Three Wisdoms (Part 3)
James divides wisdom into two categories for his particular purpose, but Scripture allows for at least one more possibility. By suggesting that the “third wisdom” might more accurately be labeled Wisdom 2a, I mean that it also “comes from heaven,” but in a different way than the direct revelation of Scripture.
Students of biblical wisdom have recognized that aspects of wisdom are embedded in the creation itself and are accessible to all. Psalm 19, for example, proclaims that the creation continually proclaims God’s glorious works throughout the earth without words. Proverbs 6 calls the lazy to learn from the ant, and Isaiah 28 compares the lessons the farmer learns about cultivation to the way God develops his fruit in us.
Bible believers have referred to this third wisdom as “general revelation” or “common grace.” The universality of this wisdom derives not only from the creation, but also from the fact that all human beings are created in God’s image. In other words, God has endowed all of us with the capacity and instinct to reflect the nature of God.
As we noted in the previous section, those who believe in God as revealed in the Bible still manifest to varying degrees the ongoing effects of sin and thus fail to live up to the highest ideals of biblical wisdom. When we combine that reality with the reflection of God’s common grace in those who do not believe in God as revealed in the Bible, an interesting situation emerges. Unbelievers may very well outshine many Christians in areas such as creativity, humility, kindness, and generosity.
This possibility carries enormous implications for the way Christians view and relate to unbelievers. Worldly wisdom plagues the entire creation, but what we might call “creation wisdom” provides humanity with common ground and a shared resource that can benefit the entire creation.
The potential of our shared creation wisdom will play a major role in the areas I hope to explore. As we look at the biblical call for believers to bless all humanity, we must not approach this calling with an arrogant condescension that suggests we have all the answers. Some of God’s greatest servants received their training, at least in part, in challenging settings such as Egypt (Joseph and Moses), Babylon (Daniel), and Persia (Esther).
I have gained valuable insights from people with whom I differ in significant ways. Areas of agreement in such situations provide the opportunity for mutual benefit and building bridges. Like the servants of old, however, Christians in every age must exercise critical discernment to avoid syncretism, the improper blending of God’s ways with incompatible perspectives or practices.