Chaplain’s Corner: CXXIX
We all know that a lot of smart people do really dumb things. A fairly large slice of any day’s headlines turns out to be a recitation of missteps, miscalculations, and mistakes of people who probably should have known better. Why do educated, knowledgeable people routinely make decisions that shipwreck their lives and reputations?
The answer, according to the Old Testament Book of Proverbs, is that it’s quite possible to know a great deal about stuff, yet not know how to live. Standardized methods of identifying “smart people”-whether IQ tests, SAT’s or ending up on Jeopardy Tournament of Champions-are not to be confused with measurements of spiritual and emotional health. Insightful and informed people, in other words, are not necessarily good-hearted people.
As psychology professor Heather Butler points out in her October 17 article in Scientific American (“Why do Smart People do Foolish Things?”), “The inventory of negative life events captures different domains of life.” Or to put it another way, there are lots of different ways to look like a fool.
Straight A students can forget they have to write a term paper. People who are great at math and history can fail to get around to dieting and exercise. Know-it-alls can run up a huge debt on credit cards, decide to drive home after a few too many beers, or crash their marriages by cultivating a hidden life. Geniuses can be fascinating people. They can also be jerks. Knowing a lot about a lot does nothing to prevent someone from being rude, callous, unforgiving, envious, or bitter. And that’s a recipe for a disastrous life. So what’s the need of the hour?
It’s Wisdom. The Book of Proverbs has one central aim: “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7) The context of Proverbs 3:16 is an extended personification of Lady Wisdom. She is portrayed as the ultimate teacher, mentor, and friend. We read: “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.” (Proverbs 3:13-17)
What does it mean to be wise? Wisdom is knowing how to do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons with the right attitude. It’s essentially spiritual “street smarts.”
Notice in the text that wisdom, rightly pursued yields all the things that people say they value more than anything else: riches, honor peace, and a life worth living. Wisdom isn’t about getting a college degree or taking a few crash courses or experimenting with over the counter supplements to develop a better memory.
Instead, wisdom can actually be found. It has a permanent address in God’s Word. If we invest in reading, pondering, and reflecting on the pages of Scripture, we’ll discover that God has already passed along the insights we need to experience the lives we’ve always wanted.
The world says: Be Smart. Be Clever. Be Impressive.
God says: Be Wise.
Ron Naylor, Chaplain