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“For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the ways of his saints.” ~Proverbs 2:6-7
I have been pondering over this verse for some time, seeking the implications of it, particularly in regard to education. But I suppose that I could really subtitle my thoughts from this verse as, “Epistemology and Freedom,” for those are the thoughts that have come together for me as result. Most of my posts so far concerning the book of Proverbs have been pretty much contained within the book itself, but this time I’m going to draw more explicitly from other places in Scripture for the purpose of clarity.
Solomon flatly states that wisdom comes from God. It is a gift from God (James 1:17-18; John 17:14; John 16:13-15), given to individuals whom the Lord has chosen (James 1:5-8; Ecclesiastes 2:26; Psalm 51:6); through this, then, it is given to the whole body of believers. Scripture is quite clear that no one has sound wisdom unless he believes and fears God — then he knows God (John 5:38-47 and James 1:21-25). The prayer of Psalm 119:66 sums up how this is applied personally in our own lives: “Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.”
No human being can cause another to thirst after wisdom and to seek God — God himself puts this in the heart of a man, woman, or child. However, he does hear the prayers of his saints, asking for life for another, as it were (John 5:16; James 5:15-20). Hence, as I have noted before, a parent (or sibling or elder or friend or some other teacher or counselor) can and must rely on the Lord to open the eyes and heart and desires of the one being taught. I once heard it a pastor say it this way: “You know you can’t teach hunger — so you pray.” Solomon does not contradict this, nor do the apostles, for our Lord himself has said in the gospels:
“Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me — not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” ~John 6:43-45
“Jesus answered them, I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me….If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” ~John 10:25-27; 37-39
It is clear from these passages (among others) that believing comes before knowing and understanding (Prov. 1:7; Rom. 1:20-22; 2:13-16). See also John 6:69 where Peter says that they believed, and have come to know. This follows 6:36 where Jesus says that the Jews had seen him but did not believe.
All of this is in accord with Proverbs 1:7, which so clearly says that the beginning of knowledge is the fear of the Lord. However, this is somewhat against the grain in this post-Enlightenment society that teaches that one must experience something (in some way or other) before he can believe — and certainly before he can truly know (if he can even really know anything for certain). Yet, God commands his children and gives his blessing with it, or upon their obedience. Surely it is necessary to believe the Lord before experiencing the blessing that results from keeping the word of his mouth; indeed, God gives grace upon grace, for it is only by grace that we believe and know and it is only by grace that we receive further blessing upon blessing when we keep his commandments.
When we come to the Scriptures, when we are taught the Word — as Solomon is teaching his son here in the second chapter of Proverbs — whether it is by pastors, parents, or anyone else, we must first believe that it is true because it comes from God. We may not quite understand it all, but his Spirit bears witness with our spirit that their words are the words of truth when they are speaking according to the voice of God in Scripture (comp. Romans 8:16; John 10:4-5). We must be granted the freedom of conscience to ourselves bear witness to the truth — “for the Lord gives wisdom.” This freedom of conscience is a responsibility — in it, by it, once we are to a point where we are maturing as believers (no matter how young we may be — the Scriptures put no age limit on wisdom), we must judge what we are taught by the Scriptures as those “who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” ~Hebrews 5:14
It is something, indeed, to stand, individually, before the God of all and before his Word — and, in reality, this is where we stand. No other mediator can or will we, each one, ever have besides Christ. Therefore, it is important for us to be sure that we believe what we claim to know — and apply it and practice it in our lives, lest we be found liars and it be demonstrated that his truth not be in us — for it is undeniable that “the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” ~Deuteronomy 30:14
Over and over throughout the history of the people of God, authoritarianism has crept in, wiggling its way into pulpits and families and nations, denying that wisdom comes from God alone and refusing his word that it is he alone who grants knowledge to those whom he calls. Men and women have set themselves up to determine truth for other people, demanding that they be obeyed, for they have the truth from God which they will then make their dependents to learn. Surely, they are the people and wisdom shall die with them (Job 12:2)! Yet, it is a mark of honesty and a demonstration of a Christian’s assurance of possessing knowledge from the Lord to point others always and only to the Scriptures as the source of their own teaching, inviting those taught to test their words against the Word of God and find out whether or not these things are so (com. Acts 17:11). Believers are indeed free in Christ, having been set free by the truth. It is then that, by his Spirit, they are enabled to know God and to keep his law — in which only is a man or woman truly free to be a man or woman, fulfilling his created purpose, function, and work — rather than chasing after some twisted perversion of personhood and duty that only enslaves them to sin, death, and the silent “peace” that hell holds forth to sinful people while they yet dwell on earth.
The freest people — the only truly free people — are those who submit their thinking entirely to the Scriptures and to the Scriptures alone. We all believe this or that because of the authority of who it comes from, right? And usually we will only really believe it if, deep down, we have some sort of motion that agrees with them, right? When I believe something that my good friends tell me, it is because I believe that they are trustworthy. Yet, the only finally and ultimately trustworthy One is the Lord God himself. Everything that he says is authoritative and true and it is on that authority that we may — and should — believe him. Furthermore, he has not left himself without witness — the work of the law is written on our hearts and consciences simply because we are human, made in the image of the God who alone gives wisdom and understanding (Romans 2:15). There is a witness within our very deepest being that the words of God are true.
Yet, this can be, and often is, overridden by sin, which blinds us and enslaves us — there is no freedom in autonomy, only slavery to the insanity of sin. Death holds out the dark silence of annihilation or some other stupefying lie as a consolation to the one who is not set free by the truth that he is a sinner, that he is accountable to his Creator, that he may come into life and song and living color if he only submit and say that his Maker is right and holy and that he himself is a sinner, justly worthy of death — but that God himself provided a propitiation and salvation for him in the One Mediator, Christ Jesus, who is worthy of all praise and glory and worship and rule, forever. It is this one who believes the truth about reality who is then free to obey God — and, obeying him, to live in freedom from self-centered fear and self-aggrandizement. It is these two things — fear and pride — that are the driving manifestations of that will to godhood that is at the core and root of all forms of authoritarianism, which imposes a creature between a man and his God. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).
This subject of epistemology and how a biblical epistemology is at the root of free people is related very closely to education and theories of learning. Sadly, it is an area where Christian education far too often takes up the spirit of the age, with its underlying doctrine that children must “experience the world” before they can really believe their parents — and thus also believe the Scriptures — about the sinfulness of sin and the graciousness of grace (as I have heard and read Christian parents claiming to be the case while seeking to justify sending their children to be raised in the state schools). Yet, is not Christian education primarily heart-work? And is not the desired result of Christian education that we might know God and understand how to view all things in life through the framework of Scriptural teaching? (Psalm 119:59-60; compare 119:98-100) It is like this — or it should be, shouldn’t it? — “I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.” ~Psalm 119:102-104
It does not say: “through my experiences I have learned to hate sin”; nor, “because I have experienced the world I have now come to see through the Scriptures”. The latter simply cannot be, though there is an element of truth to the former assertion. However, we will never truly hate sin — all sin and idolatry — unless we first love the God of truth and his commandments, for it is these things that teach us what he loves and what he hates. We do not learn this from experiencing the sins of the world in some fashion or another. We only learn to love the Lord by learning of him and what he says. Sin is not necessary for goodness to exist. Rather, sin is a perversion of goodness and can never be ultimate — therefore, it cannot exist if there is no righteousness. But goodness is not like that — it is holy and ultimate.
Surely, the aim of Christian education is love of righteousness and hatred of evil (the two sides of the fear of the Lord). This we learn by the Word of our God, not primarily by experience. True, we most assuredly shall experience this and that, being struck with pain as well as with joy, but it is not these experiences of pain or of joy that teach us to love righteousness and to hate evil. Sometimes, due to some problem in the sensory systems of the body (which is ultimately the consequences of sin), these experiences can be completely out of accord with reality — unless we say that there is no objective, true, reality in which we all exist and the subjective is all that is (which is a self-contradictory position on numerous points). Experience cannot actually teach us any more than that pain exists; and that, often for apparently absurd reasons. It cannot teach us rightness and wrongness, ought or ought not, why or how. At best, it can only show us commonly occurring experiences of this or that. Yet, too many Christian parents seem to believe that their children learn, truly learn, knowledge and wisdom through “experience”; and so they attempt to structure their educational methods accordingly, be they ever so unwitting (as so many are!) that they are using methodologies and presupposed doctrines that are not in accord with the Scriptures.
For sure, the hand must be trained to a task if it is to become skillful and fine-tuned — but if the apprentice does not believe that the master’s words are true, or that his practice is sound, he will not learn from him aright and will not come to know the skill as the master does — and he will never surpass him until he believes his master and further applies the principles he has learned from him. He must believe and trust that the master will teach him truly. And when Christian parents remove their children too soon from their immediate presence and training, the seeds of bitterness and unbelief are far too easily planted, since this culture is so overwhelmingly antithetical to Christ and to true Christian practice. This is one reason for the great importance of abiding in Christian families and communities where the Word is being lived out because it is truly being believed. If the next generation is to become wiser than their teachers, they first must believe that God is and that he is God — and also be trained how to think and how to understand what he has said, lest they do not see fit to acknowledge God (Romans 1:25, 28). For he is there and he is not silent.
“Learn by experience” is surely a foundational principle of the spirit of the age, perpetuated by socialist educators and various other God-haters who sit in their authoritarian seats and declare doctrine a en haute. By claiming that experience is our teacher, they thus make each person autonomous as a determiner of their own law-word, their own truth — which simply cannot be. Yet they remain the teachers, seeking to bind all as servants of sin, alongside of themselves, under the guise of their spell of proffered freedom from justice — which is really a freedom from God. Yet, in all this, they use something they know not what in an attempt to deny the same. They must use language, though they attempt not to. They must use logic, though they actually teach people how not to think, rather than training them how to use and develop this innate facet of our beings as men and women made in the image of God.
But the main point is this: if the fear of the Lord is the ultimate end of Christian education — as it is said to be in the book of Proverbs — then this implies, fundamentally, the teaching and learning of language and logic in order that the Lord and his law might be known and applied and that his wonders be understood aright. Only then can we become free people, praising the Lord who has made us, bought us, saved us, clothed us, and will keep us, in Christ, forever, as his people. Yet, even little children with less-developed capacities and skills in rhetoric can know God — for wisdom is from God. Experience is not really our teacher — we have one Teacher, God (Matthew 23:8, 10) — how then can so many Christians distance their children from the heritage of the promises of God by seeking to train them according to the unbelieving methods of statism, romanticism, and Marxism (whether in state schools or by the use of some other unbiblical curriculum) — and therefore advance both the goals and the agenda of the very ones who, not fearing God, hate the Creator and his holy righteousness?