With Google and Wikipedia at our fingertips, knowledge and information have never been more accessible than they are today. I may have no understanding of quantum mechanics now, but give me twenty minutes online and I will return with the basic idea of what it is.
But for all of this information whirling past us at the speed of a scrolling thumb, we are none the wiser.
Wisdom, you see, is not knowledge. Though there is much relation between the two, it’s more by marriage than by blood. Knowledge means possessing information, and understanding is how we understand that information (of course). But what about wisdom? What exactly is wisdom?
That’s kind of a loaded question. Wisdom, after all, is notoriously difficult to put a set definition on. In the Bible, Solomon (Proverbs’ main author) was known for being one of the wisest men on the planet. He displayed that wisdom by almost sawing a baby in half. I promise, it’s not as bad as it sounds. You just have to read it in context. Elsewhere, wisdom is used to describe the skill of craftsmen. The men who intricately designed the Tabernacle and Temple were said to possess God-given wisdom for their task.
Much like a carpenter develops skill for working with wood and a painter for working with paint, so biblical wisdom is the skill of working through the complexities of life.
Do you need to win at Trivial Pursuit?
Give information a try.
Do you need to know how to lovingly tell a friend that their speech is becoming quite gossip-y?
Now that’s a job for wisdom.
Probably the most difficult aspect of wisdom is that it varies according to the circumstance. It is a skill, after all, and carpenters know better than to treat all types of wood the same. We, therefore, often find proverbs that appear to contradict one another within this book. But the proverbs themselves are not lifehacks. Proverbs points us to wisdom and describes its benefits, yet we still need wisdom to understand and apply them.
How then do we get wisdom if it is not enough to merely read Proverbs?
Wisdom’s beginning is the fear of the LORD (9:10). You cannot possess wisdom without fearing God. This is the primary message of Proverbs. Those who do not know God may behave wisely at times, but they cannot be wise. True wisdom comes from knowing that God is God and I am not God. It seems simple enough… until I catch myself in idolatry again. And again. And again.
Calvin said that our hearts are idol factories. We rarely ever truly revere God as God; instead, we continuously bow our hearts before lesser things, little G gods that will never satisfy. Our sin testifies that we do not actually fear God; therefore, our sin constantly proclaims our foolishness. Each time we sin, we temporarily live as if there is no God. We embody folly by sinning. We turn against the omnipotent and eternal Creator for instant gratification. There is no greater display of foolishness than sin.
Fortunately, once we realize that we are fools in need of wisdom, God promises to give it to us if we ask. James 1:5 says that “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” No strings attached, God promises to give wisdom to all who ask for it. We find the same idea in Proverbs 1:20-33 as wisdom personified cries out for whoever will listen to embrace her.
What a glorious truth! Wisdom will never be withheld from those who seek it. The key is understanding our need for wisdom. Asking God for wisdom is predicated upon the realization that we are fools. This act of humility is what keeps so many away from wisdom. By continuing to be wise in our own eyes, we cannot embrace God’s wisdom. Like the grace of Christ, wisdom is a free gift of God, but it requires submission to the LORD.
As we dive into Proverbs, will you forsake your own “wisdom” and embrace the wisdom of God?