By Steve Wickham
It's one of the greatest paradoxes. Those who strive hard to be happy often end up unhappy because they seek happiness for the wrong reasons or try too hard, and therefore make the wrong choices at least often enough for happiness to at last be elusive. Similarly, those who seek to become wise can so easily fall for the following trap:
"Do you see persons wise in their own eyes?
There is more hope for fools than for them."
-Proverbs 26:12 NRSV.
The direct opposite of wisdom is foolishness. As wisdom is heavenly, so foolishness is earthly -- i.e. 'worldly'. The moment a person thinks themselves as wise they give themselves over to be worse than a fool. It's almost a 'Go straight to jail, and don't collect your $200 card,' as is said in the game of Monopoly. Self-proclaiming the quality and traits and understanding of wisdom is quintessentially a worldly disposition.
Paul has much to say about the folly of human wisdom:
"Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" -1 Corinthians 1:20b.
"[N]o one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God... This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words." -1 Corinthians 2:11, 13.
Spiritual words have power because they are truth. Words without spiritual power are only words -- with no meaning and only transient truth. Real wisdom is godly. Human wisdom is foolishness and baseless. Wisdom has power about it, but when it's twisted to conform to human standards it often brings the user completely undone as the power of the Spirit rapidly evaporates and leaks away from it. Wisdom or spiritual power can't be contained like that... it's like grasping oil with the hand; impossible. Having wisdom is entirely contingent on subjection to God. Wisdom otherwise is uncontainable, indescribable, inscrutable, and unfathomable.
Qoheleth, the Old Testament teacher and writer of Ecclesiastes -- as wise as he dedicated his life to be and so became -- attested to this mysterious and inextricable power of wisdom:
"All this I tested by wisdom and I said...
I am determined to be wise --
but this was beyond me.
Whatever wisdom may be it is far off and most profound --
who can discover it?" -Ecclesiastes 7:23-24 NIV.
The eighth Century prophet of God, Isaiah prophesied and wrote, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." -Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV. Wisdom is from God and we can only ever represent it; we never totally epitomise it. So far above us is wisdom.
The final word from Proverbs:
"Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
someone else, and not your own lips." -Proverbs 27:2.
It is very clear that one can never claim wisdom as one's own. Only others can do that i.e. call us wise. We must be very cautious about labelling people who behave foolishly as "fools," for we implicitly call ourselves wise by default. Those truly interested in growing toward wisdom will shun judgment of others based on perceptions of wisdom or foolishness.
The totality of wisdom is far above humankind. We can only ever partially represent it in our relations with ourselves, others, and God. Those who think themselves wise give themselves over, in the same moment, to folly and the worldly disposition of inherently flawed human wisdom.
Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
General Reference: Roland E. Murphy, Proverbs - Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 22 (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), p. 200-01.
Steve Wickham is a safety and health professional (BSc) and a qualified lay Christian minister (GradDipDiv). His key passion is work / life balance and re-creating value for living, and an exploration of the person within us.
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