All Wisdom Finds Its Fulfillment in Christ
A passage from my sermon on January 28:
Jesus was the prophet they’d been looking for, and something more. He was God’s Word embodied in a human life. Not only was Jesus qualified to interpret the scriptures; the scriptures are fulfilled in him. That is, Jesus Christ is the goal and end point of the prophets’ words, Moses’ law codes, the psalmists’ hymns and prayers, and the wisdom of the sages. Even secular wisdom realizes its intended purpose in Jesus Christ, just as meandering rivers eventually reach the sea. In the Chez there is a beautiful and
overlooked, I think, piece of stained glass that illustrates this in a wondrous way. Christ stands in the middle adorned with the words “I am the light of the world” from John’s gospel. To the right, Moses with his two tablets, Augustine with his book City of God, John Calvin, and other Christian luminaries stand gazing at Christ with their heads bowed. And to the left stand other men and women, some in academic regalia, one holding a microscope, still others looking like handsome young college students from the 1960s, also gazing at Christ with their heads bowed.
What this means for Christian education is that we interpret the written Word of God, the Bible, in light of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ. Or Martin Luther put it, the Bible is the cradle of Jesus Christ. Now Jesus’s first cradle was the manger in which his mother laid him, and a lot of scripture may seem to us as rough hewn as a feed trough—think of seemingly primitive and arbitrary Old Testament laws or the cursing psalms or the stories of Israel wiping out its enemies. But it’s not the splinters in that decrepit wooden manger that the shepherds and wise men adored; it was the baby the manger contained. And so a lot of the difficulties that the Bible presents us with begin to disappear when we look for the living Word within the written Word. But not all difficulties. Contrary to the Christmas carol Away in a Manger, I think the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay made as much a fuss as any baby, and his parents had to respond. And when Christ speaks to us, it is a cry that demands a response, a cry that puts us in his service.
What does the authority of Christ mean for secular wisdom? To answer this question I’d like to paraphrase a question and answer about science and religion in our Presbyterian Study Catechism. Faith in Jesus Christ and the findings of modern science do not contradict each other. Our faith helps us answer three questions about the universe: who, how, and why. We confess that the One God in Three Persons called the world into being out of nothing by the creative power of God's Word for the sake of sharing love and freedom. Natural science has much to teach us about the particular mechanisms and processes of nature. These learnings can and should increase our awe of and gratitude to the Creator. But the sciences are an investigation of proximate causes, not ultimate causes. The Who and Why questions in particular are questions about ultimate reality, which point to mysteries that science as such is not equipped to explore. Secular knowledge is true but incomplete. It finds its fulfillment in the same place that the prophets, sages, and theologians of old found their fulfillment: Jesus Christ.