Wisdom refers to the application of reason to experience. The greater and wider a person’s experience, the better is the field for gaining wisdom. The wise person or sage allows experience to stand on its own so as to incorporate that experience into wisdom. A theory that excludes experiences so as to maintain the theory tends to become folly that reduces the capability of the sage to think wisely. Sufficient exclusion of reality and experience from a person’s views and theories of life can demote the person into a fool. A number of Biblical books make the contrasts between the sage and the fool — Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job, as well as Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon, which remain in the Catholic and Orthodox canons of Scripture. Since Sirach and Wisdom carry the Biblical wisdom tradition into the 2nd and 1st centuries BC (respectively), the communities that no longer include them in their canon can still gain ancient Jewish insight and wisdom in a variety of areas, including some not treated in Proverbs, e.g., wisdom on God’s gift of physicians (Sirach 38:1-15).
Biblical wisdom is not merely “pure reason,” such as the Enlightenment philosophers have tried to impose on the West. Reason is a tool, similar to a ladder that takes a person step by step in a straight line from point A to point B. However, also like a ladder, the starting point of reason must be pointed to the correct goal: a ladder placed against a blank wall will lead the climber to a blank wall; a ladder placed under an open window will lead one to enter the house. Similarly, reason and logic that are based on ideas that center on the human self will lead its thinkers to the blank wall of human selfishness.
Based on such an understanding, the Bible frequently states that its starting premise for wisdom is “fear of the Lord.”
In contrast to fear of the Lord, Sirach describes the sinful fool:
23:18 A man who breaks his marriage vows says to himself, “Who sees me? Darkness surrounds me, and the walls hide me, and no one sees me. Why should I fear? The Most High will not take notice of my sins.” 19 His fear is confined to the eyes of men, and he does not realize that the eyes of the Lord are ten thousand times brighter than the sun; they look upon all the ways of men, and perceive even the hidden places.
Fear of the Lord is key for the sage, who knows that any of his or her theories and enterprises will all be judged by the infinite wisdom of God. Not merely one’s stated goals but even the underlying motives of any human idea or project will be subject to God’s wisdom. However, fear grows into deep love, as Solomon and Sirach attest in their wisdom. Jesus Christ, whom “whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30), will judge every human being and all of their enterprises. We therefore promote wise thinking in all of our political decisions.
The application of wisdom allows Christians to weigh various political proposals in terms of their overall goals, the cleverness and practicality of their means of attaining those goals, and the establishment of the norms by which Christians judge the success or failure of those goals and means.
For instance, Christians do well to assume the good intentions of politicians of both parties until they provably demonstrate corruption or evil intent. Politicians do want all children to be educated, the poor to become wealthy, the sick and infirm to receive care, and the nation to be defended both locally and internationally. The application of wisdom to their various programs goes beyond assuming their good will and considers the value of a program and makes regular judgments on its successful achievement of its goals. This approach binds the Christian first to the fear of the Lord that leads to wisdom rather than letting any party loyalty blind us to folly proposed or perpetrated by politicians. Wisdom grants a freedom to apply the considerations of God’s commandments, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, virtue and practical analysis of means and results over consideration of mere human loyalties.
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