I planned to write a piece today on the institution of marriage, but I’m attending a conference of sorts (I’m not exactly sure what this is) and the hours slipped through my over-caffeinated fingers. Instead I’ll offer an off-the-cuff reflection on the beauty and the precious rarity — especially in this age — of wisdom.
In the act of interviewing Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline and the current Sanctuary of the Soul, I was reminded how strange and counter-cultural a thing wisdom has become. Foster is the kind of guy who not only brings a well-marked Bible to an interview, but who opens it frequently and answers from scripture. He’s the kind of guy who takes a year-and-a-half “fast” from writing and public speaking because he believes God wants him to become comfortable again with anonymity and stillness. He’s the kind of guy who invites his son to give him a “trail name” (as is the custom when you hike the Appalachian Trail) and waited for ten years for his son to deliver on the promise. The name his son gave him? Wisdom-Chaser.
When I was a child, Solomon was among my favorite characters because he was said to be the wisest man in the world. Then someone pointed out James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” From that day forward, I prayed for wisdom almost everyday, and sometimes multiple times daily. In my childish way of thinking, God had promised a free giveaway. If you want freedom, just ask for it, and God will give it. So I asked as often as I could. If someone had told me that wisdom comes, in large measure, through the things our flesh flees, perhaps I would have asked less eagerly.
One of the best pieces of advice my father ever gave me was, as I was about to depart for my freshman year at Stanford University, I should seek people of wisdom and not merely intelligence. Intelligence is a capacity — or, more accurately, a collection of capacities. We call a person intelligent when she is able to process vast amounts of information, penetrate it with analysis, bring clarity from confusion, or attain new insights or fashion new syntheses of knowledge. Like most capacities, intelligence is value-neutral. If you have the capacity of drive cars well, you can use that capacity to be a cop or a robber. Intelligence, likewise, can be employed to manufacture biological weapons or it can be employed to develop cures, to create internet viruses or to fight against them.
As predicted, I found many at Stanford who possessed extraordinary intelligence, but quickly came to see that intelligent people were a dime a dozen. I was surrounded by intelligent people, some of them breathtakingly intelligent, and yet they did and believed some of the most foolish things imaginable. Wisdom is far rarer than intelligence, and far more valuable as well. Wisdom is directional, or value-positive. You can be immaculately intelligent and utterly deceived in your beliefs. But wisdom implies that your beliefs, to the extent you are wise, reflect the truth. Wisdom implies that you have gained some insight into the true, the good and the beautiful, that you have listened to Life and learned some of what it teaches.
Why do we speak so little of wisdom today? Kierkegaard wrote that Christ shows us the Truth in the form of Life. Christ shows us what it means to live with wisdom. The American church, and the evangelical church in particular, by and large does an excellent job explaining why a person might receive the gospel and what he might do to begin growing in Christ. Yet it does very little, appallingly little (I think), to help mature Christians grow into men and women of wisdom. The world is longing for it.
Heck, I am longing for it. I’m very fortunate to have found a church where there are men of wisdom who can provide me with guidance. Even so, I found it so very refreshing to sit with another human being for an hour, to look him in the eye, to speak of meaningful things, and share in the bounty of wisdom that God has given him through his life.
So, look for men and women of wisdom. They’re hard to find, because they make no effort to draw attention to themselves. They’re not concerned that everyone learn what wise people they are. But if you look for people of everyday faithfulness, people who have gone through the ups and downs and emerged with peace and clarity, people whose hearts and minds are thoroughly transformed by the gospel, you will find them. They’re out there.