When God Learned

Some of the most startling statements in the Bible appear with little fanfare or in-depth treatment. Sometimes we don’t even notice how puzzling they are upon a first reading. Perhaps that’s part of why they’re so puzzling. When the biblical authors don’t seem to acknowledge the significance, or at least the oddness, of what they’ve written, the statement’s stark contrast to its innocuous context leaves us all the more stunned.

One of these statements appears in the first part of Luke 2:52: “And Jesus grew in wisdom.” In almost any context, that kind of proposition sounds heretical. The second person of the Trinity, the Word who was in the beginning with God and who was God, he by whom and for whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together, the one in whom the fullness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell, had things to learn. The context is Jesus’ childhood, but that doesn’t make the mystery any less mysterious. Isaiah 40:13 asks, “Who has taught the Lord?”, anticipating the obvious answer, “No one!” And yet in Luke we see the Creator God learning, presumably from his human parents.

Scripture does not clearly state when Jesus stopped learning, if he ever did stop. It makes sense to assume that he reached a fullness of knowledge by the time he began his ministry at the moment He was baptized. He knew what was in every man’s heart, he knew how future events would unfold, but even then it was possible for him not to know things (Matt. 13:32). While he anticipated events before they happened, such as his eventual death on the cross and ultimate resurrection, he sometimes reacted to hearing news from other people, like the news of Lazarus’ sickness (John 11:4-6). He was clearly led by the Spirit, but the Spirit’s leading was often immediate (Mark 1:12). It’s not clear if every detail of the Father’s will for every moment of Jesus’ life was revealed to him before he needed to know it.

While many aspects of the incarnation remain matters of speculation, some things are perfectly clear. Regardless of what it was like for Jesus to be the omniscient God and a limited human at the same time, it’s certain from the verse in Luke that, at some point, Jesus progressed in wisdom. It’s also certain that Jesus lived in constant dependence on the Father, prayerfully seeking his will in all things. Biblically, this fear of God characterizes a lifelong pursuit of wisdom.

When I got married 4 years, 2 months, and 4 days ago, part of the scripted ceremony noted how marriage was an honorable and sacred institution, pointing to how Jesus attended a wedding at the beginning of his ministry, legitimizing the celebration by providing beverages after a disastrous logistical oversight. Jesus’ presence at the wedding in Cana had a particular effect on marriage. This part of my wedding ceremony stands out in my memory because of the word used to describe that effect: He “beautified” it. I love that word. Just like the water at the Cana wedding that became wine of the highest quality, everywhere that Jesus goes and everything that he touches is beautified, renewed into the most perfect version of itself as it is enabled to fulfill more perfectly its sacred purpose.

Since he became a man and dwelt among us, Jesus’ fingerprints mark all of human experience. I’m currently beginning another round of a certain aspect of human experience. The reason it’s been longer than usual between blog posts is that I’m gearing up for another semester working on my Master of Divinity degree. Classes begin on Wednesday. As I gaze into the abyss that is my class schedule and syllabi and extracurricular responsibilities, I’m met with more than the abyss’s returned gaze. I find the beautifying fingerprints of my Savior, who also had to learn. It’s a mystifying truth, but one that gives hope and purpose. Since the second person of the Trinity, the Word who was in the beginning with God and who was God, came to earth and grew in wisdom, the pursuit of the student, properly oriented towards seeking God’s truth in all things, is divine work.

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