"The princes of Zoan are utterly foolish. The wisest counsellors of Pharaoh give stupid counsel. How can you say to Pharaoh, 'I am a son of the wise, a son of ancient kings'? Where then are your wise men? Let them tell you that they might know what Yahweh of hosts has purposed against Egypt. The princes of Zoan have become fools, and the princes of Memphis are deluded. Those who are the cornerstones of her tribes have made Egypt stagger. Yahweh has mingled within her a spirit of confusion, and they will make Egypt stagger in all its deeds, as a drunken man staggers in his vomit. And there will be nothing for Egypt that head or tail, palm branch or reed, may do." - Isaiah 19:11-15
Around 700 bc, Isaiah prophesies about Egypt. Egypt is known for its wise men who offer advice to the Pharaoh as he makes political, economic, and military decisions. The main problem Egypt is dealing with at the time is the expansion of Assyrian power in the north. Isaiah's prophecy is that Yahweh is intervening to confuse Egypt's wise men. They give "stupid counsel" (v. 11) because they are unaware of what Yahweh is doing (v. 12). They don't understand his plan or purpose (v. 12). They depend on their own limited human understanding. They don't know the God of history, so they can't interpret current events correctly. Yahweh allows the Egyptians to be confused as to what's going on (v. 14). This is because Egypt has chosen to worship false gods and not the true God. When disaster comes, the advice of Egypt's wise men will have proven to be foolish (v. 15).
There are some important lessons for us today: (1) if a nation excludes God and his word from consideration when making policy, it is foolish; (2) God allows nations to become foolish, stupid, deluded, and confused, if they persist in ignoring him and his revelation; (3) often "wise men" think they are wise when they aren't really at all; (4) advice that ignores God causes a nation to stagger like a drunken man (v. 14); and (5) a nation's foolishness, stupidity, and delusion leads ultimately to hopelessness (v. 15) and fear (vv. 16-17).
Today's "wise men" are the self-anointed experts who run most of our institutions, including government, media, and academia. These experts believe they can solve every problem based on a foundation of atheism, philosophic naturalism, and humanism. The idea is: if common people will obey the experts, all (or most) societal problems will be solved.
Many of our experts are well-intentioned. But they are still human after all. The problem is they think too much of their own knowledge. They tend not to be very humble with respect to their own expertise. They tend to weigh in authoritatively on matters beyond their knowledge.
For example, epidemiologists may be able to provide an estimate how quickly a new virus will spread in a community. And they certainly should make recommendations as to how to deal with that spread. But there are so many other factors to consider in how best to respond--relational, economic, educational, financial, spiritual, familial, physical. Epidemiologists are not and can't be experts in all these areas, especially when there are millions of people involved, each with their own concerns and priorities. This is an example of the logical fallacy of faulty appeal to authority.
"Science" doesn't tell us how to deal with a pandemic. Science is a good thing, but we must not ask more of it than it is able to deliver. Dealing with a pandemic is a matter of sound judgment based on trade-offs and a recognition that we don't live in a perfect world and that human beings aren't emotionless machines. Our world will never be free of deadly viruses (at least not yet).
There are huge societal costs to pursuing perfection, elimination, 100% safety. The costs are very great indeed and are not really quantifiable. But they are costs nevertheless. Some things--like freedom, dignity, personal responsibility--stubbornly refuse to be measured in a test tube. But of course they are still crucially important for humanity. In fact the most important things of all--the human soul, human free will, personal responsibility, ethics and morality,--can't be measured scientifically. These things lie in the realm of theology, philosophy, and metaphysics, which in the old days were considered to be far more important and fundamental than empirical science.
We have become far too reliant on empirical science in our public discourse. We are asking the impossible of science. More than she has asserted for herself. We have made science a god, to the exclusion of the God who made science.
There is a growing tendency today to accept the societal advice of Dr. So-and-So who recommends X course of action. But Dr. So-and-So is a finite human being with his or her own biases, motivations, and ambitions. He or she cannot possibly know how X will impact the lives of everyday people, families, and small business owners across a wide spectrum of society. None of us have the sight picture of God, and none of us are unbiased and fully virtuous in our motivations. We need to have a healthy dose of skepticism toward our experts, because they are human, too. We should also mention that experts are just as susceptible to peer pressure and groupthink as anyone else, especially when their career is on the line, as it is for medical professionals, university professors, and government officials today.
The bottom line is we need to remember that God exists. He cares about us. He's got a plan. We need to be more sensitive to his attempts to humble us. We need to recognise that human pride needs humbling. Most probably, God has allowed COVID-19 as a wake-up call. He wants us to humble ourselves to him. I'm afraid, though, that we are growing more callous in our stubbornness against him. We have turned solely to human solutions and our own limited human expertise and have not sought the help of the one who is in charge. How about a national day of prayer and fasting?
Father, save us from our own foolishness, stupidity, delusion, and confusion. Help us as a civilisation to understand the message you are trying to send us. May we humble ourselves to your warning. May we stop trusting in our finite wisdom and submit to your infinite wisdom. Please, Father, may we all humble ourselves, including our scientists and other elites. Father, humanity, left on its own, will stagger like a drunken man. It is only when we humble ourselves to you that we get the true wisdom. Give us insight into your purposes at work today, and help us to pay attention. Help us to act with true wisdom, Lord. In Jesus' name, amen.
- Jeff Coleman