Our generation has easy instant access to more data than any other era — but wisdom is in dangerously short supply.
Wisdom, according to Scripture, is skill in living and applying truth. “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life” (Proverbs 13:14). And the only source of authentic wisdom is God, through His Word — the Scriptures. “The Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). Any individual or society that rejects God has in effect chosen folly — rejecting wisdom at its Source.
You might assume the average person today knows more and understands more than all his ancestors because of the vast wealth of information on the Internet. That’s an illusion. It’s true that almost any tidbit of data you want can be called up instantly by a search engine. Wikipedia will give you a marginally reliable crowdsourced overview of practically any topic in summary form (with large headings that facilitate speed-reading). Thus without any real intellectual effort, you can appear to know far more than you truly understand.
Such a casual, superficial approach to learning feeds the worst tendencies of a pragmatic culture. People see no need to master any field of knowledge or remember specific facts. Old-style education seems a waste of time for a generation weaned on smartphones. Why study mathematics — or anything, for that matter — when you can get speedy answers to almost any question on a hand-held device?
That attitude of academic insouciance is one of the main reasons so many college students are choosing frivolous majors like “gender studies” or “ethnic dance theory.” It’s what permits once-prestigious universities to devote so much time and so many resources to indoctrinating their students with neo-Marxist ideology and leftist values while omitting courses that used to be core curriculum.
As for “facts,” the very concept clashes with the postmodern belief that reality is a socially constructed concept. In a world where literally nothing is regarded as axiomatic, settled, certain, or factual, all truth becomes infinitely malleable. So the prevailing opinion today is that there is no such thing as definitive truth — and even if there is, you cannot be sure you have it. Mystery is celebrated; certainty is scorned. Questions are encouraged; answers are repudiated. Truth itself is viewed as outdated and oppressive. Blurry lines, shades of gray, compromise, ambiguity, and equivocation are the preferred tools of human discourse. Nothing is deemed absolute except the absence of any absolute standard. This is the very height of folly.
The dominant idea now is that we live in a “story,” not a realm of objectivity and actuality. You’re part of a fluid narrative, and you can make your chapter of the story anything you like — right down to changing your gender if you choose. Your feelings don’t have to care about facts.
That’s how yesterday’s virtues became today’s transgressions, and vice versa. It’s why no matter how humbly and peaceably you seek to live your life in the pursuit of biblical wisdom, if you have settled faith and a firm commitment to biblical principles — if you believe any truth is absolute — you will automatically be derided as arrogant, uncharitable, and hopelessly outmoded.
Meanwhile, abortion, marital infidelity, sexual debauchery, and other deadly sins are publicly blessed and beatified. These are crimes and iniquities that have been almost universally condemned (and rightly so) across the spectrum of human cultures throughout world history.
Such contempt for truth can only result in confusion and chaos — exactly what we are seeing play out in real time, as major cities have been wracked by riots and (in some cases) given over to anarchy. Underlying it all is a willful contempt for God — the consummate folly. It is not an excusable ignorance; it is evil rebellion. The problem is that people love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil (John 3:19).
In Romans 1:18-32, the apostle Paul famously traces the pattern of decline that has brought down every world empire and every civilized culture so far. It’s a familiar template. Unbelief begets idolatry (vv. 21-23), which in turn arouses “degrading passions” (vv. 26-27). That results in “a depraved mind . . . filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice” (vv. 28-29). In the end, people are defined by a laundry list of evils that permeate and color their character (vv. 29-31).
That is God’s judgment. That is how “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven” (v. 18). The apostle repeatedly says “God gave them over” to the follies they craved (vv. 24, 26, 28). In the end, “although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (v. 32).
What’s most frightening about that last verse is how it perfectly describes the current state of our culture — dominated by a deep contempt for holiness, a diabolical sympathy for every kind of unrighteousness, and an arrogant self-love that admires and applauds wickedness, insisting that it’s all good. “Professing to be wise, they became fools” (v. 22).
But “woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21). Theirs is the ultimate foolishness, the polar opposite of wisdom. It is an acrimonious brand of atheism.
At the beginning of that passage in Romans 1, Paul reminds us that atheism survives only because unrighteous men and women intentionally “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18) — deliberately repudiating clear evidence of God that they can easily see all around them.
It is a fact that God’s attributes are plainly on display wherever we look. Signs of His kindness, faithfulness, and love — as well as His righteousness and power — are everywhere. “That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (vv. 19‑20).
Consider creation as a whole — from the measureless number of galaxies in the universe to the distinctive structure of a single atom; from the grandeur of a blue whale to the intricacies of countless microscopic creatures that live in a thimble of pond‑water. One attribute of God stands out above all others in creation’s display: His wisdom.
Who but an all — wise God could possibly design such a complex universe on so grand a scale — so meticulously organized; with such delicate balance and interdependence between its myriad parts; and with so much variety and complexity even in its infinitesimal features?
Science has not begun to discover even the tiniest fraction of all that could conceivably be known about the universe. But every sentient creature who considers creation should be awestruck by one obvious reality: The careful arrangement of the universe reveals the Creator’s unfathomable wisdom.
Ponder that point some more, and you’ll realize that the wisdom of the Creator must be more vast than the universe itself — infinite wisdom. Indeed, that is precisely what Scripture teaches: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33).
Human wisdom, by contrast, is notoriously frail, fallible, and hard to come by. We are easily perplexed by the rudimentary difficulties of everyday life. We desperately need wisdom, and we often find it elusive.
Scripture reminds us that God is the source of all true wisdom. Moreover, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). In other words, our need for wisdom ought to motivate us to turn to God—because those who refuse Him have no hope of ever truly being wise.
Scripture also emphatically teaches that authentic wisdom starts in the realm of spiritual things. When Solomon wrote, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom” (Proverbs 4:7) — he was urging us to seek God’s wisdom. The wisdom we need most cannot be acquired through science, philosophy, or the arts. True wisdom comes from God, by revelation. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5).
God’s revealed wisdom is vastly superior to the so‑called wisdom of this fallen world in several ways.
First, the wisdom that is from above teaches things the fallen human mind could never discover through reason or experimentation alone — answers to some of the most important and most basic questions of all: How did we get here? Where do I go when I die? What is the meaning of life? What is the reason for my existence, and how can I do what I was made to do?
Second, God’s wisdom is sure and unchanging, in contrast to the theories and speculations of even the smartest scientists or philosophers. This year’s most popular points of view in almost every academic discipline are likely to be scorned and ridiculed by future generations of worldly wise men. Thus it has ever been in the realm of human wisdom. Meanwhile, the Bible doesn’t change, yet its truth is just as applicable and reliable as it has always been. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
Third, God’s wisdom is pure and perfect. Human reasoning is always tainted with sin and foolishness. The human race in its fallen state is drawn to folly, not wisdom. Moral judgments that rely solely on human wisdom are downright dangerous. Look carefully at the fruits of human reason when it comes to issues such as education, crime, family life, and even the matter of personal happiness, and you will begin to understand why Scripture says, “The wisdom of this world is foolishness before God” (1 Corinthians 3:19). “The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are futile” (Psalm 94:11).
All of this means there is no purely political or legislative solution to the problems that currently ail our culture. Just laws, impartial courts, and equitable, honorable law enforcement can temporarily restrain the destructive progress of the grosser evils. I hope you fulfill your duty as a responsible citizen by voting, and that you vote wisely for candidates and causes that endeavor to curb the encroachment of evil in our nation’s public policies.
But more than that, what our culture most desperately needs is a true spiritual awakening.
The wisdom we urgently need from God is by no means hidden from us. God has revealed it in His Word. To cultivate the wisdom we need in our own thinking, we must study the Scriptures. To answer the folly of our culture with God’s wisdom, we must declare what the Scriptures say, and do it without fear or compromise.
Dr. John MacArthur is the pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. He is the author of more than 400 books, a featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry (gty.org), and is chancellor of The Master’s University and Seminary.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.