For my people are foolish;
they know me not;
they are stupid children;
they have no understanding.
They are ‘wise’—in doing evil!
But how to do good they know not.
Jeremiah 4:22 ESV
So does the LORD describe His people. But why are they foolish, stupid, and without understanding? They know me not. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). True knowledge and wisdom cannot come apart from the God who is Wisdom and Omniscience, especially since the reality of the almighty Creator is foundational for understanding all other things. If all things were made through Him, by Him, and for Him (Colossians 1:16), then He is the context within which all of reality is structured. Outside of Him, therefore, is only the formless void, folly and stupidity. All who know God also fear Him. All who do not fear God do not know Him. All who know God are progressing in wisdom. All who do not know Him are entrenched within their own stupidity.
Yet in a twist of irony, there is a kind of wisdom that godless possess: a wisdom in doing evil. The biblical conception of wisdom, after all, is a skill. Wisdom, therefore, is the skill of living well. Those who reject God can certainly still do wise things, yet they cannot attain true wisdom while continuing to ignore the Author of life. Even still, apart from the Holy One, the skill for doing evil can become quite fine-tuned. We may even be able to so wise at doing evil that we honestly convince ourselves that it is good. Indeed, this is only possible whenever we lose the value of good and evil, whenever these terms become subjective driftwood floating in the sea of self. “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). God is goodness. He is not simply good, as if goodness were a quality outside of Him. He is goodness. Good is measured through conformity to God. Evil is determined by contrast to God. Without a knowledge of God, we can only do good by accident. Evil becomes the norm. Failing to know God is stupidity, and stupidity yields evil as its fruit.
“Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way” (Proverbs 23:19).