Saturday, September 23, 2006

True Wisdom

On Sunday, we are going to be reading James 3 in church as part of our lectionary text. In the reading, James makes the case that true wisdom is synonymous with being virtuous. Or, put another way, being virtuous can also make you wise.

I think one challenge many of us face as we go through high school, then college, and sometimes to graduate school and beyond, is that we think that a wise person is someone with educational degrees. The more degrees a person has, the more likely we are to trust their judgment. And, if they are a doctor of any kind, we tend to take their keen insights as facts, rather than as an educated recommendation.

Honestly, I am like that sometimes too. I trust my medical doctor to give me sound medical advice. When also I should be researching things myself to be an educated patient, sometimes I get lazy and let him make all the decisions for me. As any of our older congregants can tell us, to do can lead to big mistakes. Doctors, after all, are only human and able to make mistakes too.

When I was younger, I often found myself in awe with anyone who had a college or graduate degree. It wasn't until I too had a college degree that I discovered people who were just as silly and prone to error as anyone else. And, I found that true wisdom isn't learned in the classroom. It is learned somewhere else.

Some people think true wisdom is learned in the School of Hard Knocks. Living life 'in the real world', so to speak, educates a person into wisdom. However, I know several people who think they are wise but they are actually pessimists (or, 'realists' as they would say). The real world or graduating from the School of Hard Knocks can open our eyes to situations where we realize that we are responsible for our decisions. And, it can also help make us more responsible. And, it can help us appreciate where we've been and where we're going. But that in and of itself, doesn't make us wise. I mean, not everyone who has had a tough life is wise, right? Many folks who have had tough lives are sometimes prone to harmful coping mechanisms that comfort their frustrations. Many of them use the benefits of escapist opportunities such as getting drunk every night, over eating, or doing drugs to appease their egos. In other words, living a hard life in and of itself doesn't make a person wise in the way our lectionary texts explain divine wisdom.

According to James, the brother of Jesus, being virutous makes us wise. If we do good works, pursue peace, be gentle, or yield to others when the situation gets out of hand, we become wise. If we live life with integrity and let our yes's be yes's and our no's be no's, then we become wiser.

I think my biggest challenge has been learning that God's wisdom is very different than earthly wisdom. What the 'world' values in wisdom is different than what God values as wisdom. What God values as true wisdom is the ability to help others, make decisions that honor God and ourselves, while all the while keeping us out of trouble and minimizing life's stress that can weaken our spirits and cause us great emotional harm.

And you know what? While not everyone can pursue a college degree, and yet anyone can become wise. To me, that is the great equalizer in the human condition. Not only is salvation offered and able to be received by anyone but also, anyone can become wise. Learn to do good and let that doing manifest itself into our ontological existence, and in the process we'll become wise.

Now if only we could give degrees to those who have mastered wisdom, then we could make that the enviable pursuit of the uneducated or unwise.

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