Lots of things seem to be in short supply these days. Have you noticed? Disruptions in the global supply change are hitting the best-prepared companies. It began with toilet paper and disinfectants. And then it got much worse, as shelves were empty of tortillas. Now it is new cars, affordable housing, appliances, and even survival books. Go to Google and you will find a number of items that are becoming scarce. Curiously, I discovered that wisdom did not make the list, even though there does not seem to be much of this in stock. More than ever, in these disorienting times, people seem to be banging their shins and scraping their elbows.
Plantinga, in his book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, describes the wise as those who tear along the perforated line. They are intentional to conform to the design of the designer, giving attention to how life goes—its times and seasons, its patterns and dynamics, its laws, and its rhythms. But observing the times, we seem to be in a wisdom deficit, leaving lots of jagged lives. Recent news events have a number of us asking, “Where is the wisdom?”
What explains this? Perhaps we are seeing the fruit of self-help books that have told us that the wise invest in themselves, believe in themselves, and trust in themselves. Absorbed in this kind of counsel, many tend to end up like roosters taking credit for the rising of the morning sun.
In large part, it is the fact that we have ignored the wisdom that comes from God. Books like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes offer wisdom in abundance, though this kind comes with a stiff price (Prov 4:7). One must commit to a posture of listening, digging, seeking, and crying out (2:1-6). Divine wisdom will not be found by those with a casual interest. It does not come with age. True wisdom demands our best attention, for it is intended to shape our interpretation of every aspect of reality.
Tragically, it seems most would rather lean on their own shrewdness. What’s left is a society of decadence, what Daniel Burns calls a territory of darkness, a posthuman landscape that is “stuck, tired, distracted, repetitive, irritable, bored, boring, or just ‘comfortably numb.” Sounds like our age.
Could it be that the exhortation Jesus gave to his disciples in Matthew 10:15 is as timely as any to the church? He spoke, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Wisdom, he was telling them, is critical to their survival. In confusing and perilous times followers of Jesus will need to know how to outthink, outfox those who oppose.
Too often, however, Christians are seen today as naïve, simplistic, and gullible. Some have the “innocent as doves” part down but find “clever as snakes” inconsistent with a Christian witness. But it is dimwittedness that is killing our reputation.
What’s needed is a daily habit of peditation (walking and reflecting on a chapter in Proverbs). Do this and you will find a depth to wisdom that cannot be plumbed (Rom 11:33). I know. I have been practicing this discipline for the better part of 45 years, and I am just scratching the surface. God’s wisdom is beyond narration. In the hands of fools, it can do great damage (Prov 26:7-9). Waltke notes that juxtaposing one’s buffoonish behavior with divine proverbial quotes is” like firearms in the hand of a child.” In the hands of the godly, wisdom can change the world.
Wisdom is about discerning and acting on truth. Those who are shrewd live with God on his terms. Meditate on the myriad of proverbs, allegories, mini-narratives, and riddles found in the wisdom books, and one will reject illusions of grandeur. Divine wisdom has a way of bringing us down from our self-constructed perch. We get back in our lane and get in step with God’s all-embracing order. We learn for the first time how to talk, how to plan, how to spend, and how to use time. We begin to see that being in charge is Someone Else’s job. We discover the folly of going it alone, as well as the idiocy of bypassing wise counsel. We develop the skill of discernment.
Dig deep enough in this world of wisdom and one finds the fear of God. It’s actually the start point. Without a holy reverence, we can degrade proverbs to self-centered promises, tailoring them to our specifications without any room for trembling. The fear of God is the most important of all realities, the very soul of godliness, and the central, distinguishing mark of wisdom.
It’s past time that we develop a sapiential lifestyle. Let’s pray it for our leaders—as well as ourselves. God knows we have too many who are playing the fool. By divine insight, political leaders can see with greater precision the geopolitical landscape, corporate heads can grasp where they are going, and pastors can start making sense. No one leads well—lives well—without wisdom. Who wants to be guided by an empty suit and a witless wag?