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A Shuffled Deck

Life is like a game of cards. We have to work with what we’re dealt.

But what happens if we make up the rules as we go along? What if we assume that there is no real order or purpose to the shuffled deck of circumstance?

Questions like these were raised in 1990, when American educator and cultural critic (1931-2003) Neil Postman made an important address to the German Informatics Society. His speech was titled “Informing Ourselves To Death.”

Postman talked about the dangers of a society where the pursuit of information is separated from a shared sense of spiritual and social order.

To illustrate his point, Postman talked about the difference between dealing from a new deck of cards as it is taken out of the box and then doing the same with one that had been shuffled 20 times. The new deck presents the cards in a predictable order. Once the deck has been shuffled several times, there is no reason to react with disbelief or surprise to whatever card turns up.

Postman’s point was that information that is not rooted in a consistent view of life becomes like a shuffled deck of cards. He explains, “In a world without spiritual or intellectual order, nothing is unbelievable; nothing is predictable, and therefore, nothing comes as a particular surprise.” Like a voice in the wilderness, Postman declares, “We no longer have a coherent conception of ourselves, and our universe, and our relation to one another and our world. We no longer know . . . where we come from, and where we are going, or why . . . . As a consequence, our defenses against information glut have broken down; our information immune system is inoperable. We don’t know how to filter it out; we don’t know how to reduce it; we don’t know [how] to use it. We suffer from a kind of cultural AIDS.”

Knowledge Without Roots

Neil Postman’s “Informing Ourselves To Death” describes not only the dangers of our present information-based culture but of our past as well. The opening chapters of Genesis tell how our first parents “informed themselves to death” by turning their backs on the moral order of their Creator to go after a kind of knowledge that ruined their lives.

In the middle of the growing confusion, some in every generation have looked for the “spiritual or intellectual order” that Postman talked about. In pursuit of practical answers, some have turned to the wisdom of a man named Solomon.

The Wisdom of Solomon

According to the Bible, God gave the third king of Israel an unusual capacity for wisdom and knowledge (1 Kings 4:29-34).

Solomon became a collector of proverbs. His thirst for knowledge was unquenchable. He had the curiosity of a scientist when it came to plants and animals (1 Kings 4:32-34). Leaders from all over the world came to hear his wisdom for themselves (1 Kings 10:22-24).

Even in the midst of unparalleled wealth and prosperity, Solomon would later write that the wisdom God gives is worth more than gold (Proverbs 3:13-18).

The Foolishness of Solomon

Ironically, over time Solomon ignored the counsel of the God who had given him power and wisdom (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). While multiplying personal wealth and wives, he indulged himself at the expense of those he was to serve. He even built altars to pagan gods on the hills surrounding Israel (1 Kings 11:1-11).

Late in life, Solomon wrote a short book that showed the deterioration of his mind. His thoughts had become like a shuffled deck of cards. His wisdom was mixed with despair. Until he recovered a healthy fear of God, he had no consistent way of evaluating success, failure, or even the significance of life itself (Ecclesiastes 12:1-7).

The Wisdom of Jesus

Solomon’s failures can help us understand the importance of Jesus.

Jesus, like Solomon, is remembered for His wisdom. Unlike Solomon, however, everything Jesus said and did reflected a consistent view of reality.

What really makes Jesus important to us is that He didn’t just give us words of wisdom. According to the apostle Paul, Jesus became the wisdom of God for us (1 Corinthians 1:30).

What did Paul mean when he said Jesus became wisdom for us? Was it that Jesus became our example of all that is good? Was it that His story gives us the ultimate answers to where we came from, where we are going, and why?

Paul’s own answer shows that Jesus did more than give us spiritual inspiration and answers to our moral questions. He wrote that Jesus, in addition to becoming wisdom for us, also became our “righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” He did all of this, Paul said, so that our confidence could be based on what Jesus did for us, rather than on what we could do for ourselves (vv.30-31).

In a second letter, Paul further explains that, to reconcile us to God, Jesus even became sin for us. So the apostle wrote, “He [God] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

This is how Jesus became our wisdom. He offered Himself as the practical answer to the dilemma our first parents created when they sold their soul for “the knowledge of good and evil.” At the price of His own death, Jesus bought the right to offer life beyond the grave to anyone who would trust Him.

Why would He do it for us? Because, in the ultimate sense, Jesus is like an unshuffled deck of cards. All order, design, and purpose begin and end in Him. As our Creator, Judge, and Savior, He alone can call us back to the knowledge we’ve lost when He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

And so we pray, Father in heaven, forgive us for thinking of Your Son only as our example or our teacher. Help us to see Him as the root of all true answers, the Savior who pursues us, and the One who, to show Your love, became wisdom for us. —Mart De Haan

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