Wise in Their Own Conceits

We live today in an enlightened and wise age. Knowledge and wisdom have increased in recent times, as we see round about us. Every day we are assaulted with a barrage of man’s supposed knowledge and his profound wisdom. Most recently we have heard a great deal of political wisdom—most of it, I suspect, foolishness in reality. But this wisdom extends to every sphere of life, especially that of science, and more specifically to the area of the investigation of the origin of all things and of man. Man is still seeking to determine the origin of himself, in order that he may know whence he came and whither he shall go. To this effort no little time and energy is devoted on the part of the wise and learned men of this age. All of these things are, according to the general thought and teaching of Scripture, associated with the coming of the end of the age. Knowledge shall increase, the wise of the earth shall multiply, and efforts shall be put forth to realize the Utopia for which man has striven throughout the ages in defiance of the curse of God. To one small area of this supposed wisdom of man I devote a few lines by way of some reflections in the light of Scripture upon recent explorations and accomplishments in the area of that branch of science and technology relating to the exploration of space. 

Man is still looking for his own origin, as stated above. He is doing this by attempting to determine the origin of the creation in which he lives, thus to understand himself in terms of it. Man today does this from an evolutionistic perspective. He assumes the truth of the theory of evolution, and proceeds with his investigations in harmony with the tenets of the doctrine of progressive mutation and change. Man has done this first of all by inspecting as minutely as possible the earth upon which the sovereign Creator has placed him, utilizing particularly the sciences of geology, archaeology, paleontology, and others, devoting all of his knowledge and means to determine accurately the past. But man has not found the answer upon the earth, and has therefore turned to various other bodies in the solar system, and even to the distant stars. He has explored the planet Venus, and found that it is much too hot and its atmosphere much too hostile to man to permit further investigation or to give the answer regarding man’s origin. He has in the past sent various expeditions to the moon, even placing men on its surface to collect lunar samples for analyzation in the laboratories of science. Though certainly not the only reason for the exploration of the moon, it cannot be denied that the search for man’s origin was a very important justification for the work and expense of the moon program undertaken by the U.S. government. 

Most recently the search for life has concentrated on the planet Mars, which we are told most resembles our own earth. There have been two successful landings of unmanned Viking spacecraft on the surface of the planet, and many pictures have been returned to the earth; many experiments have been performed, and much data received. But the word is that there is no life on Mars, at least not as we know it. In spite of these disappointing results for scientists, a great deal of effort has been expended on this project; millions of dollars have been spent, and the spacecraft sent to the red planet are truly wonders of technology. They obey commands sent from the earth, millions of miles away; they have cameras that produce and send to the earth very clear and beautiful pictures; they have various instruments and machines of different kinds; there is even a laboratory which, we are told, is the equivalent to that of a normal college, all contained within a box the size of one cubic foot, and capable of performing very sophisticated tests and experiments. Indeed, a great deal of knowledge is required for such a project, and man thinks that he is most wise in devising ways of finding out something about his evolutionistic origins. 

But what foolishness! One cannot help being reminded of the words of the apostle Paul regarding the natural man in Romans 1:22: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” He wrote those words many centuries ago, and in the context of pagan idolatry, but they are just as true today. Man no longer falls down to idols of man and birds and beasts, but worships instead the images of science and technology and his own wisdom. Man is, in the language of Romans 12:16, wise in his own conceits. That is, he is not truly wise, but he thinks in his own pride and conceit that he is wise. Instead of worshipping the Creator, the only true God, he worships idols of his own making, and in pride sets up himself to be the standard of his own wisdom. 

In what way is this foolishness of man evident? In this, that instead of believing the revelation of God concerning Himself and His creation and His image bearer as contained in the Scriptures, man deliberately rejects this revelation and seeks for the answers to his questionings elsewhere. Just think of the monumental stupidity and ridiculousness of it all: Man goes millions of miles away into the far reaches of the solar system, spends millions of dollars on equipment, wastes uncounted effort and time, to find out his origins, when all he has to do is read the first three chapters of Genesis! All of the expense and time and effort are totally unnecessary, not only because man is looking in the wrong place, but also because he will never find the answer. We used to be told in seminary, “If you ask the wrong questions, you will get the wrong answer,” and that truth is abundantly apparent here. Mind you, all that man need do is to pick up a copy of the Bible, easily obtained anywhere, and to read the first part of the first book, written in language so clear and simple that a small child can understand it. But man instead pursues his foolish way, thinking he is wise. Are not the words of Paul in II Timothy 3:7 applicable? They are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 

Now, to the Christian, and particularly the Reformed Christian, all of this may seem very obvious; perhaps we may even chuckle just a little at the ridiculousness of it all, though at the same time we may complain about the waste of our hard-earned tax money. After all, we have the answer to the problem that wicked man cannot solve. But we should note that all of this foolishness is a matter of sin. It is holding the truth of God under in unrighteousness, as Romans 1 expresses it. It is the deliberate distortion of the truth into the lie, in the way of the conscious and deliberate rejection of God’s revelation. It is not that the natural man cannot read, for man today is very educated and knowledgeable. It is that man reads and then rejects the Word of God regarding the origin of all things. And this is precisely the folly of sin. Sin is stupidity, not simply in the intellectual sense, though certainly intellectual foolishness, the blindness of the mind, is a large part of it, but also in the spiritual sense, for sin is always a matter also of the will, according to which man will not see the truth of God’s revelation. That is always the character of sin; and the viciousness and insidiousness of sin is that it always rushes blindly on in its course of spiritual stupidity and folly. This is not to deny the wickedness of sin, its terrible character before God, but merely to point out another facet of sin as it has always manifested itself and still does today, in ever-increasing measure. It is in this increasingly clear manifestation of the greatness of the folly of the sin of natural man that we find also a sign of the times, for those who commit these sins are very wicked men, instruments of the power of antichrist that is always present and which shall someday dominate the entire world. Surely the child of God must have his eyes open and recognize signs such as this, knowing that the sign indicates that the end of all things is near.

But yet, all of what I said is not so strange or so new. In fact, it is not new at all. Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived, viewed in his lifetime the wisdom and foolishness of man and his life upon earth; he, too, saw great foolishness and abounding wickedness. But his conclusion was, as he wrote the Book of the Preacher, that there is nothing new under the sun. Man is always essentially the same, his sin is the same, and his foolishness is the same. And this is still true today. What we see in the world regarding man’s foolishness in the exploration of his own origins is nothing new, for man has been engaged in this process for hundreds and thousands of years, always asking the wrong questions and coming up with the wrong answers. Formerly this was done mainly through the means of his own mind, employed in the power of sinful philosophy and reasoning. Now it is done especially through the power of science. The difference is merely one of manifestation and of degree. But today this sin is manifested so clearly that it becomes an unmistakable sign of the end of all things. 

In all of this there is comfort for the Christian. Comfort not merely in the sense that all of this tells him that his salvation draws nigh as he sees these signs of the times, but comfort in this also, that God is sovereign. All of these things are not independent of Him, though they are opposed to Him, but are under His control and guidance, so that He uses even the foolishness of those who are wise in their own conceits to bring about the realization of His kingdom in Christ. And there is also comfort in the assurance that the people of God have the victory over all the foolish power of sin. Paul, quoting the prophet Isaiah, writes in Romans 1:19, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” And we are also assured in this, that God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak to confound the mighty, Rom. 1:27. Our responsibility is, therefore, to recognize the signs of the times as to their real and spiritual significance, so that we are not caught up in the foolishness of those who are wise in their own conceits, but instead possess the wisdom of God unto salvation, in the assurance that we shall never be made ashamed, but have the victory through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.