by Dan Schaeffer
We gathered in the living room, sitting comfortably around the table, all eyes on me. I did not know them well, they were distant cousins, but their old and beloved father had died, and relatives that I had never been close to were sharing tidbits of their father’s life. I asked the usual questions and then inquired if there was anything special they would like in the service. I was referring to music or a reading, but immediately a gray-haired son said passionately, “I’d really like you to tell them that dad is in heaven.”
There it was again, the request that makes my adrenaline start to race whenever I am asked it by grieving family members. Their eyes, all filled with undisguised respect and admiration for their distant pastor relative, anticipated the reply they were sure was coming. Wanting on the one hand to please, and the other to be truthful, I prayed quickly for wisdom, and replied warmly, “Tell me about your dad’s spiritual life.” That immediately diffused a difficult situation, and they began talking about different aspects of his religious life. Later, when we held the service, I did not tell them their father was in heaven, but made it clear what the hope of salvation was. It was enough. Afterwards, the son came to me in tears, thanking me warmly for my words. I breathed a prayer of gratitude.
Since then I have had to deal with Christian family members who were behaving sinfully, good friends who began living immorally, secular acquaintances who questioned my “narrow view of life,” and many other situations where the correct combination of grace and truth were necessary. While the scriptures were clear in many instances, the proper communication of grace and truth were fuzzier.
There are times in life when the “correct answer,” or the textbook answer, won’t necessarily bring the desired results. It’s not that we aren’t to be truthful, we are, but often we need wisdom in the appropriate time, and way, to deliver that truth. Furthermore, the Bible teaches that wisdom is more than just a correct answer, or tact, or a truthful response, all of which can come with maturity and experience. But there are times when maturity, experience, logic, and knowledge simply aren’t sufficient for the situation.
What we need in moments like these is wisdom, a perfect wisdom, which is drawn from a perspective of life we don’t, at least at the moment, possess. At that critical moment, all the textbooks, all the pat answers, all the conventional wisdom we have gleaned are simply not enough. In order to balance grace and truth the way it so desperately needs to be in certain situations, we need the wisdom of God.
In Proverbs 2:6, Solomon reminds us that “the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” It had been Solomon’s prayer upon receiving the throne that he would receive, above all things, wisdom from God. It served him well when the two harlots brought their child before him, and he had to decide who was their true mother. When he declared that the child was to be cut in two and shared with the two mothers, the real mother attempted to save the child’s life, while the other mother wished only for his death. How had he come upon this solution? The people of Israel witnessed that “the wisdom of God was in him.” (1 Kings 3:28) Something had been given to Solomon that was not standard equipment with everyone, and that was a generous dose of God’s wisdom. It is instructive to remember that Solomon asked for wisdom, and received it. He wasn’t just really sharp, or the recipient of a high I.Q., he was a beggar asking desperately for what he needed.
Jesus possessed this wisdom from eternity, and displayed it many times, most notably perhaps in the incident with the woman caught in adultery in John 8. When the Scribes and Pharisees brought this woman and threw her at his feet, they demanded He pass judgement. If He condemned her, He would appear to have no mercy, if He forbade them to stone her, He would be seen as morally permissive. They had Him in what they thought was the perfect trap. What they didn’t realize was that they were talking to the One in whom grace and truth are perfectly blended into a wisdom they could not begin to comprehend, and which he alone can exercise without contradiction. But Jesus surprised them by neither denying her sin, nor reminding her of the scriptural judgement, which she had been near enough to hear for herself. When he suggested that the one without sin should cast the first stone at the woman they were rightfully amazed.
His response to her was precious. “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more.” (8:11). On the heels of this event Jesus declared Himself to be the light of the world. Their attempt to cloud Jesus judgment was futile, for He is light and nothing is hidden from Him.
It is not difficult for God to balance grace and truth, for they are both His natural attributes, unfortunately, they are not ours. On the contrary, we have to struggle against a sin nature, which, if left unchecked, would naturally gravitate towards either harsh judgmentalism, or moral permissiveness. We would never have achieved His wisdom in that situation by using human reason, or consulting the right experts. This case, like so many we face, demanded God’s wisdom.
So, it seems, we cannot approach this issue of balance without the clear understanding that to maneuver successfully through the trying predicaments of life will demand a complete and total dependence upon something which does not reside in us naturally, namely Godly wisdom. It would be wonderful if when we became a Christian we got this divine wisdom as standard equipment, but James makes it clear that there will be times when we will all need additional wisdom, and when those situations arise, we need to ask for it. True wisdom is not the ultimate evolutionary development of man, but the gift of the perfect Father, to His imperfect creation. It can be given to a child of 13 as well as an adult of 93.
It is in James 1:5 that we read with hope, “if any lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given him.” Notice the promise and the assurance. The promise is that if we ask for God’s special wisdom in times when we feel like we are between a rock and hard place, He will provide it, and that no matter how many times we ask for it, He will never get tired of giving it to us. James wisely understood that there were far more situations needing Godly wisdom than we might care to admit, and he assures us that God never gets tired of our asking for it.
This does not mean that every time we ask wisdom of God, the answer will make everyone happy, that is neither realistic, nor ultimately the goal. However, to communicate the truth and grace of God in a wise way in a difficult situation is a blessing in itself. To be able to communicate both grace and truth is not an art we can learn, or a class we can take, it is gift we must ask for. Fortunately, it is a gift freely given.