Where does knowledge have its origin? From where (or what) does wisdom spring? Intuitively, we humans wrestle to answer these questions every day.

Amazingly, how we choose to answer may be all that determines whether we live in liberty or tyranny.

None of us desire to be unknowledgeable or unwise or perceived as such. Even the most foolish among us would chafe at being called a fool. This fact suggests that, while some of us are more openly interested in obtaining knowledge and wisdom than others, none of us — not even the most disinterested — would despise being regarded as wise. We desire the perception for it gives us access, respect, and power. For these reasons, we desire “knowledge” and “wisdom,” which is to say, we only truly desire access, respect, and power.

This is why the most offensive biblical claim (to the secularist) is perhaps that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10) and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). It is offensive because it implies that all non-religious Jews and non-Christian gentiles are precluded from having wisdom and knowledge. It is especially offensive considering secularism has concocted a “wisdom” whose defining characteristic is that it has no need for God. To say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning (source and origin) of wisdom and knowledge is to concurrently say that secularism cannot be true. Moreover, it suggests its adherents are fools.

Even God-fearing religious folk often struggle to understand and believe this passage, however. There seems to be a discrepancy between the bold claim of Scripture regarding wisdom and the observation that even secularists have knowledge.

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So what does this authoritative declaration of truth from the most reliably authoritative book in history really mean?

To answer this, we must first distinguish the difference between knowledge and wisdom. It is generally agreed upon that wisdom is the application of knowledge affecting choices, behaviors, and lifestyles. A man may know his house is on fire. He is not wise if he does not choose to leave. Knowledge means nothing if we do not live in accordance with what we know.

Be that as it may, knowledge is still often a precondition for wisdom. A man who knows nothing of saving, investing, and budgeting cannot be financially wise. Nor can he who knows nothing of the Bible be biblically wise. Both are necessary. But wisdom is superior because it puts our otherwise useless knowledge to good use.

Therefore, can we agree that the joint aim of knowledge and wisdom is right living? The pious might push back and say everything exists to glorify God. But does not right living glorify God?

Binding this apparent truth with the statement of truth presented to us in Proverbs, we can additionally conclude that fear of God, having proper reverence for God, is what enables us to behave rationally. It’s what enables us to behave reasonably. Morally.

It’s what enables us to have a truth-based understanding of the world, our role in the world, and how we should behave in light of that role.

In other words, the fear of the Lord is what enables right living.

But this is where the secularist sneers. He — and most of the world with him — claims to have found ration, reason, and morality without God. And accordingly, they have produced the kind of “right living” described in Judges 21:25.

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Amazingly, the principle behind Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10 is still just as true for these people. However, in their case, “Lord” has been exchanged for a lowercase g god and true wisdom for prostituted “wisdom.”

We must realize that everyone has a god. Everyone. Some have described religion as a hierarchy of priorities and affections: whatever sits at the top of that pyramid is your god. Your ensuing religion — “wisdom” affecting behavior — is simply the natural byproduct of who or what is preeminent in your life. (As a side, this means anyone can believe in God but if He does not sit at the top of their pyramidal hierarchy, He is not their god). To you, “wisdom” is how you must (or naturally) order your life in order to keep your god first. Reverently (although perhaps not intentionally), you have brought your whole life under and into subjection to the sovereign of your pyramid.

So what does this mean for wisdom? It means everyone’s respective “wisdom” (behavior-affecting principles) is cogent in light of their god. What seems to be wisdom to the Christian is foolishness to the secularist, and vice versa, because both have different gods.

This is why Proverbs declares of humanity: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes (Proverbs 21:2a).” We treat right living as relative to whatever we have our eyes on, whatever sits at the top of our hierarchy.

When self sits at the top — and self is probably the most popular god — we get secularism and humanism. And secularism and humanism are “right” in the eyes of their adherents in light of their god. They have created a “wisdom” that justifies all behaviors praiseworthy unto that god.

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This is why many moral standards are laughed at today: because they get in the way of satisfying self. A religion that is based on denying self (Luke 9:23), apostasy against the god of self, is, of course, foolishness to those who serve that god.

Not only must a secular, humanistic society reject the God of the Bible it must eventually reject all standards. Standards, by nature, impede on self. Therefore they are unacceptable and foolish to a religion whose primary concern is enabling self-worship.

In order to see the wisdom of the Bible, we must first rebel against our lowercase g god. He must be supplanted, cast from his throne, usurped by the true God.

We can now understand why even the God-hating world seems to have wisdom. Everyone does. Everyone is “wise.” But it is only true wisdom if it comes from the true God. Being wise in one’s own eyes does not equate to being wise in the eyes of God.

“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,” says Romans 1, which perfectly describes the human condition. The chapter goes on to make it clear that the author is referring to those who exchanged God, or “did not like to retain God.” He is referring to those who put themselves at the top of the pyramid: those that worship and serve “the creature more than the Creator.”

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These people, Romans warns, are given to a “wisdom” that justifies all sorts of behaviors that ultimately lead to death. For this reason, we can see that Romans 1 is basically an extended discourse on Proverbs 14:12 (“There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death”).

Our post-religious society has professed itself to be wise but has a fatal blind spot. We want the secular world to see and embrace or at least understand our wisdom, the wisdom of God, but they cannot. It is foolishness to them for as long as they have another god.

Earlier, I suggested that where we fall on this issue may determine whether we live in liberty or tyranny. Thus far, I have only laid the groundwork for that argument. In part two, I will reveal how the fear of the Lord can cause us to resist tyranny while the fear of other gods may, in fact, facilitate tyranny.

Jakob Fay is a staff writer for the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance.