Winds of change and winds of the spirit
4/2/11 at 05:42 AM 0 Comments

WISDOM WHAT IS IT?

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WISDOM: WHAT IS IT?

Wisdom is that practical knowledge of doing things with insight and sound judgment. Acquired knowledge is not quite the same, for whilst many skills and practices can be learned and passed on to others, wisdom is much more than just picking up or learning how to do things. Solomon, who is said to be the wisest king that ever lived, says, 'Wisdom calls out loud in the streets. She raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; in the gateways of the city she makes her speech.[1] These are all familiar places but they are not the places where we expect to find wisdom or knowledge. The streets and public places are where we find crowds and noise, people bustling in and out of side streets and shops, people going about their business and people buying and selling. But Solomon insists this intercourse and concourse of people is where wisdom is calling out to be recognised. In a crowded place we really do have to call out to be heard and so Solomon says wisdom cries out to be heard above the din of everyday affairs. He doesn't say that people actually hear the voice of wisdom or stop to take note of what is really going on in public places, or what people are saying and doing. He is rather drawing our attention to what is not heard and what is not seen, which is why wisdom has to call out and shout to get our attention.

What then is wisdom that it is so concerned with our foolish ways to shout out, as if by shouting out, it is trying to open our eyes and ears? Where can we consult it? Where can we find it? Solomon depicts wisdom as a voice in the midst of life, in all the places we are most familiar with, where, in fact, we can find it if we only look and discern what a thing is and what it isn't. Wisdom is the foundation of all knowledge: the knowledge of good and evil,[2] and to know the difference between the one and the other. If we will consult wisdom, the streets and public places do teach us by the light of reason what it means to be wise and avoid foolishness and sin. Wisdom does not hide itself from us. It isn't inscrutable or beyond our grasp. Just as light enables the eyes to see, so wisdom opens the mind and heart to distinguish the bad from the good, the truth from lies, the real from the unreal, the hidden from the appearance. Wisdom penetrates to the soul, the heart and the reasons we have for living. Wisdom is the Spirit of truth[3] that will never teach us falsely.

ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS

Ancient civilizations prized wisdom very highly. No one could advance in the offices of the state, or any high office whatsoever, if they were not wise. The wisdom of the wise was written down text by text, poem by poem, proverb by proverb, to test candidates for the judicial and political positions of a kingdom. In China and Korea, for instance, the disciples of Confucius in the 6th century AD, formed schools of learning to fit scholars for public life. Public examinations were held in the capital at different levels to discover who was scholarly and capable of understanding the wisdom of Confucius. This wisdom was the filial and political wisdom of a kingdom and the foundation of all knowledge, the knowledge of good and evil, truth and error, science and morals, meaning and purpose. The writings of the disciples of Confucius can be studied today in the Doctrine of the Mean and the book of Advanced Learning. In many respects, though not in all, they are similar to the Scriptures, for the difference between reason and revelation is that revelation illuminates reason in the book of faith, whereas reason is illuminated in the book of nature.

THE STREETS

Take a good look at the streets and public places. See in them what wisdom teaches. Wisdom cries out there against calumny and crime, against robbery and violence, prostitution, rape and cruelty. It cries out there against drunkeness, drug peddling and drug addiction; against wealth and poverty; against adultery, unchastity and infidelity. Wisdom sees public and private behaviour, ambition and the worship of money. Wisdom sees the broad way that leads to destruction and the narrow way that leads to life.[4]

Yet for all this true wisdom is difficult to find, for whilst it calls out loudly in the streets and public places, there is a deafness in peoples ears and hearts that defies wisdom. Hardness of heart is why wisdom can find little headway in the ways of mankind. This hardness is often written into our laws where wisdom ought to be. Jesus was frequently confronted by the legal knowledge of lawyers who had no wisdom. 'Why?' they asked, 'did Moses say a man may divorce his wife by merely writing out a letter of dismissal?' The reply Jesus gave to their question was this: 'Moses did that in recognition of your hard and evil hearts but it was not what God had originally intended.'[5] On another occasion Jesus was asked by his disciples 'Why do you speak to them in parables?'

'Because,' he said, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, 'they hear but don't understand; they look but don't see for their hearts are fat and heavy and their ears are dull and their eyes are asleep.'[6]

Despite what people think and do, what happens on our streets and in our public places, offices of government and offices of finance, how can educated men and women not see and know the truth about human nature? What is this blindness and this deafness? It is surely a reckless refusal to believe the truth of nature and God's Word.

For Solomon warns the young and the old, but the young especially, that 'if they call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if they look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then they will understand the fear of the Lord and the knowledge of God, for the Lord gives wisdom and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.'[7]

THE WORSHIP OF SCIENCE

These words do fall on deaf ears today because science has replaced wisdom in the politics and schools of nations, in the morals and religions of kingdoms and in the affairs of life. Science is knowledge but it is not wisdom. This is what deadens the ears and blinds the eyes of intelligent people: they are wise only in their own eyes, their own discoveries and their own knowledge. The Scriptures say, 'Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing for your flesh and refreshment for your body.[8]

This is absolutely true. The body, mind and spirit are inseparable in this life for what affects the one affects the other. It is not generally realised that health and healing are assured by good living, right thinking, emotional harmony and peace of mind. Just consider for a moment the power of emotions. When you blush it is because the blood capillaries in your face are enlarged by embarrassment; when you grieve over something and cry, the tears you shed are produced by the emotion of sorrow and sadness; when you get high blood pressure the emotion of fear and tension, stress and anger is often the cause. This is not an essay in psychosomatic disorders but there are innumerable ways that disease and mental disorders are the result of emotions affecting the autonomic nervous system and hence the rest of your body and mind.

If you worship science, money or ambition you are missing out on true wisdom which is the knowledge of God. From him alone comes the power to discern what a thing is and to know what it isn't. This is true wisdom for by knowing what is true you will also know what is false.

HEAVENLY WISDOM

Being wise does not mean being wise like God. There is a wisdom that is above the mind and intelligence of mankind for who can compare, however wise in earthly matters, human wisdom with Gods. God created the universe and human beings. He who planted the ear does he not hear; he who formed the eye shall he not see? He who teaches man knowledge shall he not know? The Lord is fully aware how limited and futile the thoughts of man are[9] Solomon realised this. He said, 'So I worked hard to be wise instead of foolish--but now I realize that even this was like chasing the wind. For the more my wisdom, the more my grief; to increase knowledge only increases distress.'[10] The wisdom and understanding of God is beyond our grasp. Of course it is; it must be.

Let us take one example: the preaching of the gospel. St. Paul says, 'The preaching of the cross is a stumbling block to the Jew and foolishness to the Gentiles.'[11] It was something the Jews fell over because they were not looking where they were going. That is the usual reason why we fall over things. In this case it was Jesus, the Rock,[12] who was in their way and they fell down because they did not see him. They saw only someone who questioned their words and their actions. They were wise in their own eyes and so they were not able to see the Wisdom of God. The problem with the Jews who were expecting and still are, a deliverer from heaven, was their blind faith in Jewish nationalism. Even though they were promised that Abraham would be a father of many nations,[13] and Isaiah, the prophet, had revealed that the coming of the Messiah would not be a political deliverer but a Light to lighten the Gentiles.[14] The Jews saw only their supremacy over the nations because they were God's chosen people. But they did not see why God had chosen them or what purpose they had to bring the gospel to the world.

THE GREEKS

The Greeks were serious philosophers. They were rational thinkers who wanted the truth about what a thing is and what it is not. That is why they were wise, not because they had gained much knowledge but because the knowledge they were seeking was the essence of all things in the universe as in mankind. They approached every subject and object from the point of view of reason: logical and empirical. St. Paul met Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens who wanted to know what strange things he was openly talking about.[15] These philosophers were but two of a number of famous contemporary philosophers. There were others who followed Plato, Aristotle or Socrates. In all aspects of knowledge, especially moral values, they were what we might call wise. Stoic philosophy, for instance, believed that only virtue and vice are good and bad. Virtue is always wholesome and the foundation of all health and happiness, whereas vice is always harmful to both health and happiness. It matters not how much wealth we possess or power; these are not the source of happiness if vice rules over our lives. No other rule of living can affect our lives. These are the fundamental truths. The Stoic philosophy of virtue and vice was very influential in the Mediterranean world at that time and for centuries to come. But these Greek philosophers had a confused idea of God, so much so that they worshipped an 'unknown God' thus acknowledging their incomplete knowledge of what they could not see or know. Paul came upon an altar to this unknown God and upon being invited to tell them about the gospel of Christ, said to them, 'I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, 'To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to You. [16] He preached the good news of Jesus to them and explained that the true God was not made with hands or imagined by anything visible but that in him we live and move and have our being.[17]There response was lukewarm although a few did keep company with him and others asked him to talk to them again.

The problem with Greek philosophy was, like today's philosophy, an extension of reason alone and being wise in ones own eyes. Solomon was a great philosopher because he saw beyond reason to something far greater, the source of all knowledge and truth: God. Solomon said, 'The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.'[18] It is foolish to think that God who created all things and made human beings in his own image should not care about his creation or uphold justice and love and make everyone ultimately accountable for his words and deeds. Without love there can be no justice and without justice there can be no love. Jesus said, 'The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.'[19]

God's wisdom is higher than man's. Natural reason cannot know God beyond the evidence of his eyes because all human knowledge is subjective. We cannot separate the eyes from looking no more than we can separate the ears from hearing. What is in God's mind is beyond sense. It can only be known and revealed by God himself. This is the secret that the Scriptures refer to, the secret knowledge of God.[20] St. Paul speaks about this to the church in Corinth, a church that had many questions and arguments about the Christian faith. He said, 'The man who isn't a Christian can't understand and can't accept these thoughts from God, which the Holy Spirit teaches us. They sound foolish to him because only those who have the Holy Spirit within them can understand what the Holy Spirit means. Others just can't take it in.

But the spiritual man has insight into everything, and that bothers and baffles the man of the world, who can't understand him at all.[21]

True wisdom comes from God. If we pray for wisdom in our everyday lives God will give it to us. St. James said, 'If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him; he will not resent it. But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to tell you, for a doubtful mind will be as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind;...'[22]

Jesus said to his disciples, 'I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father but by Me.'[23] Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God. He brought to earth a wisdom from heaven. He is not just another philosopher but the Son of God and was with God and was of God when all things began. Jesus also calls out for us to have faith in him, for through faith we receive his wisdom and love.

[1]Proverbs 1:20

[2]Genesis 2:9

[3]John 14:17

[4]Matthew 7:13 TLB

[5]Matthew 19:7-8; see also Mark 10 f NRSV

[6]Matthew 13:14-15

[7]Proverbs 2:3-6

[8]Proverbs 3:7 NRSV

[9]Psalm 94:9-11

[10]Ecclesiastes 1:17-18

[11]1 Corinthians 1:18

[12]Isaiah 8:14

[13]Genesis 17:4

[14]Isaiah 42:6

[15]Acts 17:18

[16]Acts 17:22-23

[17]Acts 17:25f

[18]Proverbs 9:10

[19]Matthew 12:42

[20]1 Corinthians 2:11

[21]1 Corinthians 2:14

[22]James 1:5

[23]John 14:6

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