You can tell a lot about someone by the superpowers he’d like to have. My primary powers of choice are two. First, supersmartness consisting of flawless memory coupled with the ability to instantly assimilate new data in a meaningful way. Second, superspeed that amounts to virtually stopping time while I get stuff done—like assimilating all that data. Put those abilities together, and you have what might be called practical omniscience.
So what does this say about me? That I am a nerd. That I feel a need to control the people and events around me. That I value information and see it as a means to security and power.
Most folks scoff too readily at control freaks. They seem to assume that a wholesale relinquishment of control would be a good time. Truth is, loss of control often leads to loss of life and resources, occasioning the lament, If only I had done this or that at the critical moment, all this destruction and waste could have been prevented.
Of course I’m so simpleminded as to rationally believe that I can or ought to exercise this level of control. Things just aren’t as simple as they appear to me. If I really did have the power to go back and change the thing that appeared to be the catalyst for all that went wrong, a multitude of dependencies besides the ones I’m concerned with would also be altered, leading to outcomes I couldn’t possibly have predicted. For it to work at all, you’d have to be truly omniscient, not just comparatively so; and anyone who is truly omniscient is God and not yours truly. End of story.
Yet the mindset persists. It haunts the present, making me think, What juncture am I at right now that will become the crucial past choice of the future? Will it be a choice I’ll have just cause to regret?
“Your biggest problem, Mom,” my eighteen-year-old son told me once, “is that you second-guess yourself.” Boy, did he nail that one.
Various Scriptures, such as Romans 16:27, Jude 1:25, and 1 Timothy 1:17, refer to God as the “only wise.” Of course this doesn’t mean that wisdom never appears outside of the person of God; the Bible makes it clear that God grants wisdom to people. But this wisdom is always partial, limited by our own limits. God alone sees the whole picture. The best course of action for me as a Christian is to pray for wisdom and trust that God will give me as much as I need in any given situation.
A serious impediment to my prayer life is the feeling I often get that I shouldn’t be praying for X; I should have already taken care of X myself. Self-castigation keeps a running commentary in my head, nagging me with the feeling that no matter what I do, it’s not enough. The accusation I fear most is that of laziness. And there is a peculiarly Christian laziness that boils down to using grace as an excuse for sloth.
James 1:5 is a life-saver and sanity-restorer for people like me.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
Those three words, “and upbraideth not,” make all the difference in the world. God doesn’t give grudgingly, blaming us for the frailty that compels us to ask, but graciously, liberally, gladly.
I will make missteps. I will continue to have just cause for regret. Even in the retrospect of lucid old age (a blessing I pray God will grant me), some things will remain mysteries to me until the life to come. But my portion of wisdom is enough—not because it feels like enough, but because it’s what God grants me. And I can safely trust his character, even when I cannot comprehend his means.
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, thy great Name we praise.
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.
To all life thou givest—to both great and small;
In all life thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth thee.
Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
But of all Thy rich graces this grace, Lord, impart
Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart.
All laud we would render; O help us to see
’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee,
And so let Thy glory, Almighty, impart,
Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart.
~Walter Chalmers Smith, hymnist, poet, minister of the Free Church of Scotland
Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
~1 Timothy 1:17