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THE WISDOM OF THE WORLD
We now have before us the full picture with all of its relationships. It is the spiritual that governs the material. Among all the creatures on earth, mankind possesses the strongest spirit. God appointed the human race to exercise dominion over the earth and all of nature (Gen 1:16-18). Satan distorted this situation. His spirit being more powerful than that of mankind, he exerted his influence over the spirit of our race, led us to the fall, and since then has penetrated all of human life and, in fact, all creaturely existence and processes. This cancerous growth resulted in mankind losing its dominant position and Satan taking its place. He pushed mankind from the throne of honour and placed himself on it.
For this reason, Christ Himself bestowed on him the title of “ruler of the world.” The first prophecy was directed against this “ruler of the world” and predicted that one time the seed of the woman would crush Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15). Then came the establishment of the nation of Israel that was protected in a special way over against the onslaughts of Satan on their own territory. Finally, Christ Himself came. Christ was both Son of God and Son of Man, but it was as Son of Man that He engaged Satan in the struggle to overthrow him as the “ruler of the world” and to dethrone him. The goal was for Him as head of the human race to restore to mankind the dominion over the earth that was lost because of the fall. This struggle between the divinely anointed King and the “ruler of the world” started with the temptation in the wilderness, continued to Gethsemane and Golgotha and came to its principal settlement with the resurrection of Christ.
During Jesus’ days on earth, there was tremendous agitation in the demonic world. The country of Israel was full of possessed people. The most hellish intentions possessed a Judas, a high priest, a Roman governor. Over against the power of Satan and his demons, Jesus rose up with the superior royal power of the Spirit. He cast out demons and gave His disciples also power over them by means of the immediate power of His Spirit. That was not all. Since the demonic power of the ruler of the world was secretly behind the curse over nature and the miseries suffered by the human race, Christ exercised His power of the miraculous also over the physical realm. He not only cast out demons, but He also healed the sick and demonstrated the superiority of His Spirit over nature. He did all these directly, without resorting to means. Even the storm on the Sea of Galilee was stilled by no more than His word of power. The climax of it all came in His power over death. He recalled Lazarus from the grave, the daughter of Jairus from her deathbed and a young man from his bier. This power of the immediate work of the spirit He also laid upon the disciples after whom it continued to be exercised throughout the apostolic century.
This was only the beginning and in that beginning came also the prophecy of what is awaiting us at the end of the ages. Christ will one day return and then the power of Satan will be completely destroyed and a situation better than the original Garden will be established. Then the great miracle will happen, when this earth will be transformed into a new earth that will flower eternally before the face of God under a new heaven.
In between the day of Christ’s initial principal victory and that end time lies a long interim period. During this interim Satan has suffered defeat in principle, but he continues to agitate the world, especially the non-Christian peoples. That is why Jesus ascended into heaven, where He now sits at God’s right hand with His royal dominion and is busy forming in this world even now a new humanity that is His body and that derives its life from Him as its head.
This church of the living God has received the Holy Spirit in two ways. She herself derives her life from this Spirit and, secondly, she spreads around her a new atmosphere of a higher and holier human society. This is the city on the hill that herself enjoys that light not only, but also has that light radiating out into the world. The atmosphere of the Holy Spirit pushes back that of Satan. There arose within that atmosphere a Christian approach to statehood, society, science and art. In this atmosphere magic and sorcery could not blossom and thus disappeared. The human spirit has been liberated in this atmosphere. In the sweat of its brow that liberated human spirit eats from the bread of knowledge and regains through science that power of nature which we have now achieved.
Alas, all that glitters is not gold. In place of honouring the Christ for this restored power, scientists increasingly regard the area of science as if its might is rooted in its own power and pit it against the King who restored this power to them.
Unfortunately, the Christian community shares in the responsibility for this unhappy development. With a narrow minded reductionist perspective she recognized only the direct, immediate power of the spirit that expresses itself through miracles while she closed her eyes to the development of that wider spiritual power over nature that was restored to mankind during the interim period in the form of inventiveness, utilizing of talents and gifts, and the application of serious research. The Christian community did not recognize that wider liberation of the spirit and often regarded experimental research with suspicion. She has often sought to obtain via miracles what is available only through the sweat of the brow, that is, through hard work. An extreme example here is the refusal on the part of some to avail themselves of modern medicine and the insistence that healing come through prayer and miracle alone. Christians have readily appreciated the need for hard work in the area of agriculture, but have not always realized that it is required for all human powers of both body and spirit.
The result has been that especially unbelievers have applied themselves to this neglected area with the consequence that an attitude of hostility to science developed within the Christian church. Here we have the origin of that wide chasm between science and faith. The Christian church withdrew with a sense of helplessness. She no longer possessed the power to perform miracles and the power of science was left to the unbelievers. The other side of the coin was that scientists tended increasingly to reject the faith and to act as if their scholarship rested on purely autonomous human power that was pitted against the Kingship of Christ.
Gradually a change is coming about. The spiritual Israel, the church, is coming out of its tents. She is beginning to recognize her mistake. She seeks to make a break with her former narrow perspective and shedding her reluctance by accepting the advantages of the power that has been achieved over nature with gratitude. She is beginning to recover her sensitivity to the work of Christ as King to restore the dominion of mankind over the earth. A new light is arising. Christians are now reaching for the power of scholarship. They now realize that the power of Christ is also active in science and they now pay tribute to Christ as King in this area as well.
This new development, however, creates a new danger. Those Christians who reconciled themselves with science then went to the other extreme. Taking their cue only from scientific theories, they moved away from the mysteries of creation to replace these with the hypothesis of evolution . We should regard this development as a transition situation that victimizes only those afflicted with spiritual superficiality. Solid believers refuse to be caught in this trap. They draw a sharp line between the substantial results of science that are the outcome of strict research and those theories produced by the imagination of researchers who have gone off the deep end.
In addition to the restored power over nature, it is especially the steady increase of our knowledge that heightens our sense of human grandeur and that ends up with people elevating themselves with creaturely pride, while simultaneously rejecting the humility that is characteristic of the Gospel. You many remember the earlier discussion where it was observed that the blocking of the stream of religious life can be attributed to various factors, among them being our power over nature, but also and especially to the increase of human knowledge and to the high level that scholarship has been achieved in almost every area. It is therefore necessary to determine whether Christianity must in principle resist this high level of scholarship and be hostile to it or whether this scholarship is a blessing to us from Christ, even though many of its practitioners try their best to separate their work from Christ and even play them off against each other.
To begin with, it sometimes does indeed appear as if Christianity wants to attack scholarship and ban it altogether. Especially the apostle Paul never tired of speaking about the foolishness of the wisdom of this world. “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” he wrote (I Cor. 1:20). “Philosophy” was considered illegitimate. The church is strengthened not by the noble and wise of the world, but by the simple, the foolish, those whom the world despises. Paul rejected the “philosophers of this age.” He continued, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (I Cor. 1:21). The Greeks sought wisdom. Christ was not only “a stumbling block to the Jews,” but also “foolishness to Gentiles,” including the Greeks. In order “to shame the wise,” God “chose the foolish things for the world.” We are called upon not to be taken “captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world” (Col. 2:8). Jesus Himself had given praise and thanks to God that it had pleased God to “have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children” (Mat. 11:25).
This attack on the “wisdom of the world” is so emphatic and so insistent throughout the Scriptures that it should not surprise us that those who zeroed in on it and who would ignore the context in which these attacks occur, would despise all human scholarship and oppose all higher human knowledge.
This evil and negative development within the church could only be stemmed by a healthy proclamation of the Bible, but such preaching was sadly lacking. Theology withdrew to its own area and lost its relationship or dialogue with other disciplines. It paraded itself as the grand master whose duty it was to prevent the other disciplines from making further progress. Theologians almost completely forgot that which some of the Reformed creeds confess, namely, that we know Gold from two books, the book of Scripture and the book of nature, the latter of which strongly emphasized the majesty of the Lord of Lords. Theologians were too eager to dominate through force, force by the church supported by force by the state. Paradoxically, this attitude caused theology to become poor, emaciated, petrified and increasingly to find itself in a defensive position vis a vis the natural sciences that were blossoming.
The perspective that developed within the church was wholly wrong and completely contrary to the Scriptures. Nowhere does the Scripture insist that we glean all our knowledge about nature and the world from the Bible. The Bible tells us that there are certain things that you can learn only from nature and from the world, while there are other things for which nature or the world cannot help us at all. Some of those can be learned only from the Bible. Scripture does not have a low regard for knowledge derived from nature. Instead, we are told that from nature we learn about “the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1). It is an extreme form of foolishness to imagine that you can learn from the Bible all you need to know about nature and the life of the world, its historical progress, etc., without doing any further scientific research in nature or the composition of the world. The human body can only be known by investigating it. The crust of the earth can only be understood by digging into it. Animals can be known only by studying animals; plants only by studying plants. Similarly, the history of the human race can only be understood by studying its past. While we place Scripture in the forefront, of course, next to it lie open before us the kingdom of nature along with the history of mankind and the development of its powers in the various realms, as our legitimate sources of knowledge. Those who close the book of nature in order to concentrate on the Scripture do not honour God as much as those who conscientiously study both the book of Scripture and that of nature. In nature as well as in human life a treasury of knowledge is awaiting us that God Himself brings to our attention and which it would be sin to push aside while we busy ourselves with reading the Bible. Yet that is exactly what people do all too much, with the result that we have two approaches, each as one-sided as the other. One side is content with the Bible and ignores the book of nature, while the other, equally one-sided, pushes the Scripture aside and considers the book of nature and of human life sufficient.
The same contrast was common also in the days of the apostles. In that Graeco-Roman culture, people were ignorant of the Scripture and sought their salvation in contemporary scholarship. At the same time, the Jews regarded the Old Testament as almost the only source of knowledge and they as good as ignored wider scholarship. True, there were various schools of thought among the Jews, but these were all varieties among those schooled in the Scriptures, all of whom concentrated on the explanation of the Old Testament and constructed a scholastic series of propositions on that basis. Then, too, there was the contrast between the Scriptures of the Old Testament on the one hand and the philosophy, scholarship and wisdom of the Greeks on the other. Since the Gospel showed both the rabbinical study of the Old Testament and the wisdom of the Greeks to be insufficient, Paul opposed both and concluded that the Gospel cannot but be an affront to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.
It was an affront to the Jews, because it pulled down their national pride. The Jews laboured under the illusion that their special position in the world was a permanent arrangement. The Messiah whom they were expecting was an earthly king on the throne of David in Jerusalem. Of course, both Christ and the apostles annoyed and angered them greatly, for they pulled the rug from under Jewish national pride and regarded the Jewish nation merely as a means for the coming of salvation. The Jews were invited to enter the Kingdom of heaven on the same basis as the Gentiles.
Similarly, the Gospel could not but be regarded as folly by the learned Greeks. After all, they considered themselves capable of constructing a complete system of knowledge concerning the origin and composition of reality on basis of their own independent reasoning. They felt insulted when the apostle unmasked their system and had the light of divine revelation penetrate into the darkness of their paganism. The wise and learned among the Greeks despised the idol worship that was practised by the peasants in the villages and the lower classes in the cities. As cultured, learned and developed men, they considered themselves far above such idolatrous nonsense and judged it all foolishness. When the new Christian religion appeared on the scene, these learned Greeks regarded it as another variety of the paganism of their own people they so despised and quickly applied the term “foolishness” to it as well.
When Paul first heard of this reaction, instead of withdrawing with hesitation, he accepted this caricature and turned it against them. The Gospel is not foolish, but their wisdom is! Through your imaginary wisdom, he challenged them, you have closed yourself to the Gospel. But true wisdom is found in that Gospel, for its source is not human wisdom, but the wisdom of God Himself. It pleased God, Paul asserted, to close the hearts of both Jewish rabbis and Greek philosophers and to recommend to both all that they considered the foolishness of the world, the weak, the ignoble, the humble.
The question now is whether the foolishness that Christ and His apostles rejected as the wisdom of the world is identical with natural science, the science of history and the rest of modern scholarship. That is the basic question that we must face. The answer to that question is an unqualified “No!”
In order to understand this issue, we need to clearly distinguish between modern science that rests on strict and undisciplined research and those systems of knowledge constructed on basis of guesses, assumptions and their logical relationships. The results of experimental research are indisputable and must be accepted by all, for this approach can demonstrate to us the nature of things. Everyone knows that a lightning rod can attract lightning and then divert it in order to save the building. Yet, there are those who refuse to install a lightning rod on their house, not because they do not understand its operation, but because they are under the religious illusion that they may not protect themselves against lightning. Such religious timidity in no way diminishes the truth of well-researched facts. That none of us deny the truth of all these new scientific findings is clearly demonstrated by the fact that all of us without hesitation make regular use of its technological fruits in our use of cars, airplanes and telephones. In addition, most of us gratefully accept the services of a physician to take care of our aches and pains.
The Greeks in the days of Paul had not yet penetrated deeply into either nature or history, though it cannot be denied that they had already made some significant discoveries in the realm of nature as well as in human anatomy. They had made remarkable progress with respect to certain diseases. It never occurred to the apostle Paul to reject these gains. In fact, on one of his missionary journeys, Luke, the physician, accompanied him. Nowhere in his letters do you find any hint that Paul would have turned against scholarship or against the science of nature. Anyone who thinks to find any such sentiment in Paul’s writing surely misunderstands him. Rather, his admonition to try all things and to retain the good is directly applicable in this area. Research into nature, history and the composition of the world and human life is not only not to be condemned, but it is to be encouraged and praised--provided, and this is something never to be forgotten, such research leads to retaining the true and the good while it leads to rejecting evil.
It is an important duty of Christians to test all that pretends to be scholarship. Already in those days the scholarship or wisdom of the Greeks mixed two different kinds of knowledge. On the one hand, there were the results of strict research and, on the other hand, the system of knowledge based on rationalistic guesses and assumptions. It was the result of their rationalistic activity that they recommended as their wisdom and their philosophy. The apostle in no way turned against their scientific knowledge; he only rejected the fruit of their rationalism.
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