My sermon is NOT really about the title, it is about Proverbs 25.2. I just use the title as a subject for thinking through Solomon’s statement here. At any rate, I’m pasting in the first draft of the written form of the sermon.
Science, Antibiotics, and Salvation
One of the things that drives much of modern science crazy in regards to Christians is that they are unwilling to admit what is plainly evident. What happens when a Christian becomes ill or is rushed to the hospital? Other Christians gather around and begin to pray for the person. Then modern medicine allows the person to be healed, and what do you find Christians doing? They turn around and declare to everyone who will listen that God healed that person! It’s maddening.
I’m not the only one to notice this. Here is a medical worker named Paul Olusegun:
Early this morning, I passed bye the Accident and Emergency Section of the University College Hospital Ibadan. As common with the department, accident victims were rushed their. One of such cases however caught my attention. Not the patient, but the relatives.
After handing over the accident victim to the medical team on duty, the relatives metamorphosed into a prayer team. With heads bowed and hands intertwined, they lifted up their sick relative to the host of heavens for divine healing. When I saw this, I just smiled, laughing at the misplaced priorities of the church people, while reading the latest soft copy of the British Medical Journal via my mobile phone.
Do you get what he is saying there? Christian injured in an accident. Christians pray. Modern medicine heals the person. Christians attribute it to God. What is going on here? Where was God 1000 years ago when people were dying of diseases like pneumonia, and tetanus, and the plague, that are now routinely either prevented or healed by discoveries in medicine? He didn’t heal them then, but he does heal them now. Do you see the irrational nature of this reasoning? It’s enough to drive a thinking person crazy.
How is it that you Christians can reason this way, and take yourselves seriously?
I believe that Solomon has given us the beginning of an answer to that admittedly difficult question in Proverbs 25.2. It is a very short verse. In the Hebrew there is only 8 words and two of the words are repeated, so there are only 6 unique words in this verse, and yet, when you get started thinking about them, the depth contained in these 6 words is nothing short of astounding.
Let’s pick it up at verse 1. “These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied. It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” (Prov 25:1-2 ESV).
What’s going on here is that apparently at the time of Hezekiah, the king ordered some of his men to go back through the writings of Israel and find the proverbs of Solomon and copy them down so that they are not lost. They already had much of Solomon’s wisdom, but they wanted to make sure they didn’t lose anything. One way to translate this verse would be to say, Here are more wise sayings given by Solomon that were gathered together by the writers in King Hezekiah’s court (UBS).
So Proverbs 25.2 is the very first saying that they record. As I said, in the Hebrew just 8 words. It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. Let’s jump in here and see if we can figure out what Solomon meant. We can organize the passage in this way. First, how is it God’s glory to hide things? What did Solomon mean by that? Second, How is it a king’s glory to search things out? And, third, what is the point of what Solomon says? Why did he write this?
How is it God’s glory to hide things?
It is the glory of God to hide things. What does Solomon mean here? First, let’s point out what he does not mean. He does not mean that it is the glory of God to hide all things. Just by making the statement Solomon implies that. If Solomon meant that it is God’s glory to hide all things he would never have discovered that it was God’s glory to hide things, right? We would have no Bible, and no revelation of God. So he obviously doesn’t mean all things.
So what does he mean then? He means that it is God’s glory to hide or to conceal some things. Every biblical writer understands this fact. Deuteronomy 29.29 says: The secret things belong to the Lord our God. In the book of Job, Zophar says, quite correctly: Can you solve the mysteries of God? Can you discover everything about the Almighty? Such knowledge is higher than the heavens and who are you? It is deeper than the underworld, what do you know? (Job 11.7,8 NLT). Paul concurs: In Romans 11.33, he writes: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Solomon is doing nothing more here than agreeing with the rest of the Scriptures.
We’ve established then that Solomon is correct in what he says, but we want to answer the question, How is it God’s glory to hide things? Let me give you two possible reasons why it is God’s glory to hide things, one concerns what he does not reveal, and one concerns what he allows to be discovered.
First, it is God’s glory to hide things because he is God. If we understood him completely then he would no longer be God. He is infinite, we are not infinite. If we understood all there was to know about God, then he would not be infinite any longer. We would have him all wrapped up in a nice little box and be able to say, here is God, systematized and categorized from A to Z. That would no longer be Paul’s God; the God whose wisdom and knowledge are so deep that his judgments are unsearchable and his ways inscrutable.
The fact that God conceals some things from men, and that we cannot figure him out reveals the limitations of man. We do not know everything. We are finite. No matter how much we would like to, we cannot systematize and categorize God. As Lucy put it to Mr. Timnus, when describing Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, “He is not a tame lion.” No, Mr. Timnus answers, but he is good. How brilliantly C. S. Lewis captures the nature of God in that little interaction. We are not going to tame God. We are not going to get him into a little box of our own understanding.
One commentator put it this way: The glory of God consists in this, to conceal a matter, i.e., to place before men mystery upon mystery, in which they become conscious of the limitation and insufficiency of their knowledge, so that they are constrained to acknowledge, Deut. 29:28, that “secret things belong unto the Lord our God.
Charles Spurgeon captures the essence of this truth. Surely a God whom we could understand would be no God. We delight in being out of our depth—in finding waters to swim in where understanding with its little plumline finds no bottom, but where love with a restful spirit finds perfect peace.
So one way that the Lord is glorified by concealing a matter is that it reveals his infinite nature, which is a stark contrast to our finite nature. He is great. We are not.
The second way that God is glorified by concealing things is in how they are discovered. It is a fact, as we shall see in the second half of this verse, that God created Man for discovery, that is what glorifies Man. He so constructed the universe that it is discoverable, and in this God is glorified. Let me work out what I mean by asking a question. With which creator are we more impressed? With one who reveals everything about his creation all at once, or with one who, the deeper one goes into his creation, the more one finds? Or let me put it another way. Compared to what people living in 1000 AD knew about God, does he look greater now than he did then? Back then they believed that God created the stars and they could count at most about 2000 thousand in the night sky. Now, as astronomy has discovered there are an estimate 100 million stars in our galaxy alone, and there may be as many as 500 billion galaxies.! Does God look greater now than he did in 1000 AD? You bet he does, because we have discovered more about the world. In fact, the more we discover, the greater God looks, and that is to his glory.
Discovery is glory! When I was an elementary student I learned that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and “discovered” America. Yawn. Who cares? I live in America, that was a long time ago, we’ve been there, done that, got that T-shirt. However, I can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing (I was glued to the television) on July 20, 1969, when Neal Armstrong was the first man to step onto the moon. Now THAT fired my imagination. THAT I remember. Why? Because it was a new discovery. Columbus was old news, but the moon. Cool!
The more we discover about the universe, the greater God looks, because we understand his might and power and creative genius a little bit better. So God is glorified in what we discover about his creation. He didn’t reveal it all at once for just that reason. The glory of a creator is greater as we discover the intricacies of what he has created.
Be careful that you don’t miss this point. One of the reasons, I believe, that God did not just write a gigantic manual of everything that he had done in creation and plop it into Adam’s lap was because as we discover more about him, his glory becomes greater and greater. This gradual unfolding, over the centuries, of our understanding of what God has created makes him look ever increasingly great in our eyes.
So God is glorified both by concealing some things, and by first concealing some things and then allowing them to be discovered.
The Glory of Kings
The statement that stand opposite Solomon’s statement about God is: It is the king’s glory to search things out. Where it is God’s glory to conceal a matter, it is the king’s glory to search things out. How is it the kings glory to search things out and what does Solomon mean?
Most commentators think that Solomon is speaking about the king in his role as ruler of the kingdom. So that what he means here is that, a good king will search out every side of an issue before making a decision. He will carefully weigh all issues, search them out, and understand them, before he comes to a conclusion and acts. One commentator puts it this way: A king’s subjects hold him in awe and glorify him when he diligently investigates a matter and does not make his decisions on the basis of superficial understanding.
I do agree with that interpretation; however, I think Solomon’s statement goes beyond just the king’s role in ruling his kingdom. Why do I think that? First, the word that the ESV things is a word that has multiple meanings, just like our English word thing. For instance, thing can mean an object, like when I point to something on the table and say, “would you hand me that thing?” It can be an action, like when I say, “The building is on fire, do something.” If you’re Dr. Seuss, it can even be a person like Thing 1 and Thing 2 who invade the house in the book The Cat in the Hat. The Hebrew word is exactly the same. It can mean, word, or matter, or something. It is an intentionally vague word that Solomon uses here. God hides things. Kings search things out. What things? Are they the same things? Different things? We do not know. Solomon doesn’t tell us. He leaves it for us to figure out.
Second, the kings of Solomon’s age were more than just lawgivers and rulers. Here is what one commentator says: Kings were the scientists of the ancient world — the people with the time and money and human resources to investigate the world around them and the heavens above them. Solomon himself, who wrote this proverb, boasted elsewhere: “I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 1.12-13).
So when Solomon says that it is the glory of kings to search things out, I think he is speaking beyond just matters of law and governance, to the world around him and also to the spiritual world. All of those things it is the kings glory to search things out. In fact, I think we could easily apply this to our modern world by saying, “It is Man’s glory to search things out.”
Eugene Peterson captures the essence of what Solomon means very well in his paraphrase, The Message. He interprets the verse in this way: God delights in concealing things; scientists delight in discovering things. I think that begins to get at the essence of what Solomon means here.
It is the king’s glory, or Man’s glory to search things out because that is how God has made us. One might argue that the fundamental outward aspect of man that separates him from the rest of creation is this compulsion to discover, to look around at the world and understand it. You don’t find animals trying to explain the world around them, or the passing of the seasons, or how long a year is. You don’t find plants investigating the solar system, nor amoeba, nor rocks or rivers. You find man in an endless pursuit to understand all of that. That is in part, what we were created for. It glorifies Man when we search things out, when we understand God’s creation just a little bit better, and it glorifies God when we discover things that he has not revealed to us, because it makes him just that much greater.
Solomon has discovered this symbiotic relationship between God’s glory and Man’s glory. In what God has hidden that we CAN search out, Man is glorified because he is doing what he was created to do—discover things—and God is glorified because his glory as we discover his power and majesty in creation looms ever larger.
Why Is This Here?
So it is God’s glory to conceal things and it is the king’s glory, or we say, Man’s glory, to search things out. What is the point of this passage? How might it help us understand this difficulty we put at the beginning of the sermon where people are healed by modern medical discoveries but we followers of Christ ascribe the healing to God?
This little verse by Solomon helps etch a foundation for the rise of modern science. God certainly could have revealed everything about creation to Adam so that we fully understood it from the beginning of time itself. But why didn’t he? I can think of two reasons. First, it would have negated from the very beginning what it is that makes Man, Man. This desire to search out. What is there to discover when we know everything from the beginning? Nothing. So part of the reason that there is this gradual unfolding of knowledge through the ages is that it allows this symbiotic glory relationship. Man gets to do what he was created for—discovery—and God is revealed as a greater and greater creator.
Christians were on the leading edge of the rise of modern science because they understood this. Blaise Pascal, Robert Boyle, Michael Faraday, Isaac Newton, Gregor Mendel, Louis Pasteur, Samuel Morse, and Johannes Kepler among others were all Christians. They believed that God was a God of order and that he created an ordered world, and that it was discoverable, and that the more Man discovered, the greater God looked.
Johannes Kepler was an astronomer. He discovered and formulated Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. He wrote this about his motive for doing so: Here we are concerned with the book of nature, so greatly celebrated in sacred writings. It is in this that Paul proposes to the Gentiles that they should contemplate God like the Sun in water or in a mirror. Why then as Christians should we take any less delight in its contemplation, since it is for us with true worship to honor God, to venerate him, to wonder at him? The more rightly we understand the nature and scope of what our God has founded, the more devoted the spirit in which that is done.
Do you see what he is saying there? He is saying that the deeper we understand the God of creation, the deeper will be our wonder and praise of him.
The second possible reason—I’m not God he didn’t reveal this to me, it’s just an educated guess—that God didn’t reveal everything from the beginning and so save Man from the scourge of death and disease, is that it would have essentially negated the effects of sin upon Man. C. S. Lewis once wrote that pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world. I think he was correct. Had Man been protected from all of the consequences of the Fall of Adam, what reason would they have had to seek God? You see this in the modern world. Man does not seek out God’s help when he is sick, just the doctor. It is only Christians who seek both God and the doctor.
So follow my thinking here because this is very important for our understanding of God and for why we are happy to make ourselves look foolish to unbelieving scientists by praising God for the healing of someone by modern medicine. The rise of modern medicine and the discovery of antibiotics and treatments for nasty things like diabetes and yellow fever and hepatitis, is nothing more than Man discovering what God has written into the fabric of what he created. This is why, when a Christian gets sick, we gladly take them to the doctor. We want to use our brains and take advantage of what Man has discovered about how God created the world. We are happy to go to the doctor. I don’t know about you, but I am thankful to God that I live in the age of modern medicine. But where did the possibility for modern medicine come from? It came from the God of creation. Johannes Kepler understood this.
So what do we say to people like Paul Olusegen? Actually, we let Paul speak to us. I didn’t tell you the whole story. Paul is a follower of Jesus Christ and works in the medical profession. Here’s what else he wrote:
Being a christian and a medical practitioner, is therefore a difficult status of an individual who is inquisitive and that still wants to trust God, just like any other person. Trust me, it’s not that easy. When someone testifies of God’s healing in church, the congregation, especially those without medical affiliation, jumps and shouts while for people like me with many pages of medical textbooks in their brains, we reflect and try to fathom what God has just done. The reasons, motives, and justifications for the healing…This brings me to a unique understanding of God and His humanly bizarre ways of doing things.
The first understanding I have is that of creation itself. There are more than enough reasons and evidences pointing to the fact that creation, and not evolution, is the origin of the earth and the entire universe. Since it is God that created the universe, He knows the right ‘reset button’ to hit when things are wrong and it is when He presses the button that healing results.
Also, the Bible declares Him as the ultimate healer who understands the human anatomy and physiology more than any Grey and Ganong, or Paul (that’s me), all put together.According to the Bible, He formed man from dust hence he knows the joints, fluids, synapses and homeostasis more than anyone had or can. We should therefore not be surprised or amazed by His actions. I’ve also come to realize that His actions are without explanations and to enjoy life, good health, success, and the likes, one needs to draw closer to Him who is the fountain.
When I’m leaving the clinic later today, I hope to see that small but active prayer group and if they are praying when I pass bye, I will join and say Amen hoping that my miracles would be next in line.