God’s Wisdom in a Mystery
By Richard Maffeo
“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” . . . “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom . . . which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19, 2:6-9)
God’s wisdom in a mystery. Why didn’t the rulers in first century Israel and Rome get it? We could ask the same question about the rulers in 2019. Why don’t they get it?
To answer the question, let’s first see how God defines wisdom. For example, “The ‘fear of the LORD’ is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10). Solomon again tells us, “The ‘fear of the LORD’ is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7) Job adds, “Behold, the ‘fear of the Lord’, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding.” (Job 28:28).
The words for ‘fear’ used in both the Old and New Testaments can be interpreted as terror, dread – or ‘deep reverence for’ someone. Context is an important backdrop against which we should infer the meaning of the word. For example, in the context of the passages above, ‘fear’ is best understood as ‘having great reverence for’ – the kind of reverence that drives us to our knees in awe of His unspeakable majesty and infinite glory.
On the other hand, in Luke 12:4-5 the Lord tells His listeners, “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!”
There is only one Being in all creation who has the authority to kill and cast into hell. That Person, of course, is God. Thus, the context clearly indicates the word used here is correctly translated and understood as ‘dread or ‘to be afraid of.’
That’s why many of the rulers of Jesus day – and rulers to this present hour – did not and do not understand what God calls wisdom. It’s because they had, and they have, no reverence or fear for God.
But – and this is an important point – to those with even a fledgling faith in God, to those who have merely the beginning of understanding about the fear and great reverence for Him – it is to them alone that God slowly reveals His ‘wisdom in a mystery.’ It is to them alone God deigns to open their minds to His wisdom snuggled within the mystery of salvation by grace through faith; The mystery of His love, and mercy and gentleness and His tenderness.
It’s a mystery because, yes, life can sometimes be a terrible experience. As Job said, “Man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7). Nearly his entire book oozes pain and heartache, and his gut-wrenched emotions spill from the depths of his soul into questions most everyone has asked God at one time or another. Questions like: “Why is life this way? Why does God allow humanity to experience pain and loss and broken hearts – sometimes unimaginable pain and loss and shattered hearts?
The answers to such questions are found, of course, throughout Scripture. Several passages now come to my mind. Here’s one: James 1:2-4 “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Here’s another: Romans 5:3-6 “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
There are many others, but we only need to stay with our text in 1 Corinthians 2:9 to glimpse the answer to why He permits life to be as it is: “Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.”
Try to describe a rainbow to a person born blind, or a symphony to a person born deaf. And so, no one this side of the grave can even most superficially understand what awaits those who enter that heavenly kingdom through their faithful perseverance through their trials.
As God tells us through the prophet Isaiah, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
I have not yet learned the truths I am sharing here, but it doesn’t matter if I or you have learned to live those truths.
What IS important is that the lessons are TRUE because God says the lessons are true. And so He continues to ask each of us in our valley of darkness, and through each vale of tears – He asks us to trust His goodness, His love, His kindness, and His gentleness – and that He will never permit us to be tested beyond our ability to overcome through the supernatural help of God (1 Corinthians 10:13).
How difficult is it to persevere? For me – and probably for many of you, it is very difficult. But the persevering faith of multiple millions of men and women through the centuries, right to this very moment, make it superabundantly clear, you and I CAN get to that place where we have complete confidence in God – even while we writhe under the anguish of chronic pain, disability, or emotional chaos. Because others have gotten there, we too can get to the place spoken of in the hymn, “He Leadeth Me, O Blessed Thought”:
"He leadeth me! O blessed thought, O words with heav’nly comfort fraught; Whate’er I do, where’er I be, Still ’tis Christ’s hand that leadeth me."
"He leadeth me! He leadeth me! By His own hand He leadeth me; His faithful follower I would be, For by His hand He leadeth me."
"Sometimes ’mid scenes of deepest gloom, Sometimes where Eden’s bowers bloom, By waters still, o’er troubled sea, Still ’tis His hand that leadeth me."
"Lord, I would clasp Thy hand in mine, Nor ever murmur or repine; Content, whatever lot I see, Since it is Thou that leadest me."
"And when my task on earth is done, When, by Thy grace, the vict’ry’s won, E’en death’s cold wave I will not flee, Since Thou in triumph leadest me."
We cannot now see it very well. We cannot now understand it very well. But God is working out in our lives His wisdom in a mystery. I like the way St. Paul explained it: “At present we are . . . looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror. The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face to face! At present all I know is a little fraction of the truth, but the time will come when I shall know it as fully as God now knows me!” (1 Corinthians 13:12, JB Phillips).
Please hear this once again – and I need to hear it once again also: God is trustworthy. The more we practice trusting Him in our day to day circumstances, the easier I expect it will be to trust Him in the sudden and sometimes terrifying circumstances that inevitably cross everyone’s path.
Oh, Holy Spirit, help us walk with our Savior in ever increasing faithfulness and perseverance. Lord, we believe. Please, help us in our unbelief. (Mark 9:24)