I hate horror movies. Thrillers, adventures, dramas, comedies, I’m in. But horror movies have messed me up my whole life. Maybe it is my aversion to bullying, hurting others, or any hint of the demonic. Or maybe it is the level of stupidity displayed in such films. A recent insurance company commercial parodies these types of movies. A group of young people are in obvious distress, running from an identified killer. Instead of jumping into an available running car to get away, one of the group suggests instead to hide behind the wall of chainsaws hanging in a nearby shed. They agree that this is the best course of action and move to their new hiding place. Directly behind them is the killer, but instead of having a grimacing look of evil intent, he simply rolls his eyes. It is a great example of a lack of wisdom and discernment. And we have all been there (maybe not to this degree, but maybe!).
We have all made foolish decisions in our lives. Whether it be a hasty choice, a selfish inclination, or an intentional slight, we have all done things that have cast us in the role of the fool in someone else’s eyes. As a result, our foolish actions have caused mental, emotional, or even physical pain and suffering in the lives of others. A lifetime of foolish decisions can cause us to think that we are resigned to such a fate; that we are simply who we are and cannot change course. But God says that there is another way; a better way, that is available to all who will seek it. It is called wisdom, or “the wisdom from above” (Jas. 3:17 CSB).
As author and pastor Ray Ortlund says, “[To seek wisdom] is death to our narcissistic egos and self-assured opinions and superior neutrality. But we do not change for the better by turning inward. We change as we turn outward and upward to the Lord with an awakened sense of his sheer reality, his moral beauty, his eternal grandeur, infinitely above us but relevant to us. Our true crisis is not informational but relational. It is he, the risen and living Lord Jesus Christ, to whom we must pay close attention, if we are ever going to learn anything. That means we must forsake the fool within, named Self, decisively and endlessly. ‘Change of being, metanoia, is not brought about by straining and ‘will-power’ but by a long deep process of unselfing’. There is no other way. Wise people humbly revere God and lovingly live to please him.”1
So, what is wisdom? Well, a simple definition, based on a biblical directive, could be as follows: Wisdom is the practical, ethical, and theological insight that allows us to understand life from God’s perspective and apply it to our own lives. In other words, to reverse engineer this idea, wisdom is what we get when we embrace God’s view of the world, leading to a biblical ethic (or way of living), that is practical in our daily lives in relationship to God and others. It is the filter between biblical knowledge and practical action. As such, an axiom might be good in helping us to remember the place of wisdom in our lives. The best decisions in life are always the wise decisions. It may sound simple, but how many times have we avoided the running car for the wall of chainsaws?
The book of Proverbs is a treasure trove when it comes to understanding the biblical idea of wisdom. It is divided into seven major sections including the introduction in chapters 1-9 followed by six collections of proverbs by Solomon and the other authors. So, what is a proverb? Proverbs are simply “short, pithy observations, admonitions, warnings, and prohibitions”.2 The Greek translation of the Hebrew word māšāl, meaning proverbs, is paroimiai, which is close in meaning to parabolē, or “parable”, and can also mean a riddle, figure, or warning. The book of
Proverbs, then, is a book of instruction. In fact, it is thought that the book of Proverbs was originally used for instruction of young men in the royal court, but eventually became applicable to all within Israel for wise living. As such, wisdom is not something we can attain without being taught. The theological assumption in Proverbs is that such wisdom only comes from God. As one author states, it is “God’s wise council for living”. On the practical level, this kind of wisdom is akin to what we today often call emotional intelligence. “Emotional Intelligence is similar to what used to be called social skills or even street smarts. Emotional intelligence is different from what we often mean when we say that a person is intelligent. The latter concerns a knowledge of facts (‘knowing that”), while wisdom entails living life skillfully (“knowing how”) …Emotionally intelligent people, like the wise in the book of Proverbs, know how to say the right thing at the right time. They do the right thing at the right time. They also express emotions that are appropriate for a situation at the right time. Timing is everything in wisdom”.3 On the ethical level, the Book of Proverbs seeks to do more than just help people become emotionally intelligent. The purpose of the book of Proverbs is not only to give advice for living, but to make a person good as well as successful. As the proverbs are applied to life, and wisdom grows, they help to form attitudes and behaviors that over time become habits that bring about the transformation of character.
There are two goals in the book of Proverbs. First, the proverbs help people to experience skillful living and discipline, which shapes the reader’s character. Second, the proverbs help people in understanding their insights which shape the reader’s thinking. Here are the words of Solomon,
“The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: For learning wisdom and discipline; for understanding insightful sayings; for receiving prudent instruction in righteousness, justice, and integrity; for teaching shrewdness to the inexperienced, knowledge and discretion to a young man—let a wise person listen and increase learning, and let a discerning person obtain guidance—for understanding a proverb or a parable, the words of the wise, and their riddles” (Prov. 1:1-6 CSB).
But no student can gain wisdom on their own. In Proverbs 1:7, Solomon introduces the theme or thesis statement for the whole book. He says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline”. In other words, only by following God’s instructions and will does one become wise. Solomon says that it is “the fear of the Lord” that is the jet fuel for finding wisdom. But that phrase can easily be misinterpreted. As commentator Lindsey Wilson says, “[The fear of the Lord] does not imply being terrified by, or living in dread of, God. Rather, it has a range of meanings that center on respecting God as God and treating him as he deserves. It is this underlying attitude of treating God as God that is the only true foundation for knowledge and living wisely as outlined in [Proverbs]”.4 The opposite is also true. To disregard God’s Word leads to one becoming foolish or rejecting the call of wisdom by embracing their own self-centered pursuits and that of folly. Solomon describes these people as “simple”, “scoffers”, and “fools” (Prov. 1:20-33). But those who embrace wisdom, embrace God, respect Him as God, and live out His commands as he directs our paths (Prov. 3:5-6).
Sounds a lot like Christian discipleship, doesn’t it? In the New Testament, James says, “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly—and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord, being double-minded and unstable in all his ways” (Jas. 1:5-8 CSB). We receive such instruction through God’s word and the Holy Spirit. In anticipation of his departure from the earth, Jesus encourages his disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-14 CSB). A disciple of Jesus, then, is one who walks in wisdom and in truth. They respect God as God, see the world as God sees it, submit to His word and will, and practically walk in the instruction and power of God’s Spirit every day.
So, are you pursuing wisdom or folly in your thinking and living? If you find yourself in the place of the fool, will you get out from behind the wall of chainsaws and get into the car? It is only then that you will move forward and avoid the consequences of a foolish life. It will also make for a life of better viewing.
This post originally appeared at: https://thebonhoefferproject.com/weeklycolumn/wisdom