Faithlife
Faithlife

Where Can Wisdom be Found(Keller)

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Notes & Transcripts
Job 28:9–15 ESV
9 “Man puts his hand to the flinty rock and overturns mountains by the roots. 10 He cuts out channels in the rocks, and his eye sees every precious thing. 11 He dams up the streams so that they do not trickle, and the thing that is hidden he brings out to light. 12 “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? 13 Man does not know its worth, and it is not found in the land of the living. 14 The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’ and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’ 15 It cannot be bought for gold, and silver cannot be weighed as its price.
Job 28:20–28 ESV
20 “From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding? 21 It is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air. 22 Abaddon and Death say, ‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’ 23 “God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. 24 For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. 25 When he gave to the wind its weight and apportioned the waters by measure, 26 when he made a decree for the rain and a way for the lightning of the thunder, 27 then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out. 28 And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’ ”
Job 28:20-28
There is nothing more inevitable in life than suffering. We’ve been looking at the book of Job because the book of Job faces the issue of suffering with more emotional realism, intellectual integrity, and practical wisdom than any other book of the Bible and perhaps than any other work of world literature. The book of Job is about Job, a man who was a devout believer in God and a pillar of his community and yet, in spite of this, finds that suddenly, inexplicably, everything he has is essentially taken away from him: his health, his wealth, and his family. It’s all gone, and he’s plunged into this great agony, and he wrestles for chapters and chapters of long speeches and discourses and prayers. It’s a tremendous experience just to read and study and go through it, which we have been doing. Now this chapter, chapter 28, is a poem by Job, and not only is it in some ways the apex of Job’s artistry in the book, but, more importantly for our concerns, it’s the apex of Job’s insight. In the midst of all his struggling, he comes to probably his greatest insight about what he has to do, what he must face, and what the suffering means. This poem is all about wisdom. Largely, in other words, Job is saying suffering is a matter of wisdom. It requires wisdom to handle it rightly, and, rightly handled, suffering produces more wisdom. So what we’re going to do here is take a look at what these sections of the chapter, these sections of the poem, tell us, and they’re going to tell us four things. They’re going to tell us about the importance of wisdom and yet the inaccessibility of it, and they’re going to tell us about the source of wisdom and yet the secret of it. The importance and inaccessibility, the source and secret of true wisdom, especially as that bears on how we handle suffering. 1. The importance of true wisdom Notice verses 9–15. The poem is making the case that wisdom is a treasure. We tunnel into the mountains to get gold and silver, it says, and yet (verse 15) wisdom cannot be bought with the finest gold, nor can its price be weighed in silver. That’s an amazing statement if you think about it. It’s really saying gold and silver are nothing compared to wisdom. It’s like trying to buy Hunter College with several pebbles. You don’t come to the city and say, “Here, I found these pebbles. Could I buy Hunter College with it?” They wouldn’t even begin to assess it. You can’t do that. He’s saying the same thing about wisdom. Over and over, the Bible says wisdom is more important than anything else. It’s the most important thing. Here’s the reason why. Wisdom, according to verse 12, understanding and wisdom … The two Hebrew words there are biynah, insight, and chokmah, mastery. In the Bible, wisdom means understanding how things work (that’s the insight), understanding how the human heart works, times and seasons, how life works, so well that you make masterful decisions. That is, wisdom is not less than being moral; it’s more. To be wise is to know what to do in the 90 percent of life situations to which the moral rules don’t apply. For example, some decisions just take facts. “Should I take medicine or not? Should I take this medicine or that medicine?” Those are just facts. Some decisions just take values. Sometimes you know what is right and you know what is wrong, and if you’re a person of character, you do the right thing. But 90 percent of the decisions in front of us (and they’re very important decisions) neither facts nor character really help. “Should I date this person? Should I break up with this person? Should I marry this person?” There are all sorts of right options, but which is the wise one? “Should I take this career? Should I open my mouth and confront this person, or should I be quiet and bide my time?” Most of the decisions that can really muck up your life if made wrongly require wisdom, or you’re dead. Not just morality and not just facts and knowledge, but wisdom. For example, you can utterly destroy a poor family if you try to help them and you don’t understand the complexities and dynamics of poverty. For example, to want to help a poor family out of poverty … The motivation is right, and your methodologies may be completely ethical, but if you have a naïve understanding of poverty … If you have a liberal naïve idea that says poverty is just oppression so just throw money at the person, or if you have a conservative naïve idea, which is poverty is really just a matter of lack of personal initiative and responsibility so just exhort them … In other words, if you have a naïve idea of the complexities and dynamics of poverty, you can do everything right, your motive is right, your ethic is right, your method is right and moral and so on, and yet you destroy the people. Why? You’re incompetent with regard to the complexities of life. That’s what wisdom is: competency with regard to the complexities of life. You have to have wisdom. Its price can’t be weighed in silver. Especially when it comes to suffering you need to have wisdom to know what to do, when to cry, when to start this, when to stop this, and so forth. 2. The inaccessibility of true wisdom If you actually look at the first stanza, you’ll see it’s not just saying wisdom is more valuable than silver or gold; it’s actually saying also that it’s inaccessible, unlike silver and gold. It tells us man’s hand assaults the flinty rock and lays bare the roots of the mountains. How does that happen? Technology, craftsmanship. “He tunnels through the rock; his eyes see all its treasures. He searches the sources of the rivers and brings hidden things to light.” Our technology, our reason, our craftsmanship, can actually get silver and gold, those kinds of treasures. But where is wisdom found? Of course, that’s a rhetorical question. The answer is you can’t find wisdom. Why? Verse 13 tells you: “… it cannot be found in the land of the living.” That’s a profound statement. In other words, wisdom is not something you can find in the empirical realm. Human reason is made for discovering the wonders of the empirical realm, but human reason cannot give you wisdom. Human reason alone, science, technology cannot in that realm … That’s not the place where you get wisdom. It’s very profound and, by the way, very up to date. How does that work? Let me explain. The philosopher today who has probably best shown the truth of verses 9–13 is the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. We have talked about him for a while. His argument goes like this. In the twentieth century we’ve been told that, no, as far as science knows, we’re not created by God; we are the product of random and blind cosmic, physical, chemical forces and evolution. We just happened; we weren’t created by God. However, we don’t need belief in God, and we don’t need religion in order to deal with our big problems … the problems of war, violence, racism, poverty, and injustice. Those problems we can tackle with science and technology, with human reason. That’s all we need. We don’t need faith in God or religion or anything like that. MacIntyre says that’s not true, because you can’t find wisdom in the land of the living, in the empirical realm. Here’s how he argues. See this watch? Is this a good watch or not? Well, what if somebody says, “No, I just tried to hammer a nail with it this morning, and it didn’t even go in; it’s a bad watch”? You say, “No, that’s not fair. It tells me time.” In other words, if you hammer a nail and it doesn’t work, that doesn’t make it a bad watch. Why? The watch isn’t made for nail-hammering; it’s made for time-telling. So if it tells you time and doesn’t hammer a nail, then it’s a good watch. In other words, as MacIntyre would say, before you can answer the question, “Is it a good watch?” you must answer the prior question, “What is the watch for?” If you don’t know what the watch is for, if you don’t know its purpose, if you don’t know what it was made for, there’s no way to talk about whether it’s a good or bad watch. Right? Fine. How are we going to handle the problems of war, racism, injustice, and poverty? The only way we can even tackle those problems is if we come up with a common-consensus definition of what the good human life is, what human flourishing is, what good and bad human behavior is. Right? But wait a minute. As MacIntyre says, you can’t even begin to define what a good or bad person is unless you first answer the prior question … What are human beings made for? What are we here for? What is our purpose? What were we made for? We live in a culture that says we weren’t made for anything; we’re here by accident. MacIntyre says in a culture that says we’re here by accident, that says you don’t need God or religion, there is absolutely no way to define good and bad human behavior. It’s all a matter of opinion. “You may feel that’s good or bad, but you can’t possibly impose that on me.” Therefore, MacIntyre says, any society that says all we need is science … Science can give us information and facts but never wisdom. Science can tell us what is but never what ought to be. A society in which we say, “Oh, there is no purpose; we weren’t made for any purpose,” and that brackets out God and religion and philosophy and that sort of thing will never be able to come to consensus on what good and bad human behavior is, and it will tear itself apart arguing about it, and that’s exactly what you have. Why? Because wisdom is not found in the land of the living. It’s with God. Unless we have some idea of having been created for something, there’s no way we can solve our problems, because there’s no way we can agree on what good human life is, what human flourishing is, what a healthy human life is, what just and unjust, good and bad human behavior is. So not only is wisdom important, but secondly, it’s inaccessible. Let me tell you. Sometimes you can read scientific articles on how to handle anxiety, maybe, saying, “Well, if you have stress and anxiety, we know you should exercise, or you should do this or that,” but you’re never going to find a scientific, empirical, experimentally-based answer of “Here’s how you can handle the horrible, horrendous suffering of your life.” Science can’t tell you a thing. Technology can’t tell you a thing. Tunneling, drilling … It cannot be found in the land of the living. 3. The source of true wisdom You have the source. Notice the first question in the first stanza is verse 12, where it says, “Where can wisdom be found?” But the second time a question is posed, in the second stanza, the question is changed, isn’t it? The second time in verse 20 it says, “Where then does wisdom come from?” That’s a different question. See, the first question is, “If I’m trying to find it with my human technology, can I find it?” and the answer is, “No.” But the second question is, “Can I receive wisdom if I listen to it?” and the answer is, “Yes,” because it’s in God. Down in verse 28 it says, “And he said to man, ‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom …’ ” Now what’s the second stanza saying? It’s simply saying you’ll never find true wisdom out, you’ll never get a real grip on how life works and what people are for through human reason, but you can get a grip on it through revelation. You can get a grip on it if God speaks into our world and tells us what life is about, how it works, and how we can handle suffering. C.S. Lewis was still alive when the first Russian cosmonaut went into space. After he came down, Khrushchev was doing a speech about the glories of atheism (Khrushchev was the Russian premier at the time), and at one point he said, “We sent a cosmonaut up into space. He went up into heaven, and there was no God there.” He said this in one of his speeches. Lewis wrote a little quip kind of response to this. He basically said, “If there is a creator God, then we wouldn’t relate to God as a person on the first floor relates to a person on the second floor. That would be impossible. We would relate to God the way Shakespeare relates to a character in one of his plays. In other words, if Hamlet wants to know something about Shakespeare, he will learn nothing by going up into the rafters and looking. If Hamlet is going to know anything about Shakespeare, it would be if Shakespeare writes some information about himself into the play.” In other words, it has to be revealed to Hamlet. Hamlet can’t find it out otherwise. This is exactly what we have. This is the situation. If there is a God, there’s no way we’re going to know anything about what people are for and what life is all about simply by going into the rafters. God has to write something, and he has. It’s called the Word of God. In the Word of God, this is what he tells us. Two things, and you can actually see them in the structure of this second stanza. God made the world through wisdom. See that? Verses 24–27. There’s a pattern to the world. There are pathways. He measured things out. It was all done according to wisdom. This world has a fabric to it. There’s a pattern to it. He made it according to wisdom. There’s a physical, spiritual, and moral order to this world. Yet verse 23 says only God can see the whole thing. Now these are two parts of what the Bible says about everything in life. On the one hand, everything in life is created by God, and, therefore, there’s an order to it. On the other hand, everything in life is fallen. There’s evil in the world. Because of the finiteness of our minds and the brokenness of the world, though there is an order to things, it’s hidden from us to a great degree. You have to know both of these truths in order to be wise enough to handle suffering. Let me explain why this is so crucial. There’s nothing more practical than this. When I was reading through the book of Proverbs and we were preaching through this three or four years ago, one of the things that shocked me at first was how the first few chapters of Proverbs seemed to lay down these absolute rules. “If you work hard, you will be rich. If you train your children right, they will grow up and they’ll be fine.” Then, after about five or six chapters of these kinds of statements, along come statements like these proverbs: “The poor work hard, but oppression takes it away.” “You may love a child and you may do good to him, but he can turn around and double cross you.” Things like that. I was saying, “Wait a minute, wait a minute.” At first I was confused, because we tend to all read proverbs as if they’re rules. When I read a proverb that said, “If you work hard, you’ll be rich,” I said, “Well, that’s a rule or a promise.” But it’s neither. Proverbs is about wisdom, and wisdom is about how life ordinarily works. What I was seeing was, on the one hand, because there’s a created order, because God did make the world, in general, if you work hard, things go better for you. In general, if you love other people, people will love you back. Right? Yet this is also a fallen world. Therefore, there’s an order, but it’s a broken order and, to some degree, a hidden order because of the finiteness of our minds. Therefore, sometimes you do everything right and everything goes wrong. There are two kinds of fools in the world, two kinds of people who can’t handle suffering. There are, first of all, what I would call moralistic fools. Those are Job’s friends. What Job’s friends said was, “Job, if you live right, everything will go well for you. If things aren’t going well for you, you must be sinning.” They were moralistic fools. They understood the doctrine of creation but not the doctrine of the fall. They understood there was an order to the world, but they didn’t understand it was a broken and hidden order. On the other hand, you have relativistic fools, and there are a lot more of those people around New York. A relativistic fool says, “Well, you know, I can decide what is right or wrong for me. Everyone has to determine what is right or wrong for him or her.” That’s a relativistic fool. You can’t just decide what to eat. “Well, I think tomorrow I’m going to eat petroleum. Tomorrow I’m going to drink gasoline.” What you’re doing is violating your physical reality, and you’re going to die. You see, God didn’t just create a physical reality or fabric; he also created a moral and spiritual reality. Therefore, if you tell lies and don’t delay gratification and double cross people and don’t work hard, things will go poorly with you. See, the relativistic fool denies the doctrine of creation. The moralistic fool denies the doctrine of the fall. What does this have to do with suffering? Absolutely everything. Over the years, especially when I was a younger minister, I’ve sat in so many hospital rooms, so many funeral homes. I’ve sat with so many suffering people, and one of the things I’ve noticed is some people get better and some people get worse under suffering. Some people are completely overthrown by suffering, and other people seem to get kinder and softer and humbler. Why? I came to realize something. You have the pain of suffering, and then you have the shock of suffering. The pain of suffering is just the pain. If you lose your health, if you lose a loved one, it’s just the pain. There’s nothing you can do about that. But I found in the people who were overthrown by suffering, who just became confused and bitter and angry and became worse people under suffering, on top of the pain there was also the shock. Not only did they experience the pain of suffering, but they also were shocked, shocked, shocked this was even happening to them. You can’t do anything about the pain of suffering, but you can do everything about the shock. The shock comes from being a fool. The shock comes from having a view of life that’s unwise. The shock comes from either not having a doctrine of creation, or not having a doctrine of the fall, or maybe neither. Only if you have what the Bible says about the world, a doctrine of creation and fall, will you never be shocked by suffering, never be surprised. You know suffering comes and how it comes. There was an article in the New York Times Book Review today. It was a review of a book by Susan Sontag’s son who wrote a memoir about his famous mother and especially about how she died. She died slowly of cancer not too long ago. What’s intriguing about this review is that Susan Sontag (supposedly, according to what the reviewer said and what the son said) did not handle her last illness very well at all. This is what the review says: “In the most profound and affecting passages of the book, Rieff …” That’s the last name of the son, because she was married to Philip Rieff. “… questions whether, on some level, his mother thought that she was too special to die.” Rieff writes, “Her sense that whatever she could will in life she could probably accomplish had served her so well for so long that … it [became] her organizing principle, her true north. That same belief in the power of her own desire, that spectacular ambition, that intellectual bravado, made it impossible to accept that fatal illness was not another circumstance she could master.” This time it didn’t work. “She had the death that somewhere she must have come to believe that [only] other people had from cancer.” The whole point of the review and the whole point of what the son said was she had always faced everything with bravado. She had a view of life that said, “I can handle anything, I can master anything, I can overcome anything,” and she couldn’t this. She had a view of life that meant on top of the pain there was shock. She was absolutely shocked. “Wait a minute. This can’t be happening to me.” What’ll overthrow you is not the pain; it’s the shock. If you’re shocked, it’s because you’re a fool in some way, because you do not have a biblically balanced, thick, biblically and philosophically rich understanding of how life works, how the world works. But we’re not done. We’ve seen the importance, we’ve seen the inaccessibility, and we’ve seen the source of wisdom, which is the Word of God giving us an understanding of how life works. 4. The secret of true wisdom I said the source can handle the shock, but we still have something left that we still have to handle if we’re suffering, and that’s the pain. Even if you’re not shocked, shocked, shocked, even if you have a worldview that’s biblical enough to say, “Okay, I get it. I know it. This isn’t a big shock to me. I understand it,” the pain is still horrible, and how are you going to handle the pain? I would say the climax of this chapter, and maybe the climax of the book in some ways, is verse 28, the last verse in the chapter: “And [the Lord] said to man, ‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom …’ ” See, there have been these questions. “Where do I find wisdom? Where does wisdom come from? How do I get the wisdom to handle suffering?” “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” Now what is the fear of the Lord? Notice, by the way, shunning evil is morality, but morality isn’t enough. The fear of the Lord is an inward attitude of the heart. That’s what you have to have if you’re going to face suffering. That’s what you’re going to have to have if you’re going to be wise enough to face suffering, and what is that? Now listen. Nobody has thought about this term more than I have over the years, because as a preacher, I’m always having to preach on it. The English term fear of the Lord doesn’t seem to unlock itself right away for people. When you and I hear the word fear we think it means to be scared of, yet there is an element there … Here’s how I would like to put it. There’s a scariness in the presence of something bad, and that scariness consists of, “I’m afraid it’s going to hurt me,” but there’s also a scariness in the presence of something incredibly good, incredibly beautiful, incredibly wonderful. There’s something scary about that too. That comes across in The Chronicles of Narnia in that famous line Lewis keeps writing when somebody says, “Oh, Aslan, the lion. Is he safe?” The response is basically, “Safe? Whoever said anything about him being safe? Of course he’s not safe. But he’s good.” Someone who’s so good he’s not safe. There’s something scary about something incredibly beautiful. What is so scary about something incredibly beautiful and good? Well, it’s scary because it’s threatening. It’s threatening because we know it’s going to expose our flaws. Even more than that, I think it’s scary because we know in the presence of the infinitely good we’re going to lose control. We’re going to have to submit to it, because it would be wicked not to, but we’re going to lose control. In the presence of suffering, here’s what Job means, I think. What does the fear of the Lord mean in the presence of suffering? It means scary-level unconditional trust in the love of God in the midst of the darkness. The fear of the Lord is scary-level unconditional trust that God is loving you even though it doesn’t feel that way, that God is loving you even though everything around you seems dark. The fear of the Lord is scary-level unconditional trust that God loves you in spite of how it looks. It’s trusting God in the dark, trusting his love in the dark. Let me tell you why that’s so, so important. The only way you’re really going to become better rather than worse in suffering is if you do that. I still can’t come up with a better illustration than the one Elisabeth Elliot tells about how she was staying at a farm in the highlands of Wales, a place Kathy and I have been to, basically. Not the farm, but in that valley. She was staying with these farmers who had a lot of sheep. One time every year, the sheep had to be dipped into a big vat of antiseptic. Otherwise, the sheep would be literally eaten alive by parasites and insects. When Elisabeth Elliot watched the process by which these sheep were being put into the vat, she started to feel rather sympathetic to them. Here’s how it looked. To paraphrase, she says, “One by one the shepherd would seize the sheep as they struggled to climb out of the vat. If they tried to climb out of the vat on the other side, Mack the sheep dog would run around and snarl and snap in their faces to force them back under. If they tried to climb up the ramp toward John the shepherd, he would catch them, spin them around, force them under again, and hold them ears, eyes, and nose totally submerged. As I watched him do this, I realized I’d had many experiences in my life that made me feel very sympathetic to those sheep. A number of times I felt that the Great Shepherd, the Lord, was doing the very same thing to me. He was holding me underneath. I felt I was drowning, and when I asked, I didn’t get a word of explanation.” Let me tell you why that metaphor is so good. If I was a shepherd and I saw my sheep feeling like, “You’re killing me! You’re killing me …” You know, you love your sheep, so you’d want to give them an explanation. So go ahead. Just try. Try to give the sheep the explanation. I can guarantee you something. They will not be consoled by anything you say. Why? Because they’re sheep and you’re a shepherd. It’s a different order of reality. Yet if those sheep don’t trust that shepherd, they’re going to die. The Bible says he’s the Great Shepherd and we’re sheep, and we know this in our minds. It all makes sense, doesn’t it? Intellectually, metaphorically, it all makes sense, and then we find ourselves being held under, eyes, ears, nose, and we feel like, “I have to come up or I’m going to die,” and he won’t let us up. Yet if we don’t trust our Shepherd in the dark, we are going to die. If you can trust the Shepherd in the midst of the pain, it will make you wiser. It will make you better. It will make you humbler. It will make you more sympathetic. It will make you better in every way. My question, then, finally is … How do you do it? Here’s how you do it. Remember how I said a minute ago Lewis had this wonderful metaphor in which he said if God exists, then we would relate to God the way Hamlet relates to Shakespeare? Hamlet would only understand anything about Shakespeare if Shakespeare wrote some information about himself into the play. Guess what? We are, in a sense, in a play, and we have the great Playwright, God, but he didn’t just write into our history some information about himself. That would be wisdom, yeah, but he wrote himself into the play in the place of Jesus Christ. When Jesus Christ says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life …” Truth. What he is saying is not just, “I’m a true person,” but “I am the Truth personified.” He’s saying, “I’m not just a wise person; I am wisdom personified.” The only way for you to really get the wisdom that will enable you to handle the pain and become, in the end, a better person is not just if you have abstract principles, not just if you read the Bible so you have a doctrine of fall and creation. You have to know the One who is wisdom personally. How does that work out practically? Just like this. This is the most practical thing I could possibly tell you. You will never be able to hang on when you feel submerged, you’ll never be able to hang on in the dark, just by telling yourself, “I have to trust him. What else is there to do?” The doctrine of creation and the doctrine of the fall … That won’t work. That’s all cognitive. You have to see Jesus Christ being true to you in the dark, in Gethsemane, on the cross. You will never be able to be at a scary level unconditionally trusting in God in the dark unless you see him being true to you in the dark, holding on in spite of the garden of Gethsemane, holding on in spite of the crown of thorns, holding on in spite of the spear in his side, holding on in spite of the fact he’s totally abandoned by God. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Now there’s somebody who has absolutely been submerged, who is absolutely being held under. He went under, but he went under not just a vat of antiseptic. He didn’t just go under our ordinary suffering. He went under the very divine justice, divine wrath. He was essentially sent to hell. When you see him being true to you in the dark, you can be trusting of his love, because there’s the ultimate example of it, and there’s the ultimate proof of it. That doesn’t just work on my will to tell me, “Oh yes, I have to be trusting in him.” It melts my heart and shows me the beauty that makes me fear. It’s scariness in the presence of the ultimate beauty, Jesus Christ, dying in the dark, being true to you in the dark. That’s the reason, ultimately, as one writer put it … Here’s what the fear of the Lord is. “Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find him, and with him everything else thrown in.” Let’s pray. Our Father, we thank you there is a way to trust you to scary levels, to trust you’re always loving us even when it feels like you’re drowning us, and that is to look at your Son, Jesus Christ, who was drowned in an ocean of justice and wrath for us, who stayed true to us even in the dark. When we see him doing that, that’s proof you love us. That’s proof. When we see that proof, the fear of the Lord, awe and wonder at your love, grows in our hearts. Though we tremble before it, we’re comforted by it, and then we can bow our heads into the pain and accept it and hold on and trust and serve you, and when the pain is over and the suffering is over, we will come out refined like gold. We thank you that all this is possible for us through Jesus Christ and the gospel. It’s in his name we pray, amen.
, 20–28 There is nothing more inevitable in life than suffering. We’ve been looking at the book of Job because the book of Job faces the issue of suffering with more emotional realism, intellectual integrity, and practical wisdom than any other book of the Bible and perhaps than any other work of world literature. The book of Job is about Job, a man who was a devout believer in God and a pillar of his community and yet, in spite of this, finds that suddenly, inexplicably, everything he has is essentially taken away from him: his health, his wealth, and his family. It’s all gone, and he’s plunged into this great agony, and he wrestles for chapters and chapters of long speeches and discourses and prayers. It’s a tremendous experience just to read and study and go through it, which we have been doing. Now this chapter, chapter 28, is a poem by Job, and not only is it in some ways the apex of Job’s artistry in the book, but, more importantly for our concerns, it’s the apex of Job’s insight. In the midst of all his struggling, he comes to probably his greatest insight about what he has to do, what he must face, and what the suffering means. This poem is all about wisdom. Largely, in other words, Job is saying suffering is a matter of wisdom. It requires wisdom to handle it rightly, and, rightly handled, suffering produces more wisdom. So what we’re going to do here is take a look at what these sections of the chapter, these sections of the poem, tell us, and they’re going to tell us four things. They’re going to tell us about the importance of wisdom and yet the inaccessibility of it, and they’re going to tell us about the source of wisdom and yet the secret of it. The importance and inaccessibility, the source and secret of true wisdom, especially as that bears on how we handle suffering. 1. The importance of true wisdom Notice verses 9–15. The poem is making the case that wisdom is a treasure. We tunnel into the mountains to get gold and silver, it says, and yet (verse 15) wisdom cannot be bought with the finest gold, nor can its price be weighed in silver. That’s an amazing statement if you think about it. It’s really saying gold and silver are nothing compared to wisdom. It’s like trying to buy Hunter College with several pebbles. You don’t come to the city and say, “Here, I found these pebbles. Could I buy Hunter College with it?” They wouldn’t even begin to assess it. You can’t do that. He’s saying the same thing about wisdom. Over and over, the Bible says wisdom is more important than anything else. It’s the most important thing. Here’s the reason why. Wisdom, according to verse 12, understanding and wisdom … The two Hebrew words there are biynah, insight, and chokmah, mastery. In the Bible, wisdom means understanding how things work (that’s the insight), understanding how the human heart works, times and seasons, how life works, so well that you make masterful decisions. That is, wisdom is not less than being moral; it’s more. To be wise is to know what to do in the 90 percent of life situations to which the moral rules don’t apply. For example, some decisions just take facts. “Should I take medicine or not? Should I take this medicine or that medicine?” Those are just facts. Some decisions just take values. Sometimes you know what is right and you know what is wrong, and if you’re a person of character, you do the right thing. But 90 percent of the decisions in front of us (and they’re very important decisions) neither facts nor character really help. “Should I date this person? Should I break up with this person? Should I marry this person?” There are all sorts of right options, but which is the wise one? “Should I take this career? Should I open my mouth and confront this person, or should I be quiet and bide my time?” Most of the decisions that can really muck up your life if made wrongly require wisdom, or you’re dead. Not just morality and not just facts and knowledge, but wisdom. For example, you can utterly destroy a poor family if you try to help them and you don’t understand the complexities and dynamics of poverty. For example, to want to help a poor family out of poverty … The motivation is right, and your methodologies may be completely ethical, but if you have a naïve understanding of poverty … If you have a liberal naïve idea that says poverty is just oppression so just throw money at the person, or if you have a conservative naïve idea, which is poverty is really just a matter of lack of personal initiative and responsibility so just exhort them … In other words, if you have a naïve idea of the complexities and dynamics of poverty, you can do everything right, your motive is right, your ethic is right, your method is right and moral and so on, and yet you destroy the people. Why? You’re incompetent with regard to the complexities of life. That’s what wisdom is: competency with regard to the complexities of life. You have to have wisdom. Its price can’t be weighed in silver. Especially when it comes to suffering you need to have wisdom to know what to do, when to cry, when to start this, when to stop this, and so forth. 2. The inaccessibility of true wisdom If you actually look at the first stanza, you’ll see it’s not just saying wisdom is more valuable than silver or gold; it’s actually saying also that it’s inaccessible, unlike silver and gold. It tells us man’s hand assaults the flinty rock and lays bare the roots of the mountains. How does that happen? Technology, craftsmanship. “He tunnels through the rock; his eyes see all its treasures. He searches the sources of the rivers and brings hidden things to light.” Our technology, our reason, our craftsmanship, can actually get silver and gold, those kinds of treasures. But where is wisdom found? Of course, that’s a rhetorical question. The answer is you can’t find wisdom. Why? Verse 13 tells you: “… it cannot be found in the land of the living.” That’s a profound statement. In other words, wisdom is not something you can find in the empirical realm. Human reason is made for discovering the wonders of the empirical realm, but human reason cannot give you wisdom. Human reason alone, science, technology cannot in that realm … That’s not the place where you get wisdom. It’s very profound and, by the way, very up to date. How does that work? Let me explain. The philosopher today who has probably best shown the truth of verses 9–13 is the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. We have talked about him for a while. His argument goes like this. In the twentieth century we’ve been told that, no, as far as science knows, we’re not created by God; we are the product of random and blind cosmic, physical, chemical forces and evolution. We just happened; we weren’t created by God. However, we don’t need belief in God, and we don’t need religion in order to deal with our big problems … the problems of war, violence, racism, poverty, and injustice. Those problems we can tackle with science and technology, with human reason. That’s all we need. We don’t need faith in God or religion or anything like that. MacIntyre says that’s not true, because you can’t find wisdom in the land of the living, in the empirical realm. Here’s how he argues. See this watch? Is this a good watch or not? Well, what if somebody says, “No, I just tried to hammer a nail with it this morning, and it didn’t even go in; it’s a bad watch”? You say, “No, that’s not fair. It tells me time.” In other words, if you hammer a nail and it doesn’t work, that doesn’t make it a bad watch. Why? The watch isn’t made for nail-hammering; it’s made for time-telling. So if it tells you time and doesn’t hammer a nail, then it’s a good watch. In other words, as MacIntyre would say, before you can answer the question, “Is it a good watch?” you must answer the prior question, “What is the watch for?” If you don’t know what the watch is for, if you don’t know its purpose, if you don’t know what it was made for, there’s no way to talk about whether it’s a good or bad watch. Right? Fine. How are we going to handle the problems of war, racism, injustice, and poverty? The only way we can even tackle those problems is if we come up with a common-consensus definition of what the good human life is, what human flourishing is, what good and bad human behavior is. Right? But wait a minute. As MacIntyre says, you can’t even begin to define what a good or bad person is unless you first answer the prior question … What are human beings made for? What are we here for? What is our purpose? What were we made for? We live in a culture that says we weren’t made for anything; we’re here by accident. MacIntyre says in a culture that says we’re here by accident, that says you don’t need God or religion, there is absolutely no way to define good and bad human behavior. It’s all a matter of opinion. “You may feel that’s good or bad, but you can’t possibly impose that on me.” Therefore, MacIntyre says, any society that says all we need is science … Science can give us information and facts but never wisdom. Science can tell us what is but never what ought to be. A society in which we say, “Oh, there is no purpose; we weren’t made for any purpose,” and that brackets out God and religion and philosophy and that sort of thing will never be able to come to consensus on what good and bad human behavior is, and it will tear itself apart arguing about it, and that’s exactly what you have. Why? Because wisdom is not found in the land of the living. It’s with God. Unless we have some idea of having been created for something, there’s no way we can solve our problems, because there’s no way we can agree on what good human life is, what human flourishing is, what a healthy human life is, what just and unjust, good and bad human behavior is. So not only is wisdom important, but secondly, it’s inaccessible. Let me tell you. Sometimes you can read scientific articles on how to handle anxiety, maybe, saying, “Well, if you have stress and anxiety, we know you should exercise, or you should do this or that,” but you’re never going to find a scientific, empirical, experimentally-based answer of “Here’s how you can handle the horrible, horrendous suffering of your life.” Science can’t tell you a thing. Technology can’t tell you a thing. Tunneling, drilling … It cannot be found in the land of the living. 3. The source of true wisdom You have the source. Notice the first question in the first stanza is verse 12, where it says, “Where can wisdom be found?” But the second time a question is posed, in the second stanza, the question is changed, isn’t it? The second time in verse 20 it says, “Where then does wisdom come from?” That’s a different question. See, the first question is, “If I’m trying to find it with my human technology, can I find it?” and the answer is, “No.” But the second question is, “Can I receive wisdom if I listen to it?” and the answer is, “Yes,” because it’s in God. Down in verse 28 it says, “And he said to man, ‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom …’ ” Now what’s the second stanza saying? It’s simply saying you’ll never find true wisdom out, you’ll never get a real grip on how life works and what people are for through human reason, but you can get a grip on it through revelation. You can get a grip on it if God speaks into our world and tells us what life is about, how it works, and how we can handle suffering. C.S. Lewis was still alive when the first Russian cosmonaut went into space. After he came down, Khrushchev was doing a speech about the glories of atheism (Khrushchev was the Russian premier at the time), and at one point he said, “We sent a cosmonaut up into space. He went up into heaven, and there was no God there.” He said this in one of his speeches. Lewis wrote a little quip kind of response to this. He basically said, “If there is a creator God, then we wouldn’t relate to God as a person on the first floor relates to a person on the second floor. That would be impossible. We would relate to God the way Shakespeare relates to a character in one of his plays. In other words, if Hamlet wants to know something about Shakespeare, he will learn nothing by going up into the rafters and looking. If Hamlet is going to know anything about Shakespeare, it would be if Shakespeare writes some information about himself into the play.” In other words, it has to be revealed to Hamlet. Hamlet can’t find it out otherwise. This is exactly what we have. This is the situation. If there is a God, there’s no way we’re going to know anything about what people are for and what life is all about simply by going into the rafters. God has to write something, and he has. It’s called the Word of God. In the Word of God, this is what he tells us. Two things, and you can actually see them in the structure of this second stanza. God made the world through wisdom. See that? Verses 24–27. There’s a pattern to the world. There are pathways. He measured things out. It was all done according to wisdom. This world has a fabric to it. There’s a pattern to it. He made it according to wisdom. There’s a physical, spiritual, and moral order to this world. Yet verse 23 says only God can see the whole thing. Now these are two parts of what the Bible says about everything in life. On the one hand, everything in life is created by God, and, therefore, there’s an order to it. On the other hand, everything in life is fallen. There’s evil in the world. Because of the finiteness of our minds and the brokenness of the world, though there is an order to things, it’s hidden from us to a great degree. You have to know both of these truths in order to be wise enough to handle suffering. Let me explain why this is so crucial. There’s nothing more practical than this. When I was reading through the book of Proverbs and we were preaching through this three or four years ago, one of the things that shocked me at first was how the first few chapters of Proverbs seemed to lay down these absolute rules. “If you work hard, you will be rich. If you train your children right, they will grow up and they’ll be fine.” Then, after about five or six chapters of these kinds of statements, along come statements like these proverbs: “The poor work hard, but oppression takes it away.” “You may love a child and you may do good to him, but he can turn around and double cross you.” Things like that. I was saying, “Wait a minute, wait a minute.” At first I was confused, because we tend to all read proverbs as if they’re rules. When I read a proverb that said, “If you work hard, you’ll be rich,” I said, “Well, that’s a rule or a promise.” But it’s neither. Proverbs is about wisdom, and wisdom is about how life ordinarily works. What I was seeing was, on the one hand, because there’s a created order, because God did make the world, in general, if you work hard, things go better for you. In general, if you love other people, people will love you back. Right? Yet this is also a fallen world. Therefore, there’s an order, but it’s a broken order and, to some degree, a hidden order because of the finiteness of our minds. Therefore, sometimes you do everything right and everything goes wrong. There are two kinds of fools in the world, two kinds of people who can’t handle suffering. There are, first of all, what I would call moralistic fools. Those are Job’s friends. What Job’s friends said was, “Job, if you live right, everything will go well for you. If things aren’t going well for you, you must be sinning.” They were moralistic fools. They understood the doctrine of creation but not the doctrine of the fall. They understood there was an order to the world, but they didn’t understand it was a broken and hidden order. On the other hand, you have relativistic fools, and there are a lot more of those people around New York. A relativistic fool says, “Well, you know, I can decide what is right or wrong for me. Everyone has to determine what is right or wrong for him or her.” That’s a relativistic fool. You can’t just decide what to eat. “Well, I think tomorrow I’m going to eat petroleum. Tomorrow I’m going to drink gasoline.” What you’re doing is violating your physical reality, and you’re going to die. You see, God didn’t just create a physical reality or fabric; he also created a moral and spiritual reality. Therefore, if you tell lies and don’t delay gratification and double cross people and don’t work hard, things will go poorly with you. See, the relativistic fool denies the doctrine of creation. The moralistic fool denies the doctrine of the fall. What does this have to do with suffering? Absolutely everything. Over the years, especially when I was a younger minister, I’ve sat in so many hospital rooms, so many funeral homes. I’ve sat with so many suffering people, and one of the things I’ve noticed is some people get better and some people get worse under suffering. Some people are completely overthrown by suffering, and other people seem to get kinder and softer and humbler. Why? I came to realize something. You have the pain of suffering, and then you have the shock of suffering. The pain of suffering is just the pain. If you lose your health, if you lose a loved one, it’s just the pain. There’s nothing you can do about that. But I found in the people who were overthrown by suffering, who just became confused and bitter and angry and became worse people under suffering, on top of the pain there was also the shock. Not only did they experience the pain of suffering, but they also were shocked, shocked, shocked this was even happening to them. You can’t do anything about the pain of suffering, but you can do everything about the shock. The shock comes from being a fool. The shock comes from having a view of life that’s unwise. The shock comes from either not having a doctrine of creation, or not having a doctrine of the fall, or maybe neither. Only if you have what the Bible says about the world, a doctrine of creation and fall, will you never be shocked by suffering, never be surprised. You know suffering comes and how it comes. There was an article in the New York Times Book Review today. It was a review of a book by Susan Sontag’s son who wrote a memoir about his famous mother and especially about how she died. She died slowly of cancer not too long ago. What’s intriguing about this review is that Susan Sontag (supposedly, according to what the reviewer said and what the son said) did not handle her last illness very well at all. This is what the review says: “In the most profound and affecting passages of the book, Rieff …” That’s the last name of the son, because she was married to Philip Rieff. “… questions whether, on some level, his mother thought that she was too special to die.” Rieff writes, “Her sense that whatever she could will in life she could probably accomplish had served her so well for so long that … it [became] her organizing principle, her true north. That same belief in the power of her own desire, that spectacular ambition, that intellectual bravado, made it impossible to accept that fatal illness was not another circumstance she could master.” This time it didn’t work. “She had the death that somewhere she must have come to believe that [only] other people had from cancer.” The whole point of the review and the whole point of what the son said was she had always faced everything with bravado. She had a view of life that said, “I can handle anything, I can master anything, I can overcome anything,” and she couldn’t this. She had a view of life that meant on top of the pain there was shock. She was absolutely shocked. “Wait a minute. This can’t be happening to me.” What’ll overthrow you is not the pain; it’s the shock. If you’re shocked, it’s because you’re a fool in some way, because you do not have a biblically balanced, thick, biblically and philosophically rich understanding of how life works, how the world works. But we’re not done. We’ve seen the importance, we’ve seen the inaccessibility, and we’ve seen the source of wisdom, which is the Word of God giving us an understanding of how life works. 4. The secret of true wisdom I said the source can handle the shock, but we still have something left that we still have to handle if we’re suffering, and that’s the pain. Even if you’re not shocked, shocked, shocked, even if you have a worldview that’s biblical enough to say, “Okay, I get it. I know it. This isn’t a big shock to me. I understand it,” the pain is still horrible, and how are you going to handle the pain? I would say the climax of this chapter, and maybe the climax of the book in some ways, is verse 28, the last verse in the chapter: “And [the Lord] said to man, ‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom …’ ” See, there have been these questions. “Where do I find wisdom? Where does wisdom come from? How do I get the wisdom to handle suffering?” “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” Now what is the fear of the Lord? Notice, by the way, shunning evil is morality, but morality isn’t enough. The fear of the Lord is an inward attitude of the heart. That’s what you have to have if you’re going to face suffering. That’s what you’re going to have to have if you’re going to be wise enough to face suffering, and what is that? Now listen. Nobody has thought about this term more than I have over the years, because as a preacher, I’m always having to preach on it. The English term fear of the Lord doesn’t seem to unlock itself right away for people. When you and I hear the word fear we think it means to be scared of, yet there is an element there … Here’s how I would like to put it. There’s a scariness in the presence of something bad, and that scariness consists of, “I’m afraid it’s going to hurt me,” but there’s also a scariness in the presence of something incredibly good, incredibly beautiful, incredibly wonderful. There’s something scary about that too. That comes across in The Chronicles of Narnia in that famous line Lewis keeps writing when somebody says, “Oh, Aslan, the lion. Is he safe?” The response is basically, “Safe? Whoever said anything about him being safe? Of course he’s not safe. But he’s good.” Someone who’s so good he’s not safe. There’s something scary about something incredibly beautiful. What is so scary about something incredibly beautiful and good? Well, it’s scary because it’s threatening. It’s threatening because we know it’s going to expose our flaws. Even more than that, I think it’s scary because we know in the presence of the infinitely good we’re going to lose control. We’re going to have to submit to it, because it would be wicked not to, but we’re going to lose control. In the presence of suffering, here’s what Job means, I think. What does the fear of the Lord mean in the presence of suffering? It means scary-level unconditional trust in the love of God in the midst of the darkness. The fear of the Lord is scary-level unconditional trust that God is loving you even though it doesn’t feel that way, that God is loving you even though everything around you seems dark. The fear of the Lord is scary-level unconditional trust that God loves you in spite of how it looks. It’s trusting God in the dark, trusting his love in the dark. Let me tell you why that’s so, so important. The only way you’re really going to become better rather than worse in suffering is if you do that. I still can’t come up with a better illustration than the one Elisabeth Elliot tells about how she was staying at a farm in the highlands of Wales, a place Kathy and I have been to, basically. Not the farm, but in that valley. She was staying with these farmers who had a lot of sheep. One time every year, the sheep had to be dipped into a big vat of antiseptic. Otherwise, the sheep would be literally eaten alive by parasites and insects. When Elisabeth Elliot watched the process by which these sheep were being put into the vat, she started to feel rather sympathetic to them. Here’s how it looked. To paraphrase, she says, “One by one the shepherd would seize the sheep as they struggled to climb out of the vat. If they tried to climb out of the vat on the other side, Mack the sheep dog would run around and snarl and snap in their faces to force them back under. If they tried to climb up the ramp toward John the shepherd, he would catch them, spin them around, force them under again, and hold them ears, eyes, and nose totally submerged. As I watched him do this, I realized I’d had many experiences in my life that made me feel very sympathetic to those sheep. A number of times I felt that the Great Shepherd, the Lord, was doing the very same thing to me. He was holding me underneath. I felt I was drowning, and when I asked, I didn’t get a word of explanation.” Let me tell you why that metaphor is so good. If I was a shepherd and I saw my sheep feeling like, “You’re killing me! You’re killing me …” You know, you love your sheep, so you’d want to give them an explanation. So go ahead. Just try. Try to give the sheep the explanation. I can guarantee you something. They will not be consoled by anything you say. Why? Because they’re sheep and you’re a shepherd. It’s a different order of reality. Yet if those sheep don’t trust that shepherd, they’re going to die. The Bible says he’s the Great Shepherd and we’re sheep, and we know this in our minds. It all makes sense, doesn’t it? Intellectually, metaphorically, it all makes sense, and then we find ourselves being held under, eyes, ears, nose, and we feel like, “I have to come up or I’m going to die,” and he won’t let us up. Yet if we don’t trust our Shepherd in the dark, we are going to die. If you can trust the Shepherd in the midst of the pain, it will make you wiser. It will make you better. It will make you humbler. It will make you more sympathetic. It will make you better in every way. My question, then, finally is … How do you do it? Here’s how you do it. Remember how I said a minute ago Lewis had this wonderful metaphor in which he said if God exists, then we would relate to God the way Hamlet relates to Shakespeare? Hamlet would only understand anything about Shakespeare if Shakespeare wrote some information about himself into the play. Guess what? We are, in a sense, in a play, and we have the great Playwright, God, but he didn’t just write into our history some information about himself. That would be wisdom, yeah, but he wrote himself into the play in the place of Jesus Christ. When Jesus Christ says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life …” Truth. What he is saying is not just, “I’m a true person,” but “I am the Truth personified.” He’s saying, “I’m not just a wise person; I am wisdom personified.” The only way for you to really get the wisdom that will enable you to handle the pain and become, in the end, a better person is not just if you have abstract principles, not just if you read the Bible so you have a doctrine of fall and creation. You have to know the One who is wisdom personally. How does that work out practically? Just like this. This is the most practical thing I could possibly tell you. You will never be able to hang on when you feel submerged, you’ll never be able to hang on in the dark, just by telling yourself, “I have to trust him. What else is there to do?” The doctrine of creation and the doctrine of the fall … That won’t work. That’s all cognitive. You have to see Jesus Christ being true to you in the dark, in Gethsemane, on the cross. You will never be able to be at a scary level unconditionally trusting in God in the dark unless you see him being true to you in the dark, holding on in spite of the garden of Gethsemane, holding on in spite of the crown of thorns, holding on in spite of the spear in his side, holding on in spite of the fact he’s totally abandoned by God. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Now there’s somebody who has absolutely been submerged, who is absolutely being held under. He went under, but he went under not just a vat of antiseptic. He didn’t just go under our ordinary suffering. He went under the very divine justice, divine wrath. He was essentially sent to hell. When you see him being true to you in the dark, you can be trusting of his love, because there’s the ultimate example of it, and there’s the ultimate proof of it. That doesn’t just work on my will to tell me, “Oh yes, I have to be trusting in him.” It melts my heart and shows me the beauty that makes me fear. It’s scariness in the presence of the ultimate beauty, Jesus Christ, dying in the dark, being true to you in the dark. That’s the reason, ultimately, as one writer put it … Here’s what the fear of the Lord is. “Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find him, and with him everything else thrown in.” Let’s pray. Our Father, we thank you there is a way to trust you to scary levels, to trust you’re always loving us even when it feels like you’re drowning us, and that is to look at your Son, Jesus Christ, who was drowned in an ocean of justice and wrath for us, who stayed true to us even in the dark. When we see him doing that, that’s proof you love us. That’s proof. When we see that proof, the fear of the Lord, awe and wonder at your love, grows in our hearts. Though we tremble before it, we’re comforted by it, and then we can bow our heads into the pain and accept it and hold on and trust and serve you, and when the pain is over and the suffering is over, we will come out refined like gold. We thank you that all this is possible for us through Jesus Christ and the gospel. It’s in his name we pray, amen.
, 20–28 9 Man’s hand assaults the flinty rock and lays bare the roots of the mountains. 10 He tunnels through the rock; his eyes see all its treasures. 11 He searches the sources of the rivers and brings hidden things to light. 12 But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell? 13 Man does not comprehend its worth; it cannot be found in the land of the living. 14 The deep says, “It is not in me”; the sea says, “It is not with me.” 15 It cannot be bought with the finest gold, nor can its price be weighed in silver. 20 Where then does wisdom come from? Where does understanding dwell? 21 It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing, concealed even from the birds of the air. 22 Destruction and Death say, “Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.” 23 God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells, 24 for he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. 25 When he established the force of the wind and measured out the waters, 26 when he made a decree for the rain and a path for the thunderstorm, 27 then he looked at wisdom and appraised it; he confirmed it and tested it. 28 And he said to man, “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” This is God’s Word
There is nothing more inevitable in life than suffering. We’ve been looking at the book of Job because the book of Job faces the issue of suffering with more emotional realism, intellectual integrity, and practical wisdom than any other book of the Bible and perhaps than any other work of world literature. The book of Job is about Job, a man who was a devout believer in God and a pillar of his community and yet, in spite of this, finds that suddenly, inexplicably, everything he has is essentially taken away from him: his health, his wealth, and his family. It’s all gone, and he’s plunged into this great agony, and he wrestles for chapters and chapters of long speeches and discourses and prayers. It’s a tremendous experience just to read and study and go through it, which we have been doing. Now this chapter, chapter 28, is a poem by Job, and not only is it in some ways the apex of Job’s artistry in the book, but, more importantly for our concerns, it’s the apex of Job’s insight. In the midst of all his struggling, he comes to probably his greatest insight about what he has to do, what he must face, and what the suffering means. This poem is all about wisdom. Largely, in other words, Job is saying suffering is a matter of wisdom. It requires wisdom to handle it rightly, and, rightly handled, suffering produces more wisdom. So what we’re going to do here is take a look at what these sections of the chapter, these sections of the poem, tell us, and they’re going to tell us four things. They’re going to tell us about the importance of wisdom and yet the inaccessibility of it, and they’re going to tell us about the source of wisdom and yet the secret of it. The importance and inaccessibility, the source and secret of true wisdom, especially as that bears on how we handle suffering. 1. The importance of true wisdom Notice verses 9–15. The poem is making the case that wisdom is a treasure. We tunnel into the mountains to get gold and silver, it says, and yet (verse 15) wisdom cannot be bought with the finest gold, nor can its price be weighed in silver. That’s an amazing statement if you think about it. It’s really saying gold and silver are nothing compared to wisdom. It’s like trying to buy Hunter College with several pebbles. You don’t come to the city and say, “Here, I found these pebbles. Could I buy Hunter College with it?” They wouldn’t even begin to assess it. You can’t do that. He’s saying the same thing about wisdom. Over and over, the Bible says wisdom is more important than anything else. It’s the most important thing. Here’s the reason why. Wisdom, according to verse 12, understanding and wisdom … The two Hebrew words there are biynah, insight, and chokmah, mastery. In the Bible, wisdom means understanding how things work (that’s the insight), understanding how the human heart works, times and seasons, how life works, so well that you make masterful decisions. That is, wisdom is not less than being moral; it’s more. To be wise is to know what to do in the 90 percent of life situations to which the moral rules don’t apply. For example, some decisions just take facts. “Should I take medicine or not? Should I take this medicine or that medicine?” Those are just facts. Some decisions just take values. Sometimes you know what is right and you know what is wrong, and if you’re a person of character, you do the right thing. But 90 percent of the decisions in front of us (and they’re very important decisions) neither facts nor character really help. “Should I date this person? Should I break up with this person? Should I marry this person?” There are all sorts of right options, but which is the wise one? “Should I take this career? Should I open my mouth and confront this person, or should I be quiet and bide my time?” Most of the decisions that can really muck up your life if made wrongly require wisdom, or you’re dead. Not just morality and not just facts and knowledge, but wisdom. For example, you can utterly destroy a poor family if you try to help them and you don’t understand the complexities and dynamics of poverty. For example, to want to help a poor family out of poverty … The motivation is right, and your methodologies may be completely ethical, but if you have a naïve understanding of poverty … If you have a liberal naïve idea that says poverty is just oppression so just throw money at the person, or if you have a conservative naïve idea, which is poverty is really just a matter of lack of personal initiative and responsibility so just exhort them … In other words, if you have a naïve idea of the complexities and dynamics of poverty, you can do everything right, your motive is right, your ethic is right, your method is right and moral and so on, and yet you destroy the people. Why? You’re incompetent with regard to the complexities of life. That’s what wisdom is: competency with regard to the complexities of life. You have to have wisdom. Its price can’t be weighed in silver. Especially when it comes to suffering you need to have wisdom to know what to do, when to cry, when to start this, when to stop this, and so forth. 2. The inaccessibility of true wisdom If you actually look at the first stanza, you’ll see it’s not just saying wisdom is more valuable than silver or gold; it’s actually saying also that it’s inaccessible, unlike silver and gold. It tells us man’s hand assaults the flinty rock and lays bare the roots of the mountains. How does that happen? Technology, craftsmanship. “He tunnels through the rock; his eyes see all its treasures. He searches the sources of the rivers and brings hidden things to light.” Our technology, our reason, our craftsmanship, can actually get silver and gold, those kinds of treasures. But where is wisdom found? Of course, that’s a rhetorical question. The answer is you can’t find wisdom. Why? Verse 13 tells you: “… it cannot be found in the land of the living.” That’s a profound statement. In other words, wisdom is not something you can find in the empirical realm. Human reason is made for discovering the wonders of the empirical realm, but human reason cannot give you wisdom. Human reason alone, science, technology cannot in that realm … That’s not the place where you get wisdom. It’s very profound and, by the way, very up to date. How does that work? Let me explain. The philosopher today who has probably best shown the truth of verses 9–13 is the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. We have talked about him for a while. His argument goes like this. In the twentieth century we’ve been told that, no, as far as science knows, we’re not created by God; we are the product of random and blind cosmic, physical, chemical forces and evolution. We just happened; we weren’t created by God. However, we don’t need belief in God, and we don’t need religion in order to deal with our big problems … the problems of war, violence, racism, poverty, and injustice. Those problems we can tackle with science and technology, with human reason. That’s all we need. We don’t need faith in God or religion or anything like that. MacIntyre says that’s not true, because you can’t find wisdom in the land of the living, in the empirical realm. Here’s how he argues. See this watch? Is this a good watch or not? Well, what if somebody says, “No, I just tried to hammer a nail with it this morning, and it didn’t even go in; it’s a bad watch”? You say, “No, that’s not fair. It tells me time.” In other words, if you hammer a nail and it doesn’t work, that doesn’t make it a bad watch. Why? The watch isn’t made for nail-hammering; it’s made for time-telling. So if it tells you time and doesn’t hammer a nail, then it’s a good watch. In other words, as MacIntyre would say, before you can answer the question, “Is it a good watch?” you must answer the prior question, “What is the watch for?” If you don’t know what the watch is for, if you don’t know its purpose, if you don’t know what it was made for, there’s no way to talk about whether it’s a good or bad watch. Right? Fine. How are we going to handle the problems of war, racism, injustice, and poverty? The only way we can even tackle those problems is if we come up with a common-consensus definition of what the good human life is, what human flourishing is, what good and bad human behavior is. Right? But wait a minute. As MacIntyre says, you can’t even begin to define what a good or bad person is unless you first answer the prior question … What are human beings made for? What are we here for? What is our purpose? What were we made for? We live in a culture that says we weren’t made for anything; we’re here by accident. MacIntyre says in a culture that says we’re here by accident, that says you don’t need God or religion, there is absolutely no way to define good and bad human behavior. It’s all a matter of opinion. “You may feel that’s good or bad, but you can’t possibly impose that on me.” Therefore, MacIntyre says, any society that says all we need is science … Science can give us information and facts but never wisdom. Science can tell us what is but never what ought to be. A society in which we say, “Oh, there is no purpose; we weren’t made for any purpose,” and that brackets out God and religion and philosophy and that sort of thing will never be able to come to consensus on what good and bad human behavior is, and it will tear itself apart arguing about it, and that’s exactly what you have. Why? Because wisdom is not found in the land of the living. It’s with God. Unless we have some idea of having been created for something, there’s no way we can solve our problems, because there’s no way we can agree on what good human life is, what human flourishing is, what a healthy human life is, what just and unjust, good and bad human behavior is. So not only is wisdom important, but secondly, it’s inaccessible. Let me tell you. Sometimes you can read scientific articles on how to handle anxiety, maybe, saying, “Well, if you have stress and anxiety, we know you should exercise, or you should do this or that,” but you’re never going to find a scientific, empirical, experimentally-based answer of “Here’s how you can handle the horrible, horrendous suffering of your life.” Science can’t tell you a thing. Technology can’t tell you a thing. Tunneling, drilling … It cannot be found in the land of the living. 3. The source of true wisdom You have the source. Notice the first question in the first stanza is verse 12, where it says, “Where can wisdom be found?” But the second time a question is posed, in the second stanza, the question is changed, isn’t it? The second time in verse 20 it says, “Where then does wisdom come from?” That’s a different question. See, the first question is, “If I’m trying to find it with my human technology, can I find it?” and the answer is, “No.” But the second question is, “Can I receive wisdom if I listen to it?” and the answer is, “Yes,” because it’s in God. Down in verse 28 it says, “And he said to man, ‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom …’ ” Now what’s the second stanza saying? It’s simply saying you’ll never find true wisdom out, you’ll never get a real grip on how life works and what people are for through human reason, but you can get a grip on it through revelation. You can get a grip on it if God speaks into our world and tells us what life is about, how it works, and how we can handle suffering. C.S. Lewis was still alive when the first Russian cosmonaut went into space. After he came down, Khrushchev was doing a speech about the glories of atheism (Khrushchev was the Russian premier at the time), and at one point he said, “We sent a cosmonaut up into space. He went up into heaven, and there was no God there.” He said this in one of his speeches. Lewis wrote a little quip kind of response to this. He basically said, “If there is a creator God, then we wouldn’t relate to God as a person on the first floor relates to a person on the second floor. That would be impossible. We would relate to God the way Shakespeare relates to a character in one of his plays. In other words, if Hamlet wants to know something about Shakespeare, he will learn nothing by going up into the rafters and looking. If Hamlet is going to know anything about Shakespeare, it would be if Shakespeare writes some information about himself into the play.” In other words, it has to be revealed to Hamlet. Hamlet can’t find it out otherwise. This is exactly what we have. This is the situation. If there is a God, there’s no way we’re going to know anything about what people are for and what life is all about simply by going into the rafters. God has to write something, and he has. It’s called the Word of God. In the Word of God, this is what he tells us. Two things, and you can actually see them in the structure of this second stanza. God made the world through wisdom. See that? Verses 24–27. There’s a pattern to the world. There are pathways. He measured things out. It was all done according to wisdom. This world has a fabric to it. There’s a pattern to it. He made it according to wisdom. There’s a physical, spiritual, and moral order to this world. Yet verse 23 says only God can see the whole thing. Now these are two parts of what the Bible says about everything in life. On the one hand, everything in life is created by God, and, therefore, there’s an order to it. On the other hand, everything in life is fallen. There’s evil in the world. Because of the finiteness of our minds and the brokenness of the world, though there is an order to things, it’s hidden from us to a great degree. You have to know both of these truths in order to be wise enough to handle suffering. Let me explain why this is so crucial. There’s nothing more practical than this. When I was reading through the book of Proverbs and we were preaching through this three or four years ago, one of the things that shocked me at first was how the first few chapters of Proverbs seemed to lay down these absolute rules. “If you work hard, you will be rich. If you train your children right, they will grow up and they’ll be fine.” Then, after about five or six chapters of these kinds of statements, along come statements like these proverbs: “The poor work hard, but oppression takes it away.” “You may love a child and you may do good to him, but he can turn around and double cross you.” Things like that. I was saying, “Wait a minute, wait a minute.” At first I was confused, because we tend to all read proverbs as if they’re rules. When I read a proverb that said, “If you work hard, you’ll be rich,” I said, “Well, that’s a rule or a promise.” But it’s neither. Proverbs is about wisdom, and wisdom is about how life ordinarily works. What I was seeing was, on the one hand, because there’s a created order, because God did make the world, in general, if you work hard, things go better for you. In general, if you love other people, people will love you back. Right? Yet this is also a fallen world. Therefore, there’s an order, but it’s a broken order and, to some degree, a hidden order because of the finiteness of our minds. Therefore, sometimes you do everything right and everything goes wrong. There are two kinds of fools in the world, two kinds of people who can’t handle suffering. There are, first of all, what I would call moralistic fools. Those are Job’s friends. What Job’s friends said was, “Job, if you live right, everything will go well for you. If things aren’t going well for you, you must be sinning.” They were moralistic fools. They understood the doctrine of creation but not the doctrine of the fall. They understood there was an order to the world, but they didn’t understand it was a broken and hidden order. On the other hand, you have relativistic fools, and there are a lot more of those people around New York. A relativistic fool says, “Well, you know, I can decide what is right or wrong for me. Everyone has to determine what is right or wrong for him or her.” That’s a relativistic fool. You can’t just decide what to eat. “Well, I think tomorrow I’m going to eat petroleum. Tomorrow I’m going to drink gasoline.” What you’re doing is violating your physical reality, and you’re going to die. You see, God didn’t just create a physical reality or fabric; he also created a moral and spiritual reality. Therefore, if you tell lies and don’t delay gratification and double cross people and don’t work hard, things will go poorly with you. See, the relativistic fool denies the doctrine of creation. The moralistic fool denies the doctrine of the fall. What does this have to do with suffering? Absolutely everything. Over the years, especially when I was a younger minister, I’ve sat in so many hospital rooms, so many funeral homes. I’ve sat with so many suffering people, and one of the things I’ve noticed is some people get better and some people get worse under suffering. Some people are completely overthrown by suffering, and other people seem to get kinder and softer and humbler. Why? I came to realize something. You have the pain of suffering, and then you have the shock of suffering. The pain of suffering is just the pain. If you lose your health, if you lose a loved one, it’s just the pain. There’s nothing you can do about that. But I found in the people who were overthrown by suffering, who just became confused and bitter and angry and became worse people under suffering, on top of the pain there was also the shock. Not only did they experience the pain of suffering, but they also were shocked, shocked, shocked this was even happening to them. You can’t do anything about the pain of suffering, but you can do everything about the shock. The shock comes from being a fool. The shock comes from having a view of life that’s unwise. The shock comes from either not having a doctrine of creation, or not having a doctrine of the fall, or maybe neither. Only if you have what the Bible says about the world, a doctrine of creation and fall, will you never be shocked by suffering, never be surprised. You know suffering comes and how it comes. There was an article in the New York Times Book Review today. It was a review of a book by Susan Sontag’s son who wrote a memoir about his famous mother and especially about how she died. She died slowly of cancer not too long ago. What’s intriguing about this review is that Susan Sontag (supposedly, according to what the reviewer said and what the son said) did not handle her last illness very well at all. This is what the review says: “In the most profound and affecting passages of the book, Rieff …” That’s the last name of the son, because she was married to Philip Rieff. “… questions whether, on some level, his mother thought that she was too special to die.” Rieff writes, “Her sense that whatever she could will in life she could probably accomplish had served her so well for so long that … it [became] her organizing principle, her true north. That same belief in the power of her own desire, that spectacular ambition, that intellectual bravado, made it impossible to accept that fatal illness was not another circumstance she could master.” This time it didn’t work. “She had the death that somewhere she must have come to believe that [only] other people had from cancer.” The whole point of the review and the whole point of what the son said was she had always faced everything with bravado. She had a view of life that said, “I can handle anything, I can master anything, I can overcome anything,” and she couldn’t this. She had a view of life that meant on top of the pain there was shock. She was absolutely shocked. “Wait a minute. This can’t be happening to me.” What’ll overthrow you is not the pain; it’s the shock. If you’re shocked, it’s because you’re a fool in some way, because you do not have a biblically balanced, thick, biblically and philosophically rich understanding of how life works, how the world works. But we’re not done. We’ve seen the importance, we’ve seen the inaccessibility, and we’ve seen the source of wisdom, which is the Word of God giving us an understanding of how life works. 4. The secret of true wisdom I said the source can handle the shock, but we still have something left that we still have to handle if we’re suffering, and that’s the pain. Even if you’re not shocked, shocked, shocked, even if you have a worldview that’s biblical enough to say, “Okay, I get it. I know it. This isn’t a big shock to me. I understand it,” the pain is still horrible, and how are you going to handle the pain? I would say the climax of this chapter, and maybe the climax of the book in some ways, is verse 28, the last verse in the chapter: “And [the Lord] said to man, ‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom …’ ” See, there have been these questions. “Where do I find wisdom? Where does wisdom come from? How do I get the wisdom to handle suffering?” “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” Now what is the fear of the Lord? Notice, by the way, shunning evil is morality, but morality isn’t enough. The fear of the Lord is an inward attitude of the heart. That’s what you have to have if you’re going to face suffering. That’s what you’re going to have to have if you’re going to be wise enough to face suffering, and what is that? Now listen. Nobody has thought about this term more than I have over the years, because as a preacher, I’m always having to preach on it. The English term fear of the Lord doesn’t seem to unlock itself right away for people. When you and I hear the word fear we think it means to be scared of, yet there is an element there … Here’s how I would like to put it. There’s a scariness in the presence of something bad, and that scariness consists of, “I’m afraid it’s going to hurt me,” but there’s also a scariness in the presence of something incredibly good, incredibly beautiful, incredibly wonderful. There’s something scary about that too. That comes across in The Chronicles of Narnia in that famous line Lewis keeps writing when somebody says, “Oh, Aslan, the lion. Is he safe?” The response is basically, “Safe? Whoever said anything about him being safe? Of course he’s not safe. But he’s good.” Someone who’s so good he’s not safe. There’s something scary about something incredibly beautiful. What is so scary about something incredibly beautiful and good? Well, it’s scary because it’s threatening. It’s threatening because we know it’s going to expose our flaws. Even more than that, I think it’s scary because we know in the presence of the infinitely good we’re going to lose control. We’re going to have to submit to it, because it would be wicked not to, but we’re going to lose control. In the presence of suffering, here’s what Job means, I think. What does the fear of the Lord mean in the presence of suffering? It means scary-level unconditional trust in the love of God in the midst of the darkness. The fear of the Lord is scary-level unconditional trust that God is loving you even though it doesn’t feel that way, that God is loving you even though everything around you seems dark. The fear of the Lord is scary-level unconditional trust that God loves you in spite of how it looks. It’s trusting God in the dark, trusting his love in the dark. Let me tell you why that’s so, so important. The only way you’re really going to become better rather than worse in suffering is if you do that. I still can’t come up with a better illustration than the one Elisabeth Elliot tells about how she was staying at a farm in the highlands of Wales, a place Kathy and I have been to, basically. Not the farm, but in that valley. She was staying with these farmers who had a lot of sheep. One time every year, the sheep had to be dipped into a big vat of antiseptic. Otherwise, the sheep would be literally eaten alive by parasites and insects. When Elisabeth Elliot watched the process by which these sheep were being put into the vat, she started to feel rather sympathetic to them. Here’s how it looked. To paraphrase, she says, “One by one the shepherd would seize the sheep as they struggled to climb out of the vat. If they tried to climb out of the vat on the other side, Mack the sheep dog would run around and snarl and snap in their faces to force them back under. If they tried to climb up the ramp toward John the shepherd, he would catch them, spin them around, force them under again, and hold them ears, eyes, and nose totally submerged. As I watched him do this, I realized I’d had many experiences in my life that made me feel very sympathetic to those sheep. A number of times I felt that the Great Shepherd, the Lord, was doing the very same thing to me. He was holding me underneath. I felt I was drowning, and when I asked, I didn’t get a word of explanation.” Let me tell you why that metaphor is so good. If I was a shepherd and I saw my sheep feeling like, “You’re killing me! You’re killing me …” You know, you love your sheep, so you’d want to give them an explanation. So go ahead. Just try. Try to give the sheep the explanation. I can guarantee you something. They will not be consoled by anything you say. Why? Because they’re sheep and you’re a shepherd. It’s a different order of reality. Yet if those sheep don’t trust that shepherd, they’re going to die. The Bible says he’s the Great Shepherd and we’re sheep, and we know this in our minds. It all makes sense, doesn’t it? Intellectually, metaphorically, it all makes sense, and then we find ourselves being held under, eyes, ears, nose, and we feel like, “I have to come up or I’m going to die,” and he won’t let us up. Yet if we don’t trust our Shepherd in the dark, we are going to die. If you can trust the Shepherd in the midst of the pain, it will make you wiser. It will make you better. It will make you humbler. It will make you more sympathetic. It will make you better in every way. My question, then, finally is … How do you do it? Here’s how you do it. Remember how I said a minute ago Lewis had this wonderful metaphor in which he said if God exists, then we would relate to God the way Hamlet relates to Shakespeare? Hamlet would only understand anything about Shakespeare if Shakespeare wrote some information about himself into the play. Guess what? We are, in a sense, in a play, and we have the great Playwright, God, but he didn’t just write into our history some information about himself. That would be wisdom, yeah, but he wrote himself into the play in the place of Jesus Christ. When Jesus Christ says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life …” Truth. What he is saying is not just, “I’m a true person,” but “I am the Truth personified.” He’s saying, “I’m not just a wise person; I am wisdom personified.” The only way for you to really get the wisdom that will enable you to handle the pain and become, in the end, a better person is not just if you have abstract principles, not just if you read the Bible so you have a doctrine of fall and creation. You have to know the One who is wisdom personally. How does that work out practically? Just like this. This is the most practical thing I could possibly tell you. You will never be able to hang on when you feel submerged, you’ll never be able to hang on in the dark, just by telling yourself, “I have to trust him. What else is there to do?” The doctrine of creation and the doctrine of the fall … That won’t work. That’s all cognitive. You have to see Jesus Christ being true to you in the dark, in Gethsemane, on the cross. You will never be able to be at a scary level unconditionally trusting in God in the dark unless you see him being true to you in the dark, holding on in spite of the garden of Gethsemane, holding on in spite of the crown of thorns, holding on in spite of the spear in his side, holding on in spite of the fact he’s totally abandoned by God. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Now there’s somebody who has absolutely been submerged, who is absolutely being held under. He went under, but he went under not just a vat of antiseptic. He didn’t just go under our ordinary suffering. He went under the very divine justice, divine wrath. He was essentially sent to hell. When you see him being true to you in the dark, you can be trusting of his love, because there’s the ultimate example of it, and there’s the ultimate proof of it. That doesn’t just work on my will to tell me, “Oh yes, I have to be trusting in him.” It melts my heart and shows me the beauty that makes me fear. It’s scariness in the presence of the ultimate beauty, Jesus Christ, dying in the dark, being true to you in the dark. That’s the reason, ultimately, as one writer put it … Here’s what the fear of the Lord is. “Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find him, and with him everything else thrown in.” Let’s pray. Our Father, we thank you there is a way to trust you to scary levels, to trust you’re always loving us even when it feels like you’re drowning us, and that is to look at your Son, Jesus Christ, who was drowned in an ocean of justice and wrath for us, who stayed true to us even in the dark. When we see him doing that, that’s proof you love us. That’s proof. When we see that proof, the fear of the Lord, awe and wonder at your love, grows in our hearts. Though we tremble before it, we’re comforted by it, and then we can bow our heads into the pain and accept it and hold on and trust and serve you, and when the pain is over and the suffering is over, we will come out refined like gold. We thank you that all this is possible for us through Jesus Christ and the gospel. It’s in his name we pray, amen.
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