It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;
to search out a matter is the glory of kings.
One of the central problems often influences Christian education is an inordinate belief in quick moral or intellectual virtue. Growing up on a diet of conversion stories, evangelical Christians love the idea of lives transformed radically and quickly by Christ. I saw this tendency in my youth. For example, I always intellectually squirm when I think about one of my old high school baseball teammates who became quarterback for the University of Texas (UT). During some difficult times at UT with his life, marriage, and football, he converted to Christianity with the help of a pastor from my hometown. Shortly after, they asked him to give his testimony in front of a large audience at a local revival. Although I was a senior in high school, I already felt sorry for him—not because he didn’t tell his story honestly and inspirationally. He did. I just knew it was too early to place him in front of people as a Christian example. Not long afterward, he got divorced. Salvation can be quick but godly wisdom and character takes time.
In this respect, the celebration of quick conversion is biblical (e.g., Paul), but the cultivation of quick moral or intellectual virtue is not. The word often associated with the knowledge of good or evil or character in the scriptures is fruit (Gen. 3:2; Mt. 3:8-10; 7:16-20; 12:33; 21:33, 43; John 15:1-16; Rom. 7:4-5; Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 5:9, 11; Phil. 1:11; Col. 1:6, 10; James 3:17). Anyone who has planted and tended fruit trees knows that it takes a lot of time and effort. Young trees must grow for years, with patient care, before they are ready to produce fruit. Furthermore, it takes a healthy environment for that fruit to continue to be produced. If you let the tree go wild, the production of fruit ceases.
Wisdom is one of the fruits of the Spirit where this need for diligent effort over time is most evident. Yet, for some odd reason we think God’s wisdom should come to us quickly. In reality, God’s wisdom, especially that part found in nature or human society, only comes through intense intellectual and moral questing. For example, Wired magazine reported this past December that a company named QuantumScape might have solved a 40-year-old battery problem. The solution could make tremendous difference in the quest for more efficient battery that uses a unique solid-state separator (for the technical details see the article). What did it take QuantumScape to discover this new technology? Ten years.
Interestingly, the CEO of the company Jagdeep Singh noted of the process, “We didn’t have some divine revelation that said, ‘This material is going to work, go build it,’” says Singh. “We had to go through a lot of dead ends. But nature did provide a material that meets the requirements, and luckily, through our systematic search process, we were able to find it.” Of course, Christians would argue that God provided the nature that provided the materials, so they actually did find it through divine revelation—just that divine revelation that comes through hard intellectual work. It was to God’s glory to hide this secret from us until someone put in the work and time to discover it.
When it comes to finding the wisdom from natural revelation, like a good teacher, God simply does not give us easy answers. God requires that humans work for it and use all our resources, time and brain power to discover it. Perhaps we have now unlocked a new technology that it was God’s glory to hide all of these centuries.
Obtaining God’s intellectual or moral wisdom requires a similar kind of perseverance (2 Peter 1:5-8). For most, it is not simply handed down from on high. Eastern University Professor Philip Cary has argued that Adam and Eve’s sin was not in desiring the fruit of the tree of good and evil which they saw as “desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen. 3:6) After all, the Bible, especially in Proverbs, continually tells us to seek wisdom. The sin was the lack of obedience to God’s word and trust in God. They failed to trust that God would reveal and teach them how to grow and nurture the fruit of wisdom within themselves over time. Instead, they wanted wisdom quickly and easily.
As mentioned yesterday, there are times we need to be people of courage and make quick decisions based on limited data. Yet, most of the time, those of us in academia should behave like those tending orchards. We must put in the patient and diligent work to acquire fruit—particularly the fruit of wisdom.