While driving with my 14 yr. old son the other day, I asked him what he knew about wisdom. “I know this much” he said, “sometimes those who think that they are wise are not, and those who really are wise, don’t know it.” He then offered, by way of illustration, Plato’s fulltime quest to find a wise person. Not a bad answer. I refrained from asking him whether he thought that he was a wise person but prayed that this bit of insight would be a valued reminder for both of us.
It is an ironic thing about wisdom that it is only the wise who seek her while fools who need her most give no heed to her instruction. It seems that wisdom offers the blessing of her guidance only to those who already know her value.
Wisdom may be described as the art of practical living; knowing the best thing to do in a given concrete situation. This is not to be confused with knowledge or information. There is more information available today than ever before and we are able to access data with ease and speed many times greater than just a few years ago. But a casual reading of any major newspaper suggests that while information and knowledge stack up at a mind-blowing rate, we have not made similar progress in exercising wisdom. Short-sighted frivolity, selfishness, prejudice, sloth and all-around stupidity are ubiquitous – and when I look beyond the mirror, the picture is only a little brighter!
Seeking and gaining wisdom is no easy matter. Unlike knowledge that can be stored in the book or information it can be filed away in the database, wisdom is not so much a thing to be possessed, but a reality be to walked in and guidance to live under. In the story of humankind's fall told in Genesis 2, the quest for wisdom is in part what gets Adam & Eve in trouble. Eying the forbidden fruit with the temper’s deceptive words in her ear, Eve notes that it is good for food, pleasing to the eye and “desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen 3:6). We know how that story ends. David’s son, Solomon earned the reputation of being the world's wisest man; we read that people came from far and near to sit in his presence and benefit from his wisdom. He is said to have known 3000 proverbs (1 Kings 4) and yet, his divided attention and foolish actions lead to the division of the kingdom and the end of Israel’s glory days.
Where does wisdom come from? The book of proverbs gives us several answers to that question: the fear of the Lord (1:7, 2:6); the teaching of elders (1:8, 2:1, 3:1, 6:20-22); careful observations of other people and the natural world (2:10-19, 5:22-23, 6:6-11); even from the quest itself (4:7; 8:1-11).
Whatever the source of wisdom, our job is to seek her and heed her. A remarkable thing about wisdom is that though she was the Lord’s chief counselor in the creation of the world (Proverbs 3:19; 8:22-31), she is also available to all who have ears to hear. At the gates of the city and at the crossroads, at the high points of the path and along the busy ways, Wisdom lifts her voice to offer her instruction and counsel to all of those who would walk in the way of life (Proverbs 8:1-20).
Perhaps it is because of our propensity towards foolishness that Scripture exhorts us over and again to seek wisdom, to heed her instruction, to embrace and honor her. And why would we not? When listened to, wisdom results in blessings for our own lives, benefit to those around us and even yields advantages for the natural environment; a return well worth the investment! As Proverbs 3:18 puts it: “She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed.” May we seek wisdom, and so know the blessing God intends for us.