How to become wise

Want to be wise? Wisdom requires some knowledge, but think of wisdom, in part, as knowing what to do about knowledge. The book of Proverbs often personifies wisdom as a female character, sent by God to accomplish God’s purposes. It often presents wisdom as advice from parents to children (Proverbs 2:1-5). Wisdom consists of both moral instruction on how to live a righteous life and practical advice that covers a wide variety of situations. No one is born with wisdom, and no one becomes wise without effort.

Seeking wisdom

Read the scripture, emphasizing the “if” written or implied before every verb. All these actions are necessary in order to obtain the promise.

  • if you accept
  • if you store
  • if you turn
  • if you apply
  • if you call
  • if you cry
  • if you look
  • if you search

If we want wisdom, we must accept it when we hear it, and not only that, count it as valuable. We must pay attention to it and actively seek to understand it. And that won’t come just by letting some wise person’s advice wash over our ear drums. We have to go looking for wisdom. We have to ask questions. We have to seek it like silver or hidden treasure.

Silver ore (Silver chlorargyrite)

Now, pure silver does not exist in nature. In order to obtain it, miners must first discover where the ore is. They can’t find it just anywhere, and there is no sense in looking for a vein of silver in places that are not suitable for finding it. Once they find a vein of silver, they have to dig it out of the rock formations. When they finish their work, they have nothing but a pile of rocks that have a little bit of silver in them and a lot of stuff they don’t want. So the next step is to refine those rocks, to extract the desirable silver and get rid of all the undesirable other stuff. Whoever wants to become wise needs to live through a similar process.

That long list of conditions explains why so many people learn wisdom imperfectly or not at all. If I do not have wisdom and someone tells me about wisdom, I will not become wise if I don’t pay attention, or if I reject the advice and go on in my unwise ways.

If someone tells me about wisdom and it seems really good, and I really want to be like that, but then go about my business and forget what I heard, I will not become wise. If I meet wise people and don’t let them know that I value their wisdom, chances are they will not talk to me about it, and I will not become wise. And if I form the closest possible relationship with a wise person and learn everything I can, I still have to realize that their wisdom is not pure. All have sinned, that is missed the mark, and fallen short of the glory of God.

Abraham was a wise man. He knew God more intimately than anyone else of his time. And he spent hours and hours making sure that Isaac knew God, too. But he had at least one foolish habit. Every time he went into a new community, he told everyone that Sarah was his sister, not his wife. It got him into trouble at least twice before Isaac was born. Apparently he got away with it often enough that he still thought it was clever. So Isaac learned that, too. He tried it on one of the same people that Abraham had tried it on. That man wasn’t amused, and Isaac decided it wasn’t a clever enough tactic to pass on to his sons.

Finding the fear of God

So if we are going to become wise, we not only need to understand the wisdom of the people we know, but also understand the limitations of their wisdom. To get our own wisdom, we have to refine it like silver. And what does the passage say we will get in return for our work? Not that we will be wise. We will understand the fear of God and find the knowledge of God.

Now, if we’re supposed to seek God and follow after God and love God and believe that God loves us, why, after working so hard to refine some nugget of wisdom, do we find the fear of God?

The answer has at least two parts. For one thing, we’re redeemed, but our sin is not. We are each a walking civil war, with a redeemed nature remade in the image of Christ and an unregenerate flesh that loves nothing better than sin. That part of us will always feel uncomfortable in the presence of God. That feeling, that kind of fear is part of what the word awe means. In love, our reborn spirit wants to draw near to God, even as our flesh wants to draw away; so awe is a sign of our love for God.

The behavior of children can help us understand the second aspect of the fear of God. Now, I never had any children, but I have observed some, and I used to be one. Children are constantly presented with opportunities to do things that they know their parents don’t want them to do. Suppose one child thinks of the punishment that will come when the parents find out and another child thinks of how sad and hurt the parents will be. The first might do a cost/benefit analysis and decide that the possible punishment is worth it. The second probably will not.

The first case involves fear of the parents’ anger. The second involves fear of their grief. The Bible makes it clear that fear of God’s wrath does not deter sin. Fear of his grief means that we love God enough to care what he thinks. That kind of fear is part of what we mean by respect. So working to become wise leads us to awe and respect for God, and these kinds of fear go hand in hand with loving him.

God drove Adam out of Eden so he would not find the tree of life and live forever in his sinful state. We can’t go back to Eden. We can’t on our own, recover the innocence of Eden, the close relationship with God that Adam once had there, or the chance to live forever. But God still wants all of that for us. We can’t get there on our own, but only by following the wisdom that God has sent to guide us there.

If we choose another path besides wisdom, we might very well get more money, more influence over people, more fame, more of all kinds of things. But we will miss out on life. And that’s not wise.

Photo credit: Rob Lavinsky, — CC-BY-SA 3.0

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