THE WISDOM DEFICIT
There is no lottery about the gift of wisdom because God promises it to anyone who asks him for it in faith.
When you are taking on a new job where the consensus is that, though you are succeeding someone, you certainly won’t replace them, it’s a good idea not to be transfixed by the strengths of your predecessor. At the start of his reign, God appeared to Solomon in a dream, promising him whatever he asked for. Solomon famously chose the gift of wisdom. For him to choose wisdom was to define himself against his predecessor because King David made several spectacular blunders that would have had the News of the World editorial team drooling at the mouth. Solomon’s own parentage was proof of this, being a scandalous liaison between David and Bathsheba.
Many people assume wisdom is an age-related thing. It is true there are some older people you instinctively want to take advice from because their judgment is sound and you feel safer for having listened to them. Yet the acquisition of wisdom does not come automatically with age like grey hair and wrinkles because some people become confirmed in their unreflective prejudices when they age. As the saying goes: middle age is when a broad mind and a narrow waist swap adjectives.
Spiritual wisdom is a gift from God to those who ask him in faith - as the letter of James informs us – and we have to take the initiative in seeking it. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, freeing us from the unconscious anxieties that frequently distort our decision-making. At a primary level it is the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. Yet described in this way the gift seems almost banal, like being asked to choose between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. The reality is more complicated. History is littered with good people who have been hoodwinked by the incremental advance of evil – a process that can be as slow as the tide coming in and equally as powerful. Wisdom is in part the ability to unmask sin before it disarms you. C.S. Lewis has also described wisdom as the ability to distinguish what is trivial in life from what is important. If his point is true, then the state of our digital communication would indicate the crumbling of wisdom today.
The social thinker Malcolm Gladwell has called for greater awareness of intuition in decision-making; what he calls the ‘blink’ factor. Sometimes in an instant you can infer things it might take weeks to deduce logically. Good intuition is based on layer after layer of experience in interpreting life. Like a good law judge, wise people are able to look at a problem and draw on all their experience of similar issues, like a body of trustworthy case-law, which then enables them to sift the problem and solve it. If this is true of wisdom, then it would help to show why it is that wisdom multiples with age in the lives of some people. Wisdom may be gifted to inexperienced people, like Solomon, but with exercise it is grows like a muscle in the life of a believer.
Many people, if presented with the promise of one gift from God like Solomon, would choose winning the lottery, which symbolises our addiction to material gain. There is no lottery about the gift of wisdom though, because God promises to give it to anyone who asks him in faith. On this count, we have only ourselves to blame if there is so little of it around.
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