Wisdom and the Signal Box

J.I. Packer in Knowing God has a great illustration about what wisdom is, and what wisdom is not. He begins by writing how confusing it is when you stand on the platform of a train station. You don’t know why this train has been rerouted, why that one is arriving late, and so on. But if you have the chance to into the signal box, you get to see a diagram of the whole system. From that high view you can see the whole situation through the eyes of those who control it. You can see the “why” behind all the rerouting, diversions, and delays.

Packer continues:

Now, the mistake that is commonly made is to suppose that this is an illustration of what God does when he bestows wisdom: to suppose, in other words, that the gift of wisdom consists in a deepened insight into the providential meaning and purpose of events going on around us, an ability to see why god has done what he has done in a particular case, and what he is going to do next. People feel that if they were really walking close to God, so that he could impart wisdom to them freely, then they would, so to speak find themselves in the signal box.

But Packer argues that’s not true wisdom. It’s not some mystical insight. Wisdom is reactionary. Packer goes onto say that real wisdom is more like driving a car. In a car, you have to react wisely by using your blinker or wipers or merging or unmerging. You have to be able to access the situation and react accordingly. That’s wisdom.

It’s the recognition that bad things are going to happen. And it’s the ability to make the right, practical, God-honoring decision when they do.


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3 Comments

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  • Becky Dietz says:

    Maybe you can shed some light on a recent conversation I had with some wise guys. If Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, why did he finish so badly?

  • Michael K. says:

    I’ve often wondered the same thing, Becky. So I don’t have a great answer.

    My sense is that it’s a fairly tragic story, and one of the things I take from it is that the wisest man would still think himself a fools when it comes right down to it.

    Seems like wisdom and humility walk together like that, that the truly wise know that only God is truly wise.

    Anybody else chime in on this one?

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