you will only be able to form a very rough and general idea of the overall plan in terms of which all these movements are being determined (the operational pattern set out in the working time-table, modified if need be on a minute-to-minute basis according to the actual running of the trains). If, however, you are privileged enough to be taken by on the high-ups into the magnificent electrical signal-box that lies athwart platforms 7 and 8, you will see on the longest wall a diagram of the entire track layout for five miles on either side of the statio, with little glow-worm lights moving or stationary on the different tracks to show the signalmen at a glance exactly where every engine and train is. At once you will be able to look at the whole situation through the eyes of the men who control it: you will see from the diagram why it was that this train had to be signalled to a halt, and that one diverted from its normal running line, and that one parked temporarily in a siding. The why and the wherefore of all these movements becomes plain, once you can see the overall position.
Now, the mistake that is commonly made is to suppose that this is an illustration of what God does when He bestows wisdom: to suppose, in other words, that the gift of wisdom consists in a deepened insight into the providential meaning and purpose of events going on around us, an ability to see why God has done what He has done in a particular case, and what He is going to do next.
People feel that if they were really walking close to God, so that He could impart wisdom to them freely, then they would, so to speak, find themselves in the signal-box; they would discern the real purpose of everything that happened to them, and it would be clear to them every moment how God was making all things work together for good. Such people spend much time poring over the book of providence, wondering why God should have allowed this or that to take place, whether they should take it as a sign to stop doing one thing and start doing another, or what they should deduce from it. If they end up baffled, they put it down to their own lack of spirituality.
Christians suffering from depression, physical, mental, or spiritual (note, these are three different things!) may drive themselves almost crazy with this kind of futile enquiry. For it is futile: make no mistake about that. It is true that when God has given us guidance by application of principles He will on occasion confirm it to us by unusual providences, which we recognise at once as corroborative signes. But this is quite a different thing from trying to read a message about God’s secret purposes out of every unusual thing that happens to us. So far from the fidt of widsom consisting in the power to do this, the gift actually presupposes our conscious inability to do it; as we shall see in a moment.
We ask again: what does it mean for God to give us widsom? What kind of a gift is it?
If another transport illustration may be permitted, it is like being taught to drive. What matters in driving is the speed and appropriateness of your reactions to things, and the soundness of your judgment as to what scope a situation gives you. You do not ask yourself why the road should narrow or screw itself in a dog-leg wiggle just where it does, now why that van should be parked where it is, nor why the lady (or gentleman) in front should hug the crown of the road so lovingly; you simply try to see and do the right thing in the actual situation that presents itself. The effect of divine wisdom is to enable you and me to do just that in the actual situations of everyday life.
To drive well, you have to keep your eyes skinned to notice exactly what it is in front of you. To live wisely, you have to be clear-sighted and realistic ”“ ruthlessly so ”“ in looking at life as it is. Wisdom will not go with comforting illusions, false sentiment, or the use of rose-coloured spectacles. Most of us live in a dream world, with our heads in the clouds and our feet off the groun; we never see the world, and our lives in it, as they really are. This deep-seated, sin-bred unrealism is one reason why there is so much little wisdom among us ”“ even the soundest and most orthodox of us….
–JI Packer, Knowing God, quoted in this morning’s adult Sunday school class on Proverbs and the book of James