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Knowing That You Don't Know

Wisdom and knowledge are two traits that are intimately associated with one another. Both have their origins in God, for Proverbs 2:6 states, "For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Those who apply themselves to the study of God's word may obtain both wisdom and knowledge at the same time. In fact, as wisdom is personified in Proverbs 8:12, she says, "I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion.” Indeed, it would seem impossible for anyone to possess great wisdom without also having substantial knowledge.

However, there is a measure of wisdom that exists apart from knowledge. This wisdom comes when we realize our finite nature and the limitations of what we can know. Because of our finite nature, we simply cannot fully comprehend things that are infinite and eternal. We can understand the concepts of infinity and eternity, but we cannot know the substance of them as our eternal God knows. Furthermore, our capacity for knowledge is limited even within the realm of finite information. We cannot possibly learn everything there is to know. Further still, there is some knowledge that God has chosen to give to us and other knowledge that He has chosen to withhold from us. This was declared by Moses in Deuteronomy 29:29 when he said, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” As we grasp these truths about our own limitations and what we cannot know, we become wise about these things.

For this reason, a man can actually become wiser by realizing and admitting that which he cannot know. Consider the example of Job, who gained wisdom when he confessed his limitations. Throughout the book of Job, he had sought an audience with God so that he could plead his case. At last, when he had the opportunity to speak to the Lord, he could not answer God's questions about His power20., and he realized how foolish he had been. At that moment, Job's wisdom grew, and he replied to God,

"I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (Job 42:2-3)

Notice that Job was actually answering God's first question to him from Job 38:2. God's question was, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” Job's answer was that it was he who had attempted to counsel God by words without knowledge. When Job realized his severely limited knowledge and the foolishness of his prior words, he was made wiser.

By this same reason, a man can become foolish by attempting to declare that which he does not know and cannot know. Speculation and educated guesses are sometimes confused with knowledge, but they are in no way the same. Much harm, trouble, and mischief have arisen because of men promoting baseless ideas, unproved theories, or unsubstantiated claims as genuine knowledge. Paul warned Timothy of such foolishness when he wrote, "O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge' – which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith” (1Tim. 6:20-21). We should take this advice as well.

There is also wisdom in accepting spiritual things that cannot be known by the physical senses. When the Bible discusses such things, it may at first appear to be contradictory as it speaks of knowing things that cannot be known. However, it is simply expressing paradoxes by mixing the ideas of spiritual knowledge and physical knowledge. For example, a prayer of Paul is recorded in Ephesians 3:14-19 in which he prays that Christians may "know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (v. 19). How can we know something that surpasses knowledge? Of course, it is a spiritual knowledge of the love of Christ that surpasses any worldly knowledge of love. Similarly, Philippians 4:7 speaks of having the "peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension.” How can we know that we have such peace? It is a spiritual knowledge of peace that surpasses all worldly comprehension. Therefore, we see that we can become wise in the knowledge of things that cannot be known by physical means.

Perhaps the greatest wisdom we can have is rooted in knowing and accepting that which we cannot know. Consider these wonderful words of praise from Ephesians 3:20-21 – "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” There is great wisdom in knowing that God can "do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.” We cannot know all that God can do, but we can know that He can do it all. We can also know that the great power of God that surpasses our knowledge is at work within us (Eph. 1:18-21). Knowing these unknowable things leads to great wisdom, and it is this wisdom that we have from the word of God.

Stacey E. Durham



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