A one-page summary of this article is available, Hidden Wisdom (Summary)
Disorder abounds everywhere, confusion in personal lives and marriages, violence in local communities, strife in churches, the political farces of Canberra, the economic mayhem in Europe, and on a scale as large as global warming. The common factor underlying all this dysfunction is a lack of wisdom. The “higher wisdom” that is needed to bring restoration in our world is not to be found by following the latest business principles, and it will never emerge from our universities. The one wisdom that can restore order is Christ. The biblical promise is clear and encouraging; “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5). Either we are not asking, or we are asking wrongly, as James later says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (4:3). Something deeper however is afoot in our land. I have a conviction that God is hiding, from me, and generally from the Church in Australia. This is a sign of a pervasive spiritual shallowness that characterises our time.
This is what Paul says to a very disordered congregation in a morally and socially disordered world much like our own; “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom …a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:6-7 ESV). Only by coming to terms with the hiddenness of divine wisdom can healthy order be renewed in the Church for the glory of God and for the sake of the lost.
Paul speaks of “the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” (Ephesians 3:9; cf. Col 1:26). The divine plan was always to defeat the “the rulers and authorities in the spiritual places” through a manifestation of a previously secret “manifold wisdom of God” (Eph 3:10). The outworking of this plan for the final triumph of wisdom began with the creation of Adam and Eve in Eden.
Despite the divine blessing, ““Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…over every living thing…””(Genesis 1:28 ESV), humanity was not yet in possession of the wisdom necessary to rule the earth through triumphing over evil. Only “the knowledge of the glory of the Lord ” could fill the earth with his presence (Hab 2:14). The Genesis story makes it plain that wisdom is a precondition for the outpouring of God’s glory through humanity into the earth.
God laid a path to initiate Adam and Eve into sharing in God’s wisdom so that they could be entrusted with his power and glory to rule the world. The single prohibition in Eden was the key to such authority, ““You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17 ESV) The wisdom behind the prohibition is a hidden one as God provides no foundation for the command; then he disappears from the scene. It is this vanishing act that permits the entry of Satan into Paradise.
The Fall narrative is a story about rival wisdoms (cf. James 3:13-18). Satan’s promise, ““You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4-5), is an offer of total moral discernment and an inner knowledge of the workings of creation. Should Satan’s word prove true the universe will be stripped of all mystery and there will no longer be any need for trust in God. The temptation turned into a concrete sinful action because the tree of knowledge was manifestly glorious and offered a pathway to another wisdom. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Gen 3:6).
The eyes of Adam and Eve were indeed “opened” to a new world, but instead of seeing God’s glory and their place in spreading it through the world they saw only shame (Gen 3:7). Their new shame-driven wisdom compelled them to hide their nakedness from one another and to hide from God (Gen 3:7-8). The original good order of creation had been broken so that every level of existence, marriage, family, society and with the world, was fragmented. In failing to believe that the wisdom they needed to rule the earth and to inherit eternal life was hidden inside in God’s own Word the first couple plunged us into chaos.
God has not abandoned the world, the heavens still declare his glory and his power is known in all creation (Ps 19:1-4; Rom 1:19-20). God “has put eternity into man’s heart”, but the verse is completed with a major qualifier, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV). The wisdom of God remains intentionally hidden beyond natural sense. All human idolatries, occult practices, religions and philosophies are attempts to create an alternate wisdom to the wisdom that is hidden in the life of God. Ultimately such “wisdoms” simply sustain and multiply the disorder of the world.
Old Testament Wisdom
The Old Testament sages grasped that divine wisdom was something essentially hidden from human sight; ““But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its worth, and it is not found in the land of the living.””…. “From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding? It is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air.”…“And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” (Job 28:12-13, 21, 28 ESV). This was not a deduction which came from observation, it was a revelation that true wisdom belongs only to the LORD. Wise men like Joseph and Daniel, elevated to high position in civil government, showed they were truly perceptive by attributing their insight solely to the God of heaven (Gen 41:25, 39; Dan 2:19ff, 47). This is the faithful testimony of wisdom.
Wisdom can be a terrible two edged sword. Solomon falls through self-confidence and applause. The prophets sternly warn of God’s judgement upon the self-assured; “therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”(Isa 29:14). As Israel turned to the idols of the nations for instruction they lurched from disaster to disaster under divine punishment (2 Ki 1:3ff).
Finally the prophets spoke of a coming Redeemer who would be the complete embodiment of the wisdom; “For to us a child is born…and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor…2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” (Isa 9:6; 11:2-3). Perfect wisdom will flow from perfect fear; Jesus is the fulfiller of this testimony.
Christ’s public ministry is full of a hidden prophetic wisdom; “Jesus…said nothing to them without a parable…to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”” (Matthew 13:34-35 ESV). The Lord explained the meaning of the parables to his disciples, but their message remained veiled to those who were not of the kingdom, “for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”” (Mark 4:11-12).
God’s hiding his ways from the arrogant brought much joy to Jesus; ” he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.””(Luke 10:21 ESV). Christ went on to prophesy a higher insight, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.” (Luke 21:15 ESV). Godly wisdom always testifies to its origins.
There was a final dimension however to God’s wisdom which too alien for even Jesus’ closest friends to embrace; “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”” (Matthew 16:21-22 ESV cf. John 6:53, 66). The cross represents a scandal to all who consider themselves wise in this world (1 Cor 1:18-25). Neither disciples, Jews nor Romans understood that the crucifixion was the way to a new cosmic order. Jesus becomes one with a long tradition of the wise of Israel derided and mocked by the enemies of the LORD (Job 17:2; Pss 22:7; 35:16; Prov 19:28; Jer 20:7 etc; Mark 15:16-20, 26-30).
If wisdom is the source of all order there seems to be a complete absence of order in the sufferings of the cross. When Christ cries out ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34) he who always called God “Father” seems devoid of the awareness of Sonship. The foundation for the order and wisdom of the world, the learning of a son from a father (Prov 1:8ff; 2:1 etc.), has dissolved in the midst of the chaos of sin. This is the cost of the Son of God bearing the sin of the world (John 1:29; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:24). The saving wisdom of God is totally concealed from human (in)sight in the depths of the suffering of the cross. God’s hiddenness from sinful eyes is extremely radical and comes to its culmination at the cross when “darkness was over the whole land” (Mark 15:33).
The disorder of sin however is overcome in the love of the Son and the Father. The love of Jesus for the wisdom of God leads to an outpouring of divine resurrection power (cf. Prov 29:3). Adam and Eve sought to snatch deathlessness and the reins of universal rule by possessing a wisdom apart from God, but immortality and sovereignty are now gifted to the submissive Son by his Father (2 Tim 1:10; Heb 2:5-9; 5:7-9). Through the wisdom of the suffering of the cross Christ is now possessed of a knowledge that is indwelt by and indwells the glory of the Father (John 8:50, 54; Rom 6:4). Everything in heaven and earth is open to the gaze of our Lord and Redeemer (Heb 4:13). Such wisdom though is not open to all but more hidden than ever before.
The ascension marks the consummation of God’s intentionally hidden wisdom. “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:9 ESV). Jesus ascended into heaven beyond all human accessibility or understanding (Eph 1:20-21; Heb 4:14; 7:26). The sightless disciples understood that it was in the secret Christ that the age old longing for knowledge through wisdom for the sake of glory would be truly satisfied; “to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3 ESV). The illuminated dominion of the Church in the world flows from the disappearance of Jesus.
The Old Testament anticipated an unknown future for the children of God, “But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him””, but now it can be proclaimed , “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” (1 Cor 2:9-10 ESV). All is now opened to the Spirit’s unveiling because all has been opened to Christ.
This is a great mystery, but as a witness of the ascended Lord Paul explains the ultimate purpose of such hidden exalted order. “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.” (Ephesians 4:8-10 ESV). God’s purpose in Christ is to fill all things with the humanity of Jesus as the embodiment of the “knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (Hab 2:14; cf. 2 Cor 4:6). The “plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” is that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3:9-10 ESV). The people of God are the means through which the fullness of God’s eternal wisdom can be manifested for his glory in all the earth. The New Testament speaks boldly of such distributed wisdom.
Wisdom Manifest in the Church
The wise always bear testimony to the glory of God in Christ. Stephen is a man “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” whose incisive testimony could not be withstood by his enemies (Acts 6:3, 10). As Jesus prophesied would befall the wise he sent forth, Stephen becomes a martyr for the cause of God’s kingdom (Matt 23:34; Acts 7:54-59). The paradoxical power of the wisdom of the cross in Stephen’s death becomes the catalyst for the first preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles and is instrumental in the conversion of Saul/Paul (Acts 11:19-21; 22:20). This same dynamic of wisdom also operates inside the church.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Col 3:16). “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…”(Ephesians 5:15-18 ESV) Wisdom and the infilling of the Word/Spirit are inseparable (cf. James 1:5; 3:17).
Despite such wonderful promises the Church is often characterised more by manifold disorder than manifold wisdom. We have forgotten that all human attempts to attain godlikeness and glory are futile. Religion swings between attempts to reach up to God or to debase ourselves in order to attain grace. Christ alone however is the descended and ascended man fully accepted by God (Romans 10:6-8; Eph 4:8-10).
At the beginning of 1 Corinthians Paul tackles such issues directly. “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:6-10 ESV). The wisdom which commonly governs politics, education, economics, family, business, and even the Church, is not the hidden and mature wisdom of heaven. Our central problem is that we have sought to bypass Christ in who alone is found eternal order and glory. The following text deals a hammer blow to all worldly wisdoms.
“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human beingmight boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of himyou are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”” (1 Cor 1:30). This crucial text teaches that our union with Christ is the substance of all the dimensions of salvation. The wisdom of the crucified-and-ascended Lord is barred from all who would seek another understanding of the ways of God in this world. The great sin of the Church today is that it has inundated itself with principles, programmes, patterns, gifts and strategies that allow us to take pride in our own achievements. We have disregarded the way of lowliness, the way of the cross, which alone is the way to the revelation of the manifold wisdom of God destined to rule the world.
For years I have spoken of the ascension of Jesus into heaven as one of the most neglected aspects Jesus’ life in the teaching of the Church today. In writing this study I have at last sadly come to the conclusion that such an omission is wilful. The prosperous Western Church has largely bypassed the significance of our being seated with a crucified and ascended Lord so that we might revel in the insights and achievements of our own ever expanding human knowledge. The horrific disorder that abounds around us confirms this (apparently) harsh verdict.
Our age is characterised by an explosion of indifference to eternal things, rampant idolatry, interest in mystical forms of spirituality and increasingly aggressive atheism. Add to that the disintegration of the ethical values that have for millennia upheld marriage and family life and dysfunction is seen to be rampant. The reasons for this terrible disorder have numerous historical and sociological dimensions, but none of these are basic to our current dilemma. We have in fact moved off the one foundation by which God created the world, humanity and the Church. For the sake of the salvation of the lost and the glory of God we must ask for the help of heaven to submit to the hidden and ascended wisdom of Christ in its rich variety (Eph 3:10, 21). As we do so the order of and glory of God will flow through the people of God out into the world fulfilling the secret purpose of creation.
 Another starting point would be the role of wisdom in the creation of the world e.g. Prov 8:22-31. The order in the world is in some way an unfolding of the order that exists in God. The New Testament will reveal that this is the order of gather, Son and Spirit e.g. John 1:1-3; 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 4:4-6.
 Cf. “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen”
 This is made clear from the later use of such language in the Old Testament;“for my lord the king is like the angel of God to discern good and evil. The LORD your God be with you!”…. But my lord has wisdom like the wisdom of the angel of God to know all things that are on the earth.””(2 Samuel 14:17, 20 ESV)
 Described in the O.T. as “thick darkness” (Ex 20:21; Deut 5:22; 2 Sam 22:10, 12; 1 Ki 8:12; Pss 18:9; 97:2).
 Jesus explained that it was to their advantage that he departs (John 16:7 cf. 20:17).
 Isaiah 64:4 cited in 1 Cor 2:8.
 Which is not the same as saying it is conscious e.g. 1 Ki 8:39; Heb 3:12-13.