Saturday, October 18, 2008

God's Nüvi

Lately in one-on-one meetings with some men from church, our attention has been drawn to the topic of wisdom and the book of Proverbs. After discussing a number of passages, one of the men asked a great question, “What exactly is wisdom?”

A quick survey of the references in Proverbs turns up quite a few descriptions (wisdom is valuable, does this or that) but no precise definition. So I began to meditate on it, and here’s what I came up with: wisdom is God’s Nüvi.

Many people reading this will immediately say, “Hunh?”, and rightly so. So, here’s a little explanation. I had heard radio advertising for GPS systems for automobiles—“Turn left! In 200 feet, turn right! Destination on right!”—but didn’t really appreciate them until the day I traveled with a friend who had one (incidentally, the same one who asked the question about the meaning of wisdom), and discovered what a great help it was. We used it not only to get to and from where were going, but also to find a Panera with its wireless connection, as well as places to stop and eat along the way. Did I say what a great help it was? So much so, I ended up purchasing one for myself for a vacation to Cincinnati to see the Creation Museum there. And guess what? It was a great help!

Anyway, these things work by a combination of technologies. First, the device has stored in it a database of roads and points of interest. Secondly, a built-in receiver picks up signals from satellites orbiting the earth and then computes the angles between itself and the satellites. Next, it compares where you are with the roads and all the places it has loaded in its memory and displays it on a map. (The one I bought, a Garmin Nuvi 200, has in addition to its map of the entire continental U.S. over 600 million points of interest. And this is one of the cheapest, entry-level models.) Finally, speech technology enables it to verbalize where you should turn.

By now you're surely asking what this has to do with Proverbs and wisdom. Well, what led me down this track was the realization that wisdom describes the moral order of God’s creation. Wisdom classifies interactions between God and his creation and describes those which are beneficial. Proverbs 1:3, for example, says that to receive wisdom is… “to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity”… (ESV). Wisdom is an internal attribute of God by which he acts for the ultimate good of himself and his creation, as in Proverbs 3:19, 20… “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew.” (ESV). Along this line, wisdom communicates what we should do according to God’s internal reasoning, as in Proverbs 4:11-13: “I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble. Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.” (ESV)

So here’s what I mean by saying wisdom is God’s Nüvi: Wisdom is like a GPS device that contains a database of moral positions within God’s created order and which is able to describe the proper relations within that order and the creatures who inhabit it. Want to know where you should go, what you should do that is in the best interest of you and the rest of creation? Get out your Bible and get wisdom, which is catalogued there.

After hearing me explain the concept, the friend who asked about wisdom and who had exposed to me the wonders of the earthly Nüvi, came up with his own definition for wisdom. "Wisdom is GPS", he said. “God’s Positioning System.”


DJP said...

I like “God’s Positioning System.”

I'm wondering: do you think God's wisdom works with that sort of specificity? There are those who would say, "Yes." That is, do you think it would tell us which specific person to marry, which specific job to take, which specific house (or can of peas) to buy?

I'd understand it differently. I might have 1, 3, 7 choices, all perfectly acceptable to God. Wisdom would help me narrow it down, and it can help me make a wise choice. But my understanding of God's guidance is that the choice is mine, if it's a moral choice. Wisdom, in that way, doesn't say "arriving at destination," with the implication that there is only one.

Maybe the GPS is more like wisdom (to me) in that it helps you by laying out the array of choices (like the GPS gives you a list of nearby restaurants), and once you pick your own morally-acceptable location, it helps you get there.

Pastor Michael said...


Thanks so much for your input, which is exactly the sort I was hoping for, in that I'm particularly lousy at anticipating holes in my own reasoning.

To your question about specificity, I would say "no up front, but yes in the long run”. No, because I agree that Biblical wisdom doesn’t point to tidy destinations, and I wholeheartedly concur about our ability to make apparently free moral choices. I purposefully threw the word apparently in there, though, to lead to the rationale for my yes, because I think that when we exercise what wisdom we have in good faith, then God’s providence accomplishes for us what is in our ultimate best interest, as in Romans 8:28. Paradoxically, this means I may make an objectively wrong decision, but God (who is the only truly free agent) will bring about his desired end, which is by definition correct.

Reading what I just wrote sounds a little like an exercise in self-contradiction, so feel free to fire away at the inconsistencies.

And many thanks for taking time to read and comment.