What does it mean to be wise?
This season of Lent we are launching a new series on Wisdom: Some people give up things during the lenten season – this year let’s give up on our own foolishness and ask the Lord to give us His wisdom from above! In a world that seems to be in great need of wisdom, the first question we ask is, what does it mean to be wise? Proverbs, with its little companion James in the New Testament, offers powerful images for us, just like the rock formation dubbed “the seven pillars of Wisdom” in the Wadi Rum in Jordan, (the area where Lawrence of Arabia made his fame).
The clarion call of this new series at TCC is this: for those who have wisdom to get more of it and to those who don’t have it to get it (Proverbs 1:1-7).
Want to be wise? Start with purity.
James 3:17 summarizes wisdom from above, “as first of all pure.” Purity is not exactly a popular term in our day, although we do think of the idea when we go through special diets or go a stringent regimen toward more healthy lifestyles. Proverbs affirms that to fear God is “the beginning of wisdom” which is directly connected to the idea of purity (Psalm 19:9). Of course the problem with making purity the beginning of wisdom confronts us with our own lack of purity. Even a cursory look into the mirror of our own soul makes us realize we are sorely in need of a stringent spiritual detox program! In the Gospel, Jesus has become our wisdom and our sanctification (= purity 1 Cor. 1:30). By placing our trust in Him, he makes us clean. As David – not exactly the example of purity at the time (see 2 Samuel 11-12) said, “Create in me a clean heart O God!” (Ps 51:10)
Want to grow in wisdom? Be open to instruction through trials.
The Second Pillar of Wisdom, “instruction” asks another pointed question: “how do you handle change in your life?” Instruction in a wisdom sense has everything to do with ‘discipline,’ when life throws you a curve ball: tough interruptions, catastrophic and traumatic upheavals and at times, and of course dealing with the fruit of our own foolishness. God knows that another loss in times of grief is the loss of inner peace and that sense that God cares and loves us in the midst of the pain (Heb 12:5-6). How often we say, ‘If God really loved me, He would never have let this happen to me!’ Yet wisdom from above eventually embraces this sort of painful instruction because through time and process, we gradually come to see these horrible moments in our lives from God’s perspective (a sort of 6th stage of grief).
Wisdom can be applied even in horrible situations.
Reflecting upon his own 13 years of turmoil, Joseph (Genesis 37-50) chose not to be defined by the abuse and injustice heaped on him by his own family and his boss (including sexual harassment, see Gen. 39). In time, endowed with God’s wisdom, he was able to recognize how God used these horrible events: “you meant it for evil but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). A few years ago I wrote an essay on the life of Joseph and noted that every abuse and injustice in his life became an indispensable part of the fabric of his life. Joseph ends up saving not only his own family from death through starvation, but the whole of Egypt!
This is our Second Pillar of Wisdom: By accepting the very thing that took our peace away in the first place is precisely what will allow our peace to return in the end (Heb 12:11; James 3:17).