Does God toy with us in his wisdom?

To-drive-well_Packer

In elementary school, my friends and I invented our own alphabet code. We meticulously took each letter of the alphabet and connected it to a new symbol.

We would then write notes to each other using that code, despite the hours it must have taken us to decode it on both ends.

Why?

It was fun to have a secret language, something no one else could understand even if they saw it.

Does God toy with us that way?

I don’t think so. In reading J. I. Packer’s chapters 9 and 10 this week on God’s wisdom, I heard hints (perhaps incorrectly?) that God intentionally keeps us in the dark about things—uses his own secret code without disclosing the key—so that we’ll stay humble about our own limitations and will lean more dependently on his strengths.

“The God who rules [the world we live in] hides Himself. Rarely does this world look as if a beneficent Providence were running it. Rarely does it appear that there is a rational power behind it at all. Often and often what is worthless survives, while what is valuable perishes.”

~ * ~

“For the truth is that God in His wisdom, to make and keep us humble and to teach us to walk by faith, has hidden from us almost everything that we should like to know about the providential purposes which He is working out in the churches and in our own lives.”

I disagree. While I do agree that we should be humble about ourselves and that we should be dependent upon God, I don’t think God has to hide himself to make us seek him for his wisdom.

It’s just reality. We are less. He is more. The longer we live, the more we experience the gap between the limitations of man and the power of God. We see there’s more we don’t know than we do know. We discover that God redeems the circumstances and relationships in our lives to show us that he does indeed know more than we do, if we’ll pay attention to him.

He doesn’t have to intentionally send us troubles to do it. Each day brings enough troubles of its own. We wouldn’t do that to our own children—create suffering so they’d have to call on us for help. Since God loves us much more than we’re capable of loving our kids, how much less likely is he than we are, to manufacture additional trouble for us in order to gain our trust. I just don’t think he operates that way.

Am I misreading Packer? It’s likely. I’ll stay open to changing my mind.

But I still agree with Packer on more than I disagree with. Such as,

  • Wisdom is both moral and intellectual
  • Wisdom is more than mere cleverness or cunning
  • Wisdom is the power to see and the inclination to choose the highest goal
  • Wisdom is the practical side of moral goodness
  • Wisdom is at its fullest in God

I also appreciate Packer’s list of benefits we receive when we recognize God’s wisdom:

  • We are more humble
  • We are more joyful
  • We are more godly
  • We are more quick to do his will
  • We are more resolute to do his will
  • We are less bewildered by life

Perhaps my confusion with this chapter is simply more proof I lack wisdom. We are not wise enough to understand God’s ways. We’re incapable of handling the whole plan up front.

But God doesn’t have to intentionally create a secret alphabet code to keep us away from insider information. We wouldn’t grasp it anyway.

He just is too wise, too big, too powerful for us to understand.

And that’s okay. It’s enough to know that God sees all, and that we can see God.

We’re just to follow God today. Stay focused on the road in front of us. Be present with him now.

That sounds like wise living to me.

“The kind of wisdom that God waits to give to those who ask Him, is a wisdom that will bind us to Himself, a wisdom that will find expression in a spirit of faith and a life of faithfulness.”

* * *

Your thoughts?

We’re reading through Knowing God via Challies. Grab a copy and read along.

Previous chapters:

Next chapters:

  • Chapter 11, “Thy Word is Truth”
  • Chapter 12, “The Love of God”

Knowing-God-Packer-summary

17 thoughts on “Does God toy with us in his wisdom?

  1. blankMary Dolan Flaherty

    While I haven’t read Packer at all, I do commend you, Lisa for challenging his writing. When we are mature in our faith, and we know the Word, there will be times that we read something–be it in a book, a blog, or a magazine article–or even a song–there are times that a line in a praise song doesn’t sit right with me–and we challenge it. It is our right and our responsibility to do so! We are to always “test the spirit.” That doesn’t mean that Packer is wrong; but we have to realize that not everything we read is the authority on the Bible. There is only one Authority, and until we get to heaven, we’ll never know who is right. Good for you. And for the record, I think I agree with you. His word says that “He reveals deep and hidden things (Daniel 2:22).”

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Mary, for your encouragement that it’s okay to question even the big dogs. ha. There’s not another human being out there that we would agree with on everything, but I am a little hesitant to disagree with those who are obviously much smarter than me. 😉 Nonetheless, yes, we are to test the spirits and won’t be held accountable for what others believed, but what we did.

  2. blankBarbara H.

    I didn’t get that Packer was saying God purposefully keeps what He is doing hidden to keep us humble and trusting in Him – though I may have just missed it if he was. I took it more like what you said in the end, that He is so much farther above us in wisdom that we couldn’t possibly understand even if He tried to explain it to us. I think of it kind of like when we try to explain to our children why it is time to go to bed now or why they can’t have that or go there – they can come up with a thousand reasons why things should happen the way “they” think is best, while the parent can see why their reasoning is wrong, though the child can’t receive their wisdom yet. My dad was from a more authoritarian era, and his stance was, “I don’t have to explain anything to you because I am the authority here and you just do what I say” (though I don’t think he ever put it in quite those words.) Even though God IS the ultimate authority He doesn’t handle us like that, but neither can He explain what He is doing or why all the time.

    I don’t think God creates suffering just so we’ll call on Him for help, but I do think He sends trials and troubles for various other reasons. Some He allows to come by Satan or others or even our own foolishness, but sometimes they come from Him directly. I did a study and a blog post a while back on Scriptural reasons for suffering (https://barbarah.wordpress.com/2007/07/16/scriptural-reasons-for-suffering/) and am currently reading Lewis’s The Problem of Pain – it’s edifying even though I still don’t welcome suffering.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      My dad sounds much like yours. I rarely remember him explaining to us why he did what he did. It was just because he was Daddy! 🙂 And I didn’t question him either. ha.

      I’m glad you didn’t pick up that tint that I did in 9 and 10. It’s always good to hear someone else’s opinion on these chapters. I haven’t been reading through the Facebook group as much as I’d like, but when I have, I usually see something that I missed in my own reading.

      I don’t welcome suffering either, but in hindsight, I can see how God did work some good things out of many of my hardest days. So grateful he is wiser than we are!

  3. blankJean Wise

    wow you are really digging into the meaning behind the meaning. well done! I agree – God doesn’t hid; he seeks us. I think He is so immense and we are so little we can’t see him at times – I enjoy your writing and exploring so much. keep it up!

  4. blankLInda

    I was relieved to find your post and realize it was not just me that took exception to Packer in this chapter, esp. in his explanation of Ecclesiastes. In his insistence that we should not feel entitled to God’s explanation of things he carried things to the extreme of sounding like God doesn’t want us to know what He’s up to. I found your explanation much clearer–He is so far above and ahead of us that we couldn’t possible understand what He’s up to! But clearly in Scripture He invites us to be involved with what He’s doing, to seek HIs heart in prayer, to seek to know His will and be involved in the work of reconciling man to God. Of course we will never know all that He’s doing and this demand to know may stem from a carnal impulse in us to want to be wise like God knowing good and evil (ala the Garden). But that doesn’t mean we must revert to the other extreme of contenting ourselves with a sort of practical agnosticism as if we were deists, not expecting God to be at work in our world.

    As for that quote comparing our lives to driving a car and needing to deal with the realities before us rather than the why’s and wherefores… first of all, I’m not in the driver’s seat. Second of all, the analogy quickly falls down because merely seeing the ‘realities’ of this world as any unbeliever does, is NOT how we as believers are called to see this world. There are spiritual realities behind everything that happens. Our fight is not against flesh and blood, and there are purposes behind and beyond what we see in the daily news. We are called as people of God to understand the times we live in and to see the events in our world through the eyes of faith. In my opinion, and given the background of I Kings 11, Solomon had wisdom but failed to apply it to his own lifestyle, ending disgracefully with a heart far from God, in blatant idolatry and etc. This passage is clear on this. God sent him adversaries. He tried to kill them. I’m skeptical of seeing Ecclesiastes in as bright a light as Packer paints it. Solomon’s end was consistent with his failure to apply the wisdom he had gained to his own life.

    Having said all that, I too have more points of agreement with Packer than disagreement. I was actually disappointed to have to disagree with him in Chapter 10… Thank you for rounding out your post with these good points!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I appreciate you sharing all this, Linda. Your words make a lot of sense to me. I’m with you–God desires our participation in doing his will. He wants to make that more possible for us, not less. And yes, we’re not capable of understanding everything–nor should we even attempt to understand everything–because we can’t see all the spiritual implications behind the scenes. But thankfully we can trust that God does know, and that’s enough!

  5. blankAndrew Budek-Schmeisser

    I agree with you here – and I think there’s a tendency to place folks like Packer, Spurgeon, and Luther in a place of quasi-Scriptural authority.

    Reading the Gospels, there isn’t a whole lot of mystery in what God’s plans are. Jesus lays it out quite well. The details are not listed as part of the Big Picture, but they never are, because they’re subject to influences that can’t be predetermined.

    As for God sending trouble and trials to drive us closer, to make us ‘lean on Him’…this is actually one of the basic techniques used in interrogation.

    You break a man physically and psychologically, and then offer him deliverance…and he’ll consider you as something closer than a friend. There’s a good example of this in the recent Tom Hanks film “Captain Phillips”.

    I cannot imagine God doing that. Free will has to be free will; adding in an element of coercion obviates His purpose in creating us.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      You’re right that we too often put others on an intellectual or spiritual pedestal. While we can and should recognize others who are wiser and more mature, none of us are beyond questioning and growing.

      I loved the “Captain Phillips” movie and the book. Riveting stuff. Hopefully it’s only stuff I’ll only read about and watch on the screen and never have to live out. 🙂

  6. blankCeil

    Hi Lisa! I see that my reaction to you post is shared by many here! I think it’s great to have questions, and not to automatically agree with someone, just because they have written a book. Or are famous.

    We all have our own informed Spirits, and we know what resonates with us. It’s good and right to stretch our minds and hearts through reading other authors, and getting new insights. That doesn’t mean that all of it will seep in. It might be timing, it might be that his experiences are different from yours.

    God is infinite and holy, how can any of us understand completely who He is, or how He is? I say, keep reading, keep wondering, keep reflecting. That’s what keeps us closer to God, and mature in our faith,
    Blessings,
    Ceil

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Ceil. My dad taught all us kids to be ones who question. He questioned things all his life–I think that planted in me the seed to always keep seeking and searching for more. Sometimes that gets me in trouble. 🙂 But more often, it helps me see where I have been wrong and need to learn more myself.

      Yes, who among us can understand God? Impossible. And that’s a good thing.

  7. blankDavid

    Dear Lisa

    I think I can see both sides of this.

    On the one hand I agree with you: Packer’s vision (here) seems a little bleak. The universe ir a big place, reality is complex, our understanding of reality and our relationship with God is unfolding in time — as it necessarily does: we exist in time. Perhaps Packer is impatient or greedy, or his yearning tumbles over into pessimism.

    On the other hand, and following your analogy, we do hide things from our children, and we certainly are careful to structure their environment so that they develop in a certain way.

    Why did God arrange things so we have to struggle for revelation? — over a lifetime, over the millions of years we’ve been here as humans, and on into the future.

    David

    1. blankLInda

      Perhaps because what really matters is that we develop faith; it’s more precious than gold! Its outcome–salvation! Just reading in I Peter 1:1-12…We’ve been born again to a living hope which even the angels couldn’t comprehend when it was introduced to mankind! All that God reveals and all that He hides are ultimately for His glory and the growth of our faith in Him. I’m pondering these things today.

      1. blankDavid

        Dear Linda

        Thank you for your reply. I like that passage from Peter’s letter.

        I agree with you, and I think it must be that the process of development is important – the struggle, the journey itself. The strongest impression I have from reading the Old Testament is of the ongoing, developing relationship between God and His people.

        David

        1. blankLinds

          I’ve been pondering just this thing this week at my blog.
          http:/dawnskelton.blogspot.com. ‘All that matters in the Messy Moments’ Thanks for your confirmation of this truth.

          1. blankLisaNotes Post author

            David and Linda,
            Great comments! I agree that part of our need to struggle is for us to build up faith. I’m glad God knows just the right amount that each of us needs to accomplish that. Hopefully that’s our goal with our kids too–to know what will best help them for their own good. Unfortunately, I’m certain we’re never as wise as we would like to be in making those decisions though. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *