A Meditation on Knowledge, Wisdom, and Understanding
This is a meditation on knowledge, wisdom, and understanding inspired by Colossians 1:9-12, Proverbs 9, and Psalm 46.
“Be still and know that I am God.” The beginning of knowledge. True knowledge. The knowledge that founded the earth and hung the stars. Knowledge that is not used for material gain, or utility, or propping up the ego. It is knowledge that wears the gown of wisdom and understanding. It is cloaked in beauty; majesty; grandeur. A knowledge that is “too wonderful for me to attain.” A knowledge that inspires awe, wonder, and fear.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” says the writer of Proverbs. Not a book. Not a course or a Facebook post or the whisperings of a sage. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Yet it is often our very knowledge that leads us not to fear the Lord, but to oppose him. “How can you be God and allow me pain?” “I have read much and have concluded you must not exist.” I will be the arbiter of truth, and should you desire my approval you must explain yourself.
We have puffed ourselves up with knowledge and disqualified ourselves from wisdom. But this knowledge is not cloaked in beauty and grandeur. It’s garments are arrogance, utility, and disdain. “Be busy and know that you are God.” The poisoned spring from which our knowledge flows.
But there is a pure spring, if we will have the courage and humility to accept it. This spring is the fear of the Lord. Not trepidation. Though at first it may feel that way. “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” These were the anguished words of the prophet Isaiah when he entered the presence of this infinite God. Something akin to trepidation. For he was in the presence of something beyond him in every way. And then, only then, “your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for.” Love. Peace. Assurance. A fear that can be accepted in the face of unspeakable grace, but a fear nonetheless.
“Be still and know that I am God.” If we have the courage to do this we will find that we are not god. A position altogether untenable to our modern mind. For we have been convincingly persuaded that we are gods. We control happiness with the swipe of a card or the click of a button. We bend pleasure to our desires and it obeys, if only for a time. We are gods. And we stand in tension with the one who said “you shall have no other gods.” Instead of fearing the Lord, we fear only ourselves, and begin down the path of foolishness.
Wisdom—the fruit of true knowledge—does not begin with an explanation of the Lord, but the fear of the Lord. This is a good fear. One that springs from a right reaction to what is true. A response to the One who “was, and is, and is to come.” The One who humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. He is great in his majesty, righteousness, and love. It is a fear that C.S. Lewis knew when he placed these words into the mouth of one of his characters as he spoke about the Christ-figure, “my dear, he is good, but he is not safe.” Yes, this is a fear that responds correctly to what is. Like taking a step away from Niagara Falls even as you marvel at it’s power and splendor. A response of awe, wonder, and fear, is the only right response in the face of such beauty, such power. If this is a right response to a natural wonder, how much more is it the fitting response to the one who made every wonder and is himself far beyond all of them?
We have made God many things. Things more palatable to our sensibilities than One to be feared. Things more easily controlled, manipulated, and set aside. This is why “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” To fear him is simply to know him as he truly is. In Colossians 1, the Greek word for knowledge is epiginosis—to know thoroughly and accurately. It means we know God well enough that we find the capacity to know him rightly. To acknowledge him rightly.
It is a knowledge that must go beyond one plus one equals two. “Be still and know that I am God.” Niagara Falls cannot be thoroughly and accurately known by reading books and looking at postcards. It must be experienced. One must sit in the mist of it’s overwhelming cascade, listening to it’s power, basking in its beauty. “Be still and know that I am God.”
It is from this vantage point that we will be able to know everything else rightly as well. From the knowledge of God flows right knowledge of ourselves—both crowned with glory and honor as well as dead in our transgressions. And in our glory and our shame, redeemed and loved by the one who is “over all, through all, and in all.” From knowledge of God flows right knowledge of other people—not characters in our story, but people pursued by the Good Shepherd. And from right knowledge of God flows a right understanding of his will, leading to a life that is pleasing to him and bears the fruit of his kingdom of shalom.
And it is from this vantage point that we can even begin to grasp the depth and power of his love for us. A buddy might love us because of what they can get in return or out of their own insecurities. But this great and wonderful God? He does not love us out of need or insecurity. Quite the opposite. His love flows from the very majesty, power, and depth that lead to right fear. Fear and love are not in conflict, though our modern language might lead us to think so. In God, fear that flows from knowledge aligned with reality and love deeper than our imagination flow from the same Source. C.S. Lewis expresses this well when he says, “His love is not “a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, nor the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests.” Instead, it is “the consuming Fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds.”
“Be still and know that I am God.”
“Be still and know that I am God.”