Monday, February 13, 2017

Meditation on Wisdom

Discussions about wisdom are difficult because any productive debate must have the foundation of a few agreed upon basic definitions. And there is no consensus on the definition of wisdom; definitions are as varied as worldviews. Dictionaries usually offer multiple definitions involving scholarly learning, discernment, knowledge, good judgment, insight, common sense, and experience, to name just a few attributes—and many suggest wisdom is a combination of these qualities. For example, the Cambridge Dictionary defines wisdom as: “the ability to make good judgments based on what you have learned from your experience, or the knowledge and understanding that gives you this ability.”

In attempting a definition, Psychology Today notes “It can be difficult to define wisdom, but people generally recognize it when they encounter it.

Many sources offer much teaching on wisdom: psychology, philosophy, religions, academia, scholarly and sacred texts. But based on my understanding of Scripture, I believe wisdom isn’t something that can be learned: It’s always a gift from God, given in the portion he desires at the time he has designated, all for his purposes. This means anyone may receive a bit of wisdom, according to God’s good pleasure. So one doesn’t need to be old, wealthy, experienced, cosmopolitan, or educated to get wisdom. One doesn’t need to be a Christian or even a theist to receive wisdom from God. In the Bible, God provides wisdom to people of many worldviews, for his purposes. In my own life, I’ve observed that God has sent people of other faiths—even atheists—to speak words of wisdom to me.

Wisdom was created by God. He was able to make it because (among other things) he is omniscient and omnipotent. Therefore, he alone possesses all of wisdom and has the power to give understanding to his creatures.

If we want wisdom, we must ask God for it.

“Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding. Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures. Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord, and you will gain knowledge of God. For the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:2-8, emphasis mine)

My best attempt at a short definition of wisdom would be: “a God-given recognition of objective truth.” The following outlines how I came to this conclusion.

Biblical view of wisdom
“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.” (Proverbs 9:10)

This verse summarizes the path to wisdom: Each time we earnestly seek God, longing to know who he truly is, he shows us something about himself and gives us wisdom for living.

Fear is the reaction we have when we recognize God as creator, judge, and eternal ruler. We are in awe of his ability and his perfection. We tremble before him, knowing that he gives and takes life. We reverently acknowledge his authority over all of creation.

How does knowing God provide us with good judgment? Proverbs 8 provides some insights. The chapter personifies wisdom and offers much information about where it came from and what it is, including these concepts:

Wisdom was created by God—it is part of God’s creation.

[Wisdom personified is speaking]
“ ‘The
Lord formed me from the beginning, before he created anything else. I was appointed in ages past, at the very first, before the earth began.’ ” (Proverbs 8:22-23)

In  including wisdom as part of his creation, God made wisdom accessible to humans. It logically follows that: 1) God had to have all of wisdom in order to include it in his creative work, and 2) no human can ever possess all of wisdom because we aren’t omniscient beings.

Wisdom itself fears the Lord.

[Wisdom speaking]
“ ‘All who fear the
Lord will hate evil. Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance, corruption and perverse speech.’ ” (Proverbs 8:13)

Wisdom has a lot of characteristics.

 [Wisdom speaking]
“ ‘I, Wisdom, live together with good judgment.
 I know where to discover knowledge and discernment.’ ” (Proverbs 8:12)

“ ‘Common sense and success belong to me. Insight and strength are mine.’ ” (Proverbs 8:14)

While wisdom works together with good judgment, knowledge, discernment, common sense, success, insight and strength, it is more than any one of these things. 

Because humans can’t understand wisdom in its totality (as only God can), wisdom is difficult for us to define. And yet ...

Wisdom is straightforward: It is clearly expressed and easily understood.

[Wisdom speaking]
“ ‘My words are plain to anyone with understanding,
clear to those with knowledge.’ ” (Proverbs 8:9)

When God provides wisdom, the recipient understands it and is able to communicate it with ease to others.

This is one test for whether wisdom is real (God-given) or feigned. If someone is using a lot of jargon, or trying to sound smart or “deep,” my warning bells go off.

Wisdom is available to everyone—not just elites.

[Wisdom speaking]
“ ‘I love all who love me.
Those who search will surely find me.’ ” (Proverbs 8:17)

To seek God is to find wisdom. The Bible presents stories of people from many walks of life who sought God. Some were poor, some rich. They were Jews and Gentiles, slaves, educated and uneducated, old and young, men and women.

Jesus expands on this idea that “everyone who seeks, finds” in his Sermon on the Mount:

[Jesus speaking]
“ ‘Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.’ ” (Matthew 7:7-11)

Wisdom is always right, pure and true.

[Wisdom speaking]
“ ‘Everything I say is right,
for I speak the truth and detest every kind of deception. My advice is wholesome. There is nothing devious or crooked in it.’ ” (Proverbs 8:6b-8)

This concept is extremely important in a day of “alternative facts” and “subjective truth.” There are many ideas that masquerade as truth. Some believe there’s no such thing as objective truth. And others believe morality is defined by current culture or by the popular majority or by the individual.

The Bible shows that God is eternal—he has always existed and always will exist—and he is unchanging (e.g. James 1:17). Thus, if one rejects the concept of objective truth, it is difficult to believe in God—and without God, there is no foundation for lasting God-given wisdom to be built on.

Romans 1:21-22 addresses this consequence of not acknowledging the one true God: “Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.”

We can’t make up our own ideas about God and expect to receive real wisdom. And in the same way that knowing him provides us with good judgment (Proverbs 9:10), false ideas about him cause confusion—and worse.

“Those who follow the right path fear the Lord; those who take the wrong path despise him.” (Proverbs 14:2)

“There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

Does this mean that those who’ve rejected God will never have a twinkle of wisdom? No—God, with his perfect nature, gives gifts (e.g. life, health, strength, enjoyment, and pieces of wisdom) even to those who are actively rejecting him: For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45b). Why?

Why does God give wisdom?
God created wisdom for the same reason he made everything that exists: The Lord has made everything for his own purposes” (Proverbs 16:4a). Wisdom serves the purpose of driving us—or others—to God.

As Psychology Today pointed out in its attempt to define wisdom, people recognize it when they see it—and that’s because there is a wow quality to wisdom. Even when words of wisdom are simple on the surface, the hearer senses a depth and profoundness that is both unexpected and refreshing.

Often, even the person who offers up the wisdom is amazed. When God gives us the gift of a wise word or realization, the awe of this should lead us to consider how much wisdom we lack. Unfortunately, we might quickly shake off this feeling of lack because there are so many other thoughts competing for our attention. Or, we might pridefully pat ourselves on the back, thinking that our own actions or competence have somehow provided this wisdom. We might even minimize the wisdom, thinking, “Well, that was just obvious.”

Hopefully, there are moments when we take the time to wonder: Where did this wisdom come from? Is there a source of wisdom outside of me? How can I find it?

In this way, when God gives someone a piece of wisdom as a gift, it is an invitation to them to seek him—the true source of wisdom.

More ideas about biblical wisdom and passages for meditation:

1) Don’t seek wisdom merely for the benefits it gives. Seek to know God: He created wisdom, he possesses all of it, and he is the only one who can give portions of wisdom to us.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

2) Keep pride in check by recognizing that my bits of wisdom are always gifts from God. Pride is both misplaced and counterproductive.

“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (James 1:17)

“Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)

“Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor.” (Proverbs 15:33)

“We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer.” (Proverbs 16:1)

3) Recognize that all human wisdom is collectively miniscule.

“By wisdom the Lord founded the earth; by understanding he created the heavens. By his knowledge the deep fountains of the earth burst forth, and the dew settles beneath the night sky.” (Proverbs 3:19-20)

For all of our advancement and technologies, humanity hasn’t been able to create a material universe out of nothing. In fact, we rely on all of God’s materials to make everything we have—humans haven’t brought a single thing into existence. Every cure, every tool, every recipe and composition—every good thing we have was a gift from God.

4) Test to see whether wisdom is from God by considering my motives and observing the outcome.

“If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:13-18)

5) Ask God for wisdom with confidence in his ability to provide it.

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.” (James 1:5-8)

When we need wisdom, we should seek it from God first. James is warning us about the pointlessness of using prayer as a back-up plan.

6) Have gratitude for the many benefits of God-given wisdom.

“For the Lord grants wisdom!
    From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest.
    He is a shield to those who walk with integrity.
He guards the paths of the just
    and protects those who are faithful to him.
Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair,
    and you will find the right way to go.
For wisdom will enter your heart,
    and knowledge will fill you with joy.
Wise choices will watch over you.
    Understanding will keep you safe.” (Proverbs 2:6-11)

These are just a few of the benefits and blessings mentioned in the book of Proverbs that result from God’s gift of wisdom. When we experience these gifts from God, we develop a better understanding of his love for us.

Following the trail ...

I'm not a Bible scholar. Or a preacher or teacher.

I'm just someone who likes to read the Bible and think about it.

I used to write for some major Christian publications. I wrote a lot about Christian living and Christian testimonies. For about a year, I had a popular blog on "hot topics" that concerned the church: same-sex marriage, abortion, Halloween church carnivals. (You wouldn't believe how controversial that last one is.) And I got really burnt out, because I was spending much time thinking about the church's response to current events, and little time thinking about the Bible.

Then I got the opportunity to write some children's church curriculum. It was so refreshing! Suddenly, I was thinking about the Bible again.

Geographical moves, life changes, and health issues took me away from full-time writing, but I can't seem to shake this longing to write about the Bible.

There won't be any particular format for this blog: It won't be an orderly series or a curriculum. Knowing me, some posts will be super long essays, and others will be a quick sentence or two. My thoughts might be kinda cool, or might be pretty cuckoo ... the only certainty is, this blog will be driven by Bible verses and passages, cut and pasted directly from the New Living Translation on So that part is guaranteed to be GOLD.

Isaiah 55:8-11
8 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

10 “The rain and snow come down from the heavens
    and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
    producing seed for the farmer
    and bread for the hungry.
11 It is the same with my word.
    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
    and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
As a professional Christian writer, my greatest hope was that God would use something I wrote to encourage folks to read the Bible more. Now, I'm going to start with the Bible, and let my thoughts follow its words. At the very least, this blog will get one person to read their Bible more (me!).

So here I go, following this trail of breadcrumbs ... because I know it leads home.