For the Want of Wisdom

July 1, 2010

Meditation, Philosophy

To understand reality is not the same as to know about outward events. It is to perceive the essential nature of things. The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential. But on the other hand, knowledge of an apparently trivial detail quite often makes it possible to see into the depth of things. And so the wise man will seek to acquire the best possible knowledge about events, but always without becoming dependent upon this knowledge. To recognize the significant in the factual is wisdom.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“To recognize the significant in the factual is wisdom.”  I’ve often heard it characterized that correct action based upon knowledge is wisdom.  I think Dietrich says it better.  Action may or may not imply a physical response.  Sometimes the best application of wisdom is inaction.  Truly, recognizing the significant is the tipping point to a correct response.

I also think there is another aspect of wisdom that isn’t mentioned here.  Not that Dietrich didn’t know this; perhaps it was implied within the context from which this quote was taken.  If we look at Ephesians chapter one, you’ll see what I’m getting at. 

 15 Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, 16 Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; 17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: 18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, 19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, 21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: 22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

First, all knowledge and wisdom is a gift from God.  Our ability to assimilate, measure, and render judgement is according to the Grace bestowed upon us by our sovereign Lord.  Second, and to put it as succinctly as possible, the ability to understand spiritual matters requires saving faith.  We can’t look into the spiritual realm without the drawing out and calling work of the Holy Spirit. 

All of mankind has a spiritual inclination, an emptiness, that he seeks to fill, largely, by his own reasoning.  But, “true truth,” that which is of the true and living God and points only to the saving, resurrection work of Christ, the inclination towards that knowledge can only come from God Himself.  Therefore, true wisdom, that which is encompasses the reality as God has determined has with it a Christian spiritual component.

We see that the progressive wisdom that Dietrich Bonhoeffer mentioned in the above quote, is the wisdom that has developed through the assessment of knowledge acquired.  That, clearly, applies to both worldly and spiritual forms of understanding.  True, Godly, real wisdom merges spiritual understanding of the nature and purposes of God with the personal and exploratory wisdom of the natural world.  They, being synthesized, are inseparable.

But all of this leads to an interesting dichotomy.  Wisdom is much more than correctly assessing knowledge.  Often we find the correct knowledge of a thing, and of this we discover the significant within the factual.  But the great mystery of the human condition is why we do something contrary to what we know is right.  We, both, do wrong when we know to do right, and, because of Christ, we sometimes do right when within us we desire to do wrong.

Paul was right to struggle with this in Romans chapter seven.  The Christian understands the great disconnect caused by the fall.  We are not free by our own strength to choose what is right, holy, righteous and good.  It is a work of God within us.  And, Paul was also right to pray for our understanding; first, for our saving Gospel faith, then for the understanding of the workings of God, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It was our sanctification that Paul had in sight.  And, it is our progressive molding into the image of Jesus Christ that enables our faith and wisdom to increase and join together.

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