Is God a "Wisdom Vending Machine"?
Mike PohlmanMike serves as the senior pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Bellingham, Washington. Mike is a former church planter in the Pacific Northwest, and served for three years as the executive producer of The Albert Mohler Program, a nationally syndicated radio show dedicated to Christianity and culture. Mike has a PhD in American church history from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mike is husband to Julia and father to four wonderful children: Samuel (12), Anna (10), John (9) and Michael (4). When not pastoring, Mike loves sports, music, and hanging out with his family.
- 2009 Feb 23
No, God is not a "wisdom vending machine." And yet, R.C. Sproul Jr. in his forthcoming book, Believing God: Twelve Biblical Promises Christians Struggle to Accept (March 2009), is gripped with the sheer audaciousness of God's promise of wisdom to those that ask. Consider, Sproul suggests in chapter 3 "Wisdom for the Asking," James 1:5: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him."
Sproul calls this "a promise pristine in plainess." In fact, Sproul sees in it an assault on our modern sensibilities:
Is this not too much? Do we not cringe that God would make such a promise? He seems almost like a used-car salesman, promising us that the model we are looking at was only driven to church each week by a little old lady, then adding that it runs on water and gold comes out the exhaust. We are virtually offended at the crassness of the promise. We don't want to find ourselves put in a position where we have to affirm this text, which on its face sounds like magic. We are embarrassed by this almost as much as we are embarrassed by God telling us He made the world in six days. If we believe this promise as it is stated, we fear, all the world will think us fools. I mean, a surface reading of the text seems to suggest that a person could acquire wisdom simply by asking God for it, as if God were some sort of wisdom vending machine. So we set about reducing this promise down to something manageable and appropriate for skeptical modern ears.
Sproul's diagnosis is convicting. I find myself "reducing this promise down to something manageable and appropriate for [my] skeptical modern ears." Yes, it is a faith issue.
Do I actually believe God and his promise to grant wisdom to me when I ask? And if I believe he will give me wisdom do I trust he will give "generously"? Too often I don't and Sproul has an idea why: "Wisdom, we are told here, comes not by reading the right books. It is not gained by learning one's lessons in the school of hard knocks. Wisdom isn't the end result of a careful study of the history of philosophy.... According to the Bible, we get wisdom by asking for it, by prayer."
Indeed, I am hard-wired to trust in worldy wisdom rather than the wisdom that comes from above (cf. James 3:13-18). And so renewed in the promise of James 1:5 I look to the all wise God and sing with Isaac Watts, "O Help My Unbelief":
How sad our state by nature is!
Our sin, how deep it stains!
And Satan binds our captive minds
Fast in his slavish chains
But there's a voice of sov'reign grace,
Sounds from the sacred word:
"O, ye despairing sinners come,
And trust upon the Lord."
My soul obeys th' almighty call,
And runs to this relief
I would believe thy promise, Lord;
O help my unbelief!
To the dear fountain of thy blood,
Incarnate God, I fly;
Here let me wash my spotted soul,
From crimes of deepest dye.
Stretch out Thine arm, victorious King,
My reigning sins subdue;
Drive the old dragon from his seat,
With all his hellish crew.
A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On thy kind arms I fall;
Be thou my strength and righteousness,
My Jesus, and my all.