What is wisdom?

Shortly after the 2nd World War, roughly in the 60's, (that maelstrom of new ideas and changing values), there appeared a "rash" of rear car window stickers of various kinds. Some were scurrilous, some downright nasty, but all purported to be amusing. At that time, I spotted one that from a religious point of view took my fancy. Its message was: "Wise men sought Jesus - they still do!" The conjunction of the Magi of Epiphany and our often unavailing attempts to find the source of wisdom in this life struck me as being very intriguing.

As the years have passed, (now 85 for me), I have become more and more concerned that I personally, and perhaps many of my readers, recognise but a partial truth in the old saying that wisdom is that which comes of old age. This may often be true, but grey or white hairs are not necessarily the concomitant of wisdom in old age. It is true that experience of life and the world enlarge and sometimes increase our perception and even our understanding, but age is certainly not the measure of our wisdom. "There's no fool like an old fool", we say, and as an 'old fool' myself, I can assuredly vouch for the truth of it!

Even young people I know, who may well be described as being "very learned" in some branches of academic or practical learning, can yet be devoid of that blessed gift we term "Wisdom". I have often heard it said of someone, "He/she is mighty clever but they have no common sense or understanding of people, or even of themself." We do not need to see newspapers or other media to realise the truth of this, for I know I am not the only one who knows this.

Wisdom goes beyond the mere possession of knowledge, experience and understanding. It is the ability to apply those attributes soundly, in a critical and effective way.

There is a mystique about "Wisdom" which, to judge from the frequent references to it in Holy Scripture, fascinates and often perplexes. Some people say it comes with grey hair and old age but it seems to most of us that it comes, if at all, from a humble and contented attitude to life and is clearly associated with religious ideas and practices.

We all know of clever, well-educated people who have wonderful gifts and skills but appear to us to be lacking not only wisdom but even native wit and common sense. We refer to them kindly as "academics" and value their gifts and friendship.

In ancient Israel much was written about wisdom and folly in quite trenchant and forthright terms.

No doubt from earlier times, but certainly from the time of Solomon, the word "wisdom", or "wise" and its associated ideas appeared very frequently in Biblical writings. In the time of the early monarchy we read of Solomon humbly praying for divine help in facing the awful responsibility of ruling and leading Israel. The Chroniclers of his time credited him with humility and a determination to seek God's guidance and he becomes in their minds the very embodiment of the wise ruler, the wise judge. Wise sayings abound in the "Proverbs of Solomon" giving rise to the "Wisdom Literature" with wise and pithy statements that most of us find quite helpful and entertaining, but they are serious in intent and full of true wisdom.

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