I was talking with a young man a few days ago, on the cusp of his adulthood. He comes from an intelligent family and he’s in the process of making some major decisions about his life. I’d never had any meaningful talks with him before this and we didn’t have a real long time for the discussion. But in the minutes I did have with him, I felt led to talk with him about the importance of wisdom.
Pardon my French here but life is a bitch, or at least at times it can be. And strangely, what you learn in university, no matter which one it is, doesn’t really prepare you for “the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23), as Solomon called them. University for me was about knowledge and knowledge is far less valuable than wisdom. One of the more amazing things in this life we have is how important (but sometimes elusive) wisdom is and how relatively minor knowledge is.
But in the modern world, it seems to be the opposite. Intelligence and intellect are worshipped, exalted and sought after at all cost. But wisdom is virtually one of those things that’s almost been tossed in the waste basket, rather like truth. They say that truth is all relative, there really is no truth. And wisdom too is really doubtful, hardly talked about in polite company.
But here was this young man sitting in front of me and I felt like saying to him what Solomon must have said to his son 3000 years ago.
“Wisdom is the principle thing. Therefore get wisdom. And with all your getting, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7)
Was there a Wisdom 101 class at your university? I didn’t think so. It’s a stone miracle of God that I didn’t die, go to prison, or end up in an insane asylum while I was going to university. I was so utterly unwise, so utterly walking in ignorance. To quote Solomon again, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10) and I had no fear of or knowledge of the Lord at that time. And fewer and fewer young people do nowadays since knowledge and “education” are the gods of these times. But wisdom is left by the wayside, discarded as another thing which modern people have found that doesn’t really exist.
So I was telling my young friend about the importance of wisdom. It often presents itself when we find that we have made a mistake, sometimes a bad one. At least people say, “We learn from our mistakes”, that can be wisdom. And it’s wisdom that makes for a successful, fruitful and satisfying life.
What made Nelson Mandela great? Knowledge? I don’t think so. I don’t know the exact quote but he said something like that he knew, when he left prison after 26 years, that if he’d not forgiven and gotten over what people had done to him, in a very real sense he’d still be in prison.
Where did he learn that? University? Nope. These are the kinds of things that the great spiritual leaders through history have taught. But, on the other hand, history is chocked full of “intelligent”, “brilliant” people (and even nations) who failed utterly because they were so sure of their intelligence but were so completely lacking in wisdom.
And of course I’m speaking of Godly wisdom here. Jesus Himself spoke of the other kind of wisdom when He said, “The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light” (Luke 16:8). Or as James, the Lord’s brother said, “This wisdom doesn’t descend from above but is earthly, sensual, devilish” (James 3:15).
Machiavelli’s “The Prince” or the writings of the Marquis de Sade are full of that kind of “wisdom”, kind of like Gordon Gecko in the movie “Wall Street”, or like the Serpent in the Garden, which was “more ‘subtle’ than any beast of the field” (Genesis 3:1). Worldly, satanic wisdom.
But “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to change, full of mercy and good actions, without partiality or hypocrisy.” (James 3:17) That’s the wisdom that Nelson Mandela came to have in his later life and the kind of wisdom that’s been reverenced and respected for many centuries, even if it’s in decline, disfavor and disrepute in our times.
As I talked with this young man, I was trying to present to him what I’ve found in my life, that “Wisdom is the principle thing”. (Proverbs 4:7) I told him he was like a sailor, just about to leave the harbor of his family and to launch out into the vast, stormy oceans of adult life. My experience has been that education and knowledge are certainly needful. But everybody says that. What you don’t hear anymore is the critical need for wisdom, something that seems harder to find every day. Hopefully he’ll remember what I said.