WHAT IS WISDOM?
AND WHY ISN’T IT SEXY?
His eyes hurt.
His head throbbed.
through a one-inch slit in the drapes. He turned to look at the girl next to
him in the bed. He couldn’t believe it - he’d done it again. He’d been partying (one
more beer couldn’t hurt, could it?), ﬂirted with a cute girl, and
ended up not only messing around with her but completing the deed as well. They
did have sex, didn’t they? He could hardly remember. He slid off the bed and ﬂopped
onto the carpet, then waded through clothing and puddles of reeking alcohol.
The energy that had activated the frat house the night before was gone. Nobody
was moving but him. His roommate slept, arm thrown over some other nameless
female, drool soaking the pillow. How did I get into this situation? What
had gone so wrong in the last several months? He threw on his clothes and
bolted. This is the way she would want it, he told himself. How could
I stop it? She wanted it just as much as I did.
he arrived at his dorm, he took a shower to try to wash lingering smells from
his skin, but he was really trying to cleanse the inside. Yet he couldn’t feel
clean because he hadn’t taken the time to figure out what went so wrong. Unless
he searched deep inside himself for the answer, the cycle was likely to repeat
"I THINK I’LL MESS UP MY LIFE TODAY"
Very few of us wake up
with the goal of messing up our lives. In fact, one of the driving forces for
attending college is the desire to make the most of our lives. But poor
decisions - even the small ones - can ultimately devastate us and those around us.
As a minister, I have the privilege of walking with people through some of the
greatest joys and deepest pains of their lives. In just the past few days, I’ve
talked to an unmarried college girl who found out she’s pregnant. She isn’t
even sure who the father is. I’ve talked to another student whose parents’
unresolved bitterness has ﬁnally led them to divorce. The whole family
is deeply depressed and furious, leaving the student frustrated and wanting to
vent in some way but not sure the right way to vent.
of these people intended to be in those situations. They didn’t wake up one
morning and say, "I think I’ll completely ruin my life today by making a stupid
decision." No, they made foolish little decisions that led to others, and still
others, until one day they found their lives speeding in the wrong direction.
The result feels like a war zone, lives pockmarked by the bullet holes and
shattered by the explosions of destructive decisions.
No, not everyone is on
the brink of destruction. And even if you do make a string of bad decisions,
it’s not a guarantee that you’ll completely destroy your life. But the list of
college pressures and excitements can really stress a person out. You might be
worrying about which college major is best for you or wondering if you should
change roommates because yours is driving you crazy. Or maybe you’re hoping
you’ll find the right friends or even "the one." Situations like these make it
even more obvious that if you want to make the most of your college years,
you’ll need wisdom.
The good news is that
no matter where you are in life, wisdom is not far away.
already know that going to college opens the door to a new world of
possibilities. If you live in a dorm or your own apartment, the first couple of
weeks are like summer camp. Your parents aren’t around, and there are no
curfews. Nobody is looking over your shoulder, so you can do whatever you want.
You make new friends. There are parties almost every night. Students egg each
other on to do something a little crazier, a little wilder, sometimes a little
more dangerous. Things start out pretty tame, but before you know it, you may
find yourself in situations you hadn’t planned - situations that have the
potential to be really destructive.
of letting bad things happen, you can use wisdom to help you develop a pattern
of life that takes advantage of the new freedoms (you can still have fun) but
doesn’t hurt you, your college life, or anything else important to you. That’s
part of developing wisdom. Plus I’m going to share some wisdom I’ve gained on
my journey so far - why wisdom’s often overlooked, what it is exactly, what can
stop its progress in your life, and how to apply it to some specific college
situations. In doing so, my goal is to help you make the most of your college
experience. I want to help you have a great time while learning to avoid some
of life’s pitfalls.
FREEDOM AND THE PRODIGAL SON
Most people would
agree that it’s instructive to learn valuable lessons from punishment and
painful consequences for poor choices. But most would also agree that it would
be far better to not make those choices in the ﬁrst place. In the story
of the prodigal son, Jesus tells about a young man who decides to go off on his
own. He takes some of his dad’s cash and heads off. Never having had ﬁnancial
freedom before, he blows his money and does nothing to multiply the
opportunities presented by his upbringing and surroundings. And then what
happens? He ends up on his knees, eating pig food and begging his father to
take him back (see Luke 15:11-21).
only the prodigal son would have considered the consequences of what he was
about to do before he did it. See, wisdom is taking our knowledge of the way
God works and applying it to our world. No, we cannot know God’s mind
perfectly, but He has revealed His take on life in nature and in His Word. It
is one thing to know the best choice, but wisdom is the tool we’ll need to
actually act on it.
reaping the consequences of his rash actions, the prodigal son musters up the
courage to act, and the result is still favorable. He chose to learn from his
mistakes by swallowing his pride, and in doing so, he took a key step in the
right direction. He stepped toward wisdom, not away from it.
Wisdom may seem
elusive and difﬁcult to deﬁne, yet we can recognize and admire
wise people when we see them. But what exactly is wisdom? This is a
question I’ve been interested in for much of my life, and my deﬁnition
has evolved over time. In my search, I’ve seen that wisdom is "the human
capacity to understand life from God’s perspective." Now, that is a fairly
short deﬁnition, but it’s got great implications. I’ve tinkered with
this deﬁnition over time. I used to deﬁne it simply as "seeing
life from God’s perspective for the purpose of living well," but living for
Christ is not always easy, and I wasn’t certain "living well" was really the
ultimate accomplishment wisdom offered.
was also the issue of God’s great knowledge and understanding: Could I really
have God’s entire perspective? So I added that wisdom is the "human capacity"
to understand this point of view. I also realized that because we have God’s
Word, it is possible to have God’s perspective on life and still fail to live
by it. Having wisdom does not ensure that I will follow it.
SOLOMON’S REQUEST AS THE KEY FOR DEFINING
In the ﬁrst
book of Kings, God comes to Solomon offering him anything he desires. God is
not in the practice of acting like a genie and granting three wishes, but in
this instance, He gave Solomon an opportunity to ask Him for anything his heart
desired. Realizing that he was young and fairly inexperienced at life, Solomon
asked for wisdom. Why? Let’s look at the biblical account for insight.
"Now, O LORD my God, you have made
your servant king
in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and
do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here
among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous
to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart
to govern your people and to distinguish between right and
wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?"
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.
So God said to him, "Since you have asked for this and not
for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the
death of your enemies but for discernment in administering
justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a
wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been
anyone like you, nor will there ever be." (1 Kings 3:7-12)
was thrilled with Solomon’s choice. Rather than asking for money, fame, power,
or the perfect marriage partner, Solomon asked for a foundational skill for
living successfully - wisdom - and God delighted in granting it (see James 1:5).
that he was being called to govern the people of Israel, Solomon wanted God’s
insight and perspective so he could do his job successfully. Essentially
Solomon was asking for the ability to see life from God’s perspective. Of
course, we can’t fully comprehend all that is in the mind of the eternal,
omnipotent, all-knowing Creator of the universe, but God has given us
principles and truths to trust on this side of eternity. He has wired the world
to work in a certain way, and we’ll benefit tremendously if we understand His
ways sooner rather than later.
WISDOM IS MORE THAN GOOD CHOICES - IT’S
ALSO AN ATTITUDE
Good choices are a
beneﬁt to living wisely, but the ability to make good decisions is not
the end of wisdom. A wise person also has the right attitude in life and knows
how to respond to others in a mature way. They, like Solomon, see the fear of
the Lord as the beginning of wisdom (see Proverbs 9:10).
I like playing games,
but my wife says I’m a terrible winner. Once when we played Monopoly, I made a
series of good purchases and really totaled my wife in the game. During the game
and afterward, I just couldn’t help but gloat at my perfect execution during
the game. My wife was not amused. Yes, I had won, but continually rubbing her
nose in my victory was not the best response I could have had. My choices were
good, but my attitude was not. Wisdom is notjust about playing a perfect game,
but it is also "how" you play the game.
The book of Proverbs
was written by Solomon (the king of Israel and the wisest man on earth), and
it’s almost entirely about wisdom.
personifies wisdom and foolishness as two women, Lady Wisdom and Madame Folly,
calling out to people in the city. Both women invite people to come to them,
both make promises, and both give predictable results. Every day you’re in
college, your primary freedom is to accept one of these two invitations.
Proverbs, Lady Wisdom invites to her home those who will listen to her when she
says, "Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of
understanding" (Proverbs 9:6). The promise that those who respond to her "will
live" doesn’t just mean they’ll breathe, eat, and sleep. It means they’ll really
live. This promise reminds me of Jesus’ statement, "I have come that they
may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10) - that is, bursting with
meaning, richness, and mystery. So, what does this kind of life look like?
Previous chapters in Proverbs tell us that those who seek God’s wisdom will be
protected from the devastating consequences of foolishness and that they’ll
experience the positive results of physical health, peace, and strong, honest,
intimate relationships. That’s wisdom’s promise to you and to me.
Madame Folly is across the street, standing at the door of her house and
calling to those who are walking by. Her invitation sounds exactly like the
wise woman’s, yet she represents foolishness. Where Lady Wisdom wants to do
what is right to preserve a long and God-honoring life, Madame Folly wants to
do what is exciting, what feels best, and what gives her maximum temporal
pleasure. When she calls out, she’s just as welcoming as Lady Wisdom, but her
promise is much different. She entices people with sensual pleasure and the
tempting element of danger: "Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is
delicious!" (Proverbs 9:17).
Folly’s invitation is described further in chapter 7. With seductive language,
she tempts those who will listen. After she grabs a man and kisses him, she
tells him that he alone is the object of her affection: "I’ve been looking for
you - just for you" (see Proverbs 7:15). (Of course, she says this to anybody who
responds to her, not just this guy.) She tells him how she has prepared her
bed with the finest spices and promises that because her husband is far away
they won’t get caught. "Come," she purrs, "let’s drink deep of love till
morning; let’s enjoy ourselves with love!" (Proverbs 7:18).
instead of life, the result of responding to her temptation is death. Solomon
describes the results in both chapters. First: "All at once he followed her
like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose . . .
little knowing it will cost him his life" (Proverbs 7:22-23). Solomon then puts
a knife in the heart with this conclusion: "But little do they know that the
dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave" (Proverbs
is true that her words are filled with excitement and adventure. They make our
hearts pound; we feel alive. Yet this feeling is short-lived. In the end,
Madame Folly offers more than she can give. Instead of life to the fullest, we
are left with only a hangover from the fleeting burst of gratification.
keeps her door closed so those on the street can’t see what’s inside. That
description reminds me of adult video stores I drive by every day. Have you
ever seen one with windows? Not having windows hides the shame and
embarrassment that comes from participating in foolish activities. Also, these
porn shops instinctively conceal what’s inside from those on the streets
because it makes the shop more alluring. Inside they hide a lingering emotional
and spiritual death.
Oh, come on, you might be thinking. My decisions aren’t
life-or-death choices. True, your daily choices may or may not end or
continue your life as you know it, but they certainly determine the quality of
your life. Each foolish choice you make can eventually rob you of meaning,
hope, and joy and take you a step toward shame, discouragement, and
invitation will you choose today? You need to choose intentionally, because
whether you’re aware of it or not, you choose without thought all the time,
WHAT’S WRONG WITH WISDOM?
If wisdom is so terriﬁc,
why isn’t it the hottest topic around? There’s a simple answer to that
question: it’s because in our culture, the call of foolishness is depicted as
incredibly attractive, sensuous, a bit dangerous, and often without major
consequences. In our movies, unfaithfulness is often viewed as true romance, as
life lived to the fullest. Sure, there will be some consequences, but they are
worth it, for what we did made us feel liberated, intoxicated, and "drunk with
love." Take for instance four Academy Award-winners for "Best Picture" from
1996 to 1999. All of the ﬁlms" American Beauty, Shakespeare in Love,
Titanic, and The English Patient - involved relationships in which
cheating was a source of great enjoyment and passion.
The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell proposes the real reason people smoke. In
an effort to reduce smoking, large campaigns were started to inform people of
the risks and hazards of smoking cigarettes. His informal research revealed
that most people who smoked "overstated" the risks of smoking, believing it was
actually worse than science revealed. The information had not made a difference;
in fact, people thought the consequences of their actions would be much worse.
The reason most people smoked cigarettes, Gladwell’s research indicated, was
because of a fond memory they had of someone "cool" who smoked. More than any
other vice out there, I have always been intrigued with smoking. The reason? I
had a cool babysitter who would secretly smoke when she took care of me, and I
connected with her rebellion. Wisdom often works the same way. We "know" what
is best for us, but it’s not usually what’s most intriguing to us.
perception of wisdom is completely and tragically messed up. For some reason,
we think it’s not as marketable as sexual unfaithfulness or getting into
dangerous fights, as the movies would suggest. Many people have told me they
value the concept of wisdom and realize it offers some inherent
benefits to their lives and relationships, but they rarely accept wisdom’s
invitation. Why not? When Madame Folly says that "stolen water is sweet" and
"food eaten in secret is delicious," she is referring to the "buzz" that comes
from doing the wrong thing.
view of wisdom probably is that it’s not that sexy, but what is our concept of
a fulfilling, fun life? Solomon says we should look for wisdom "as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure" (Proverbs 2:4) because he knows
that’s where the real fulfillment comes from, regardless of its lack of surface
order to search for wisdom, we first must realize that all that glitters isn’t
gold and that wisdom is a treasure of tremendous value that doesn’t always
glitter. We must search, struggle, and sacrifice to see beyond the surface and
realize that wisdom is a treasure we simply must have, like diamonds in their
original state of carbon.
WISDOM AS A JOURNEY
Developing wisdom is a
journey, and none of us arrives at the destination on this side of eternity.
When I think of this journey, I think of two of my favorite epic movies, Star
Wars and The Lord of the Rings. I was young when Star Wars came
out. At that time, Darth Vader was just a villain, but as the movies continued
to develop, we realized that he is really the main character. After George
Lucas released episodes one through three (which were released a couple decades
after episodes four through six), we saw that Darth Vader began as the
young and innocent Anakin Skywalker. As he enters the adolescent stage of life,
he starts to experiment with a rebellious and reckless spirit, rejecting the
wisdom and counsel of others. As he goes into the adult phase of life, he
chooses the allure of the world’s wisdom and eventually goes astray.
The Lord of the Rings, Frodo undergoes quite a journey too, but with
different results. Growing up in the shire, Frodo lives a simple life in which
he is rarely tempted or challenged. As his time of maturity comes, he is given
a huge responsibility to bear - the ring of Sauron - requiring him to leave the
comfort and safety of home. When he steps away from the safe "bubble" of the
shire, he encounters ferocious battles and temptations that nearly consume him.
However, unlike Anakin, he chooses to align himself with the wise council of
those who are more concerned with truth than with selfish gain. Sure, he
encounters pitfalls along the way, but with the help of Gandalf (mentor), Sam
(friend), and others, he always manages to find his way back to the right
path. Your life may not always be as cinematic as the characters on the silver
screen, but each of us is on the beginning of a journey, a quest all our own.
Wisdom can make the difference.
THINK ABOUT IT
- As you look at the college experience, which aspects of it excite you? Which parts scare you? Explain.
- How different might the prodigal son’s life have been if he had stepped toward wisdom before demanding his inheritance from his father?
- Do you agree with the author’s deﬁnition of wisdom as "the human capacity to understand life from God’s perspective"? Why or why not?
- Read Proverbs 7 - 9. What do you think about having two invitations in college, one by Lady Wisdom and the other by Madame Folly? In what speciﬁc areas do these invitations surface in your life? Whose invitation do you usually take?
- What are some reasons the woman of foolishness is attractive to so many people? (What does she offer that people want?)
- Why do so many people think wisdom is not as attractive as foolishness?
- How do you think the metaphor of a journey ﬁts with the pursuit of wisdom?
- What are some things you hope to gain from reading this book?