Spot the Difference

Two kinds of wisdomWhat’s the difference between the hope of the gospel and the hope of a bumper sticker, (‘smile: it may never happen?’)  I ask, because sometimes, they look like the same thing.

Here’s an example. In a section on emotional health, this month’s ‘Essentials’ magazine says ‘don’t worry – it’ll all work out’.  Turn to Matthew 6 and you’ll see Jesus saying the same.

Or think of a book like Proverbs.   ‘A good name is better than money.’ ‘Iron sharpens iron.’  ‘Get wisdom.’ Insight straight from the Lord? Or a series of random granny maxims?

Let’s look at a few examples of worldly wisdom vs gospel teaching:

1. ‘It’ll all work out in the end’  vs : ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.’ (Rom 8:18)

Both seem to be saying ‘it’s gonna be ok.’  Let’s ask ‘why?’

At this point the world goes a bit quiet. Then it mutters:

‘Er- because.  It has to be.  There’s no sense getting depressed.  I don’t have the tools to deal with suffering and I don’t want to go there. I dunno – it’s just what you say when things are hard, right?  To make folks feel better. Maybe life’s a bit tough, but it’s bound to improve. No, I don’t have proof – but I feel it in my water. Anyway, even if it doesn’t, at least at some point we die – and (hopefully) –  we stop feeling and get a nice rest.  That’s ok…isn’t it?’

Same question to the gospel.

‘Life now is hard.  There’s suffering and injustice: and God sees this and understands.  In fact, He sent His Son to walk in our shoes, and to carry it for us: the wrongs things we’ve done and the wrong things that have been done to us…the world, groaning and waiting for redemption. The thing is, Jesus didn’t just die.  He defeated death and rose again, bringing life and hope and forgiveness. Right now things are tough, but He is with us by His Spirit and He helps us every step.  In Him we are made new,  and in Him the whole world will be redeemed. That’s our hope and it’s as concrete as the bodies we’re sitting in.’

Here’s another:

2. ‘Plan for the future’ vs: ‘store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal’ (Matt 6:20).

Both seem to be saying we need to think ahead and make plans.  So let’s ask, ‘how?’

Worldly wisdom suggests a cash ISA.  A pension plan, or at least some grandchildren. Cod-liver-oil supplements and regular mole screening. Again, fine.  Unless your bank crashes or you’re burgled.  Unless your grandkids spend their inheritance and are too busy to visit.  Unless you get sick and there’s nothing they can do.

Bible wisdom suggests you put your treasure, (your heart’s commitments), somewhere you can’t see them. Not under the bed or in stocks and shares – but in God’s hands. Forget Fort Knox: the safest place on earth is – well, not earth.  It’s heaven.  And if we invest there, nothing will steal our wealth. We can be confident of eternal rest and eternal security.

3. ‘Worse things happen at sea’.

Bit trickier, this one.  Titanic and Jonah.  Hard to think of anything worse. Except..

“Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food,[a] in cold and exposure…”(1 Cor 11)

This was Paul’s experience.  Yet he also says this:  “I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice” (Phil 1 v. 18). Bad things happened to him at sea, but it didn’t shake his faith.

4. ‘Life’s too short to waste’ vs: ‘Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness…It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see…Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!’ (Ephesians 5:16-17 (The Message)

Both seem to be saying life is short, so make the most of it.  The question is – how?

Worldly wisdom says live in the moment.  Eat, drink and be merry. Live for number one and enjoy what you can.

The Bible says, live in the light.  Don’t fritter away the hours – but make the most of every opportunity – to serve God and other people. Remember that this is not your home – and the one we’re headed to is so much better.

So.  Worldly wisdom and bible wisdom – not so similar after all.  And here’s why:

The wisdom of the world doesn’t include a cross. It’s not about going down into death then up into glory. It doesn’t plan for or engage with suffering.  And it doesn’t need Jesus. This means that, no matter how nice a frame we give it, it’s actually foolishness. It’s the way that seems right to a man, but leads to death.

On the other hand, the wisdom of God looks stupid: dying to live, a God who serves, suffering now and glory later.  But the foolishness of the cross is wisdom. It’s the way of death that leads to life. 

“Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” ( 1 Cor 1:22-25)




2 thoughts on “Spot the Difference

  1. Hi! Great post. It reminds of how much I agree with John Green’s Hazel (TFiOS) when she says encouragments are empty lies. Quotes like: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” “This too shall pass” “The best is yet to come” “It will all make sense in the end” don’t mean a thing without God and his promises. I do like these quotes and I do use them because I connect them to my hope in God and what He can do. I think people who don’t know the Lord just fool themselves with positive thinking (most of the time).

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