The book of Genesis opens with the creation account describing a beautiful world of sea, earth, sky, plants, fish, birds and other animals. Tucked away in the midst of this story is a curious verse which seems out of place. The verse is Genesis 2:12, which parenthetically mentions that “The gold of that land is good.” Why is the presence of gold mentioned in the creation account?
Gold subsequently appears in many other places in the Bible. In Exodus 32, we read about how Aaron fashioned a golden calf. Later, Daniel 3 describes how King Nebuchadnezzar fashioned an image made of gold and forced people to worship it. But references to gold are not only about idolatry; in other passages we see gold being put in service of the Lord. In Exodus 35, we learn about Bezalel, who was “filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts” (Exodus 35:31-33). These skills were put in the service of God for the building of the tabernacle. After the birth of Christ, we read about how the wise men brought gifts which included gold. Later, in Revelation 21:20, we are told that the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, is a “city of pure gold.” These passages demonstrate that gold, like any other part of creation, can be directed toward God’s kingdom or toward idolatry.
As an engineer, I am amazed at the ingenuity behind modern technology. For me, gold represents the many technological possibilities we have “unearthed” in creation: electricity, silicon computers, algorithms, pharmaceuticals, robots, rockets, and airplanes, to name just a few. Job 28 includes a fascinating passage about how clever human beings have learned to mine gold. It celebrates human ingenuity, and the ways that we use technology to uncover and transform the Earth’s resources:
“There is a mine for silver and a place where gold is refined. Iron is taken from the earth, and copper is smelted from ore. Mortals put an end to the darkness; they search out the farthest recesses for ore in the blackest darkness. Far from human dwellings they cut a shaft, in places untouched by human feet; far from other people they dangle and sway” (Job 28:1-4).
But, later in this same passage, a contrast is made between technological know-how and wisdom: “But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell? No mortal comprehends its worth; it cannot be found in the land of the living” (Job 28:12-13).
Wisdom is not something that comes from our ingenuity or technology; it comes from God. “God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells for he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.” (Job 28:23-24). Job 28 ends with these words: “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.”
What the world needs—far more than gold, lithium, or faster silicon chips—is wisdom: an awe and delight in God and a desire to follow his ways. Wisdom can then be used to guide our ingenuity and technology, to mine the Earth’s resources and design cultural artifacts that honor the Lord, rather than fashioning golden calves or constructing modern towers of Babel. After all, “‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty” (Haggai 2:8).
Although human ingenuity is to be admired, wisdom is of much more value. May our Christian universities be places where wisdom informs and guides our technical disciplines (and all other disciplines, too).
“Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.”
Editor’s note: For more about how wisdom might guide technical disciplines such as engineering and computer science, please see the author’s co-authored work, A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and Designers.
An earlier version of this article originally appeared in Christian Courier.