What does the Bible mean when it calls God wise? In Scripture, wisdom is a moral as well as an intellectual quality, more than mere intelligence or knowledge, just as it is more than mere cleverness or cunning. For us to be truly wise, in the Bible sense, our intelligence and cleverness must be harnessed to a right end. Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it.
Wisdom is, in fact, the practical side of moral goodness. As such, it is found in its fullness only in God. He alone is naturally and entirely and invariably wise. “His wisdom ever waketh,” says the hymn, and it is true. God is never other than wise in anything that he does. Wisdom, as the old theologians used to say, is his essence, just as power, and truth, and goodness, are his essence—integral elements, that is, in his character.
WISDOM: OURS AND GOD’S
Human wisdom can be frustrated by circumstantial factors outside the wise person’s control. Ahithophel, David’s turncoat counselor, gave sound advice when he urged Absalom to finish David off at once, before he had recovered from the first shock of Absalom’s revolt. But Absalom stupidly took a different line, and Ahithophel, seething with wounded pride—foreseeing, no doubt, that the revolt was now sure to fail, and unable to forgive himself for being such a fool as to join it—went home in despair and committed suicide (2 Sam 17).
But God’s wisdom cannot be frustrated in the way that Ahithophel’s good advice (v. 14) was, for it is allied to omnipotence. Power is as much God’s essence as wisdom is. Omniscience governing omnipotence, infinite power ruled by infinite wisdom, is a basic biblical description of the divine character. “His wisdom is profound, his power is vast” (Job 9:4). “To God belong wisdom and power” (Job 12:13). “He is mighty in strength and wisdom” (Job 36:5 KJV). He has “great power and mighty strength . . . and his understanding no one can fathom” (Is 40:26, 28). “Wisdom and power are his” (Dan 2:20). The same conjunction appears in the New Testament: “Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel . . . God only wise” (Rom 16:25, 27 KJV). Wisdom without power would be pathetic, a broken reed; power without wisdom would be merely frightening; but in God boundless wisdom and endless power are united, and this makes him utterly worthy of our fullest trust.
God’s almighty wisdom is always active, and never fails. All his works of creation and providence and grace display it, and until we can see it in them we just are not seeing them straight. But we cannot recognize God’s wisdom unless we know the end for which he is working. Here many go wrong. Misunderstanding what the Bible means when it says that God is love (see 1 Jn 4:8-10), they think that God intends a trouble-free life for all, irrespective of their moral and spiritual state, and hence they conclude that anything painful and upsetting (illness, accident, injury, loss of job, the suffering of a loved one) indicates either that God’s wisdom, or power, or both, have broken down, or that God, after all, does not exist.
But this idea of God’s intention is a complete mistake: God’s wisdom is not, and never was, pledged to keep a fallen world happy, or to make ungodliness comfortable. Not even to Christians has he promised a trouble-free life; rather the reverse. He has other ends in view for life in this world than simply to make it easy for everyone.
What is he after, then? What is his goal? What does he aim at? When he made us, his purpose was that we should love and honor him, praising him for the wonderfully ordered complexity and variety of his world, using it according to his will, and so enjoying both it and him. And though we have fallen, God has not abandoned his first purpose. Still he plans that a great host of humankind should come to love and honor him. His ultimate objective is to bring them to a state in which they please him entirely and praise him adequately, a state in which he is all in all to them, and he and they rejoice continually in the knowledge of each other’s love—people rejoicing in the saving love of God, set upon them from all eternity, and God rejoicing in the responsive love of people, drawn out of them by grace through the gospel.
This will be God’s glory, and our glory too, in every sense which that weighty word can bear. But it will only be fully realized in the next world, in the context of a transformation of the whole created order. Meanwhile, however, God works steadily toward it. His immediate objectives are to draw individual men and women into a relationship of faith, hope, and love toward himself, delivering them from sin and showing forth in their lives the power of his grace; to defend his people against the forces of evil; and to spread throughout the world the gospel by means of which he saves.
In the fulfillment of each part of this purpose the Lord Jesus Christ is central, for God has set him forth both as Savior from sin, whom we must trust, and as Lord of the church, whom we must obey. We have dwelt on the way in which divine wisdom was manifested in Christ’s Incarnation and cross. We would add now that it is in the light of the complex purpose which we have outlined that the wisdom of God in his dealings with individuals is to be seen.
J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2011).