By Sarah Lloyd
In this week’s chapter of In His Image, Jen Wilkin discusses wisdom versus knowledge, and it is more relevant than ever. We pray for wisdom to know which news source to trust, what to do in response to changing governmental regulations, how to interact with neighbors and family members whose views on the pandemic differ from our own. In James 1:5, God promises that if we ask in faith, He will freely and generously give us wisdom. But are we seeking wisdom, or knowledge?
When I read Jen’s description of praying for wisdom but actually wanting knowledge (p. 142), a few periods in my life immediately came to mind. My most passionate prayer of “Tell me what to do, Lord!” was probably when my husband and I were undergoing fertility treatments. The timing for finding a clinic, the provision of funding, and our readiness for parenthood led us to believe that fertility treatment was God’s will for our lives at that time. With every failed cycle, we prayed for wisdom but really, truly wanted knowledge. If I only KNEW the outcome, I could handle it! If it’s never going to work, Lord, just tell me now and I will stop wasting my time and emotional energy on this. That knowledge never came.
To this day, I occasionally wonder if one more cycle would have brought us a baby. Life doesn’t always make sense, but I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to. The Bible’s book of wisdom warns me of the danger in leaning on my own understanding. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells me to trust in the Lord with all my heart. When I do that, He will direct my paths. I have found that to be true: He has not given me an explanation or knowledge of things too wonderful for me (Psalm 139:6), but He has granted me glimpses of ways He is working it all together for my good (Romans 8:28). I have peace knowing that we used wisdom to make the best decisions we could with the knowledge we had at the time.
The saying goes that “knowledge is power.” We instinctively believe that if we only knew the future, we would be better able to handle it. But is that really true? What if the future is full of grief and suffering? Would fertility treatment have been easier if I had known the outcome ahead of time? If I had known last year that a future pandemic would change life so significantly, would it have been easier to handle? If the original announcement of “15 Days to Slow the Spread” had instead informed us that social distancing would last at least three months, would we all be free of anxiety? No. Why, then, do we yearn to know when Phase 2 will start, whether there will be a second wave, what life will look like in the fall or beyond? True peace is not found in answers to our many questions, but through a relationship with our God who knows the future and works it all together for our good, even when we don’t understand.
In her speech on April 5, 2020, Queen Elizabeth II exhorted her nation with this sentence: “I hope in the years to come, everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge.”
Ouch. When I look back at the beginning of this pandemic, I am unable to take pride in my response to its challenges. But over spring break, I found new use for the old truths recorded in my journal through fertility treatments. A quote from one of Kathleen Harwood’s 2018 Bible study talks jumped out at me: “Redirect your efforts away from having the right circumstances to having the right response to your current circumstances.” How did she know about the circumstances that we would face in 2020? She did not need specific knowledge; she had timeless wisdom. The lesson is the same, the application is new. Armed with this insight, I stopped checking pandemic news multiple times per day and started meditating on good, uplifting content. Instead of falling into the same trap of grasping for omniscience, I read my Bible more. I stopped leaning on my own understanding and found that when I trust God with all my heart, He directs my paths.
James, the biblical author who told us that God would generously give us wisdom if we ask Him, also tells us how to plan for an uncertain future:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.James 4:13-14a
Clearly. I think a lesson we have all learned is that we do not know what will happen tomorrow. What should we do, then? Refrain from making any plans? No, James tells us,
Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”James 4:15
“If it is the Lord’s will.” This is what it looks like to acknowledge Him in all your ways, in all your plans. Seek not to know the future, but to draw near to the One who knows it all. Come near to God, and He will come near to you (James 4:8). Cease striving for your own knowledge, and spend time with the Source of wisdom. He will direct your paths.