Chasing Wisdom in a Big Data World

Editors’ note: 

Read more about the kingdom in Patrick Schreiner’s book The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross (Crossway, 2018).

Recently 60 Minutes interviewed Arnav Kapur, a student in MIT’s media lab who developed a system to surf the internet with his mind. He silently googled questions and heard answers through vibrations transmitted via his skull and inner ear.

For many, watching this segment was a portent of the future. Fifty years ago, we never thought we could store mini-computers in our pocket. Now, we wonder when our brains will be synced with the internet.

Like all progress, the conglomeration of big data on the internet was meant to make life a little better, easier, and more comfortable, to connect people and knowledge so that things would improve.

We now all live with the benefits (and the consequences) of big data. But as Christians we realize our problems run deeper than needing more connectivity and access to knowledge. Despite every advance, we still find ways to build corrupted and false kingdoms.

What hope, then, can Christians provide in the midst of progress accompanied by constant disappointment?

Wisdom and the Kingdom

We do have something to offer the big data world: wisdom. Wisdom is the great need of our age. We don’t need to know more; we need to know the source of knowledge—and when and how to apply his instruction.

What struck me afresh in my project on the kingdom was the close connection between wisdom and the kingdom. For too long, the wisdom tradition has been disconnected from the kingdom, but kingdom life and wisdom are themes that track side by side in Scripture. The wisdom tradition describes what a “kingdom life” will look like.

Wisdom, according to Tremper Longman, includes three aspects: the practical (skillful living), the ethical (good living), and the theological (fear the Lord). The wisdom tradition presents reality as two paths: life and death—fear the Lord or die by rejecting his offer. Really, the whole narrative of Scripture can be framed this way—it stretches back to the garden in Genesis, where Adam faced a choice between the living the good life in God’s kingdom, or rejecting wisdom and fashioning a false kingdom.

Path of Life

Books like Psalms, Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes describe what “kingdom life” looks like through songs, debates, proverbs, and laments. Either the people will follow the wise king and live, or they will reject his commands and die. The path toward life includes three admonitions in the wisdom literature: (1) acquire wisdom by following the Torah, (2) fear the Lord, and (3) suffer righteously.

First, to live the good life in the kingdom one must acquire wisdom by following the Torah. Wisdom isn’t unearthed in a Google search, but in God’s holy Word. Throughout the Scriptures, wisdom and Torah are interlocked. Deuteronomy 4:6 speaks of the Torah as Israel’s wisdom and understanding before the nations (see Prov. 1:2). The Torah is also connected to wisdom in Ezra, which mentions the “law of your God, which is in your hand” (Ezra 7:14; cf. 7:25).

Second, the good life of the kingdom comes by fearing the Lord. Ecclesiastes presents the critic who argues that life is meaningless because of the fleeting nature of time, the fact that we all die, and the random nature of life. Yet wisdom isn’t found where the critic searched, but in the simple fear of the Lord.

Third, the path of wisdom includes suffering righteously—not avoiding it by distracting ourselves with more facts. Job, Psalms, and Lamentations all focus on the suffering of God’s people, who must wait patiently for their deliverer. To experience the spring of the kingdom, the people must first submit to the death of winter.

Jesus, the Cross, and Wisdom

So what can we offer a world filled with connectivity and knowledge? We can embody the good life by pointing to the wise King. All of these realities are completed in the life of Jesus—the indisputably wise king who leads us into our kingdom.

Jesus lived a life of wisdom by following the Torah. He didn’t come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them, explain them, and live them. He took up the curse of the law and gave us his easy yoke, so we might live with him.

He also exemplified what kingdom life looks like by fearing the Lord. Satan offered him all kingdoms, but Jesus knew that true authority would only come in submitting to the Father’s will. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he decided to follow not his own desires but his Father’s kingdom plan.

And finally, he walked the lonely road of righteous suffering. Throughout Jesus’s trial it’s evident that he is innocent, as false witnesses rise up against him, people walk by mocking him, and the kings of the earth conspire against him.

Our Messiah embodied the kingdom by being our wisdom-filled King. He instructed us in the ways of sagacity by submitting his body to death, so that we might walk in newness of life. As the wisdom tradition explains, there are only two paths: either follow the true King to his death, or suffer death alone.

And these two paths lead to two kingdoms: a kingdom of light awaiting on one side, and a kingdom of darkness threatening on the other. What does it profit a man if he knows everything and gains the whole world, yet forfeits his life?

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