In Search of Wisdom

Jun 16, 2019

The Holy Trinity
Text: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
By Pastor Jean M. Hansen

I’ve always liked the passage from Proverbs 8 that we read this morning; perhaps because wisdom is depicted as a woman who stands on the heights, along the highways, at the crossroads and city gates, shouting to be heard. Actually, though, I commend not only the verses we read, but the entire chapter to you. For example, the very next verse proclaims, “…learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it.” That’s good advice, don’t you think?

In an article that Bible commentator John Holbert wrote in 2016 he reflects that Lady Wisdom needs to be heard. In fact, he writes that he can hardly remember a time when the insights of Lady Wisdom are more needed than in this age of technology. I’ll quote him: “Whenever a controversy of any sort arises – the environment, political statements from every side, child rearing, economic policy – the Facebook and Twitter universes light up with full-throated fury. Hundreds of comments ensue, many building on the foolishness of previous ‘authors’ until any hope of enlightenment is drowned.” (1) WOW! That’s strong language (and I left out his “vomited from a very dark chasm of some verbal hell” comment). So, he writes, Lady Wisdom would be very welcome to make an appearance in 2016.

Well, it’s three years later, and the need for wisdom is as great as ever. But, what does wisdom has to offer us, at least according to the assigned verses from Proverbs 8? The poetic description offered there outlines Wisdom’s central role in the creation. In fact, she is the first born in God’s creation, the very first of God’s creative actions. Wisdom is brought forth by God before all things. Not only is Wisdom said to be present when the mountains were shaped and the heavens established, but Wisdom also actively participates in God’s creative acts. So it is that Wisdom is God’s priority. Wisdom brings order to chaos, working alongside God.

But, how might we define wisdom? Another commentator, Doug Bratt, writes that Biblical wisdom is a way of living, talking and thinking that honors God and blesses people. Genuinely wise people both understand and do what God created people to do. (2) That’s an OK definition, but it seems to me that Proverbs 8 points to a bigger picture.

How about this, from the verses we didn’t read: Wisdom is concerned with prudence, intelligence, truth, instruction, discretion and insight (vs. 5-14). Wisdom is the ability to discern the proper exercise of knowledge. (vs. 15-16) Wisdom is the most valuable of all possessions (vs. 18-19). Wisdom walks in the way of righteousness and justice, guiding human affairs in the right direction (vs. 20). Wisdom is the creative power of God that is embedded in the world. And, finally, when human life is guided by Wisdom, it is God’s delight. (3)

What do you think, do we need more of that in our world? Saint Thomas Aquinas, an Italian Dominican friar in the 1200’s, influential as a philosopher and theologian, thought so. He wrote that the pursuit of wisdom is “more perfect, more noble, more useful, more full of joy than other human pursuits: by it, we approach the likeness of God.” (4)

Today I invite you to pause and think for a moment about wisdom in 2019. In whom have you seen wisdom? Where has it been obvious that wisdom is lacking? What do wise people say and do?

A few years ago, I read The Book of Joy, written by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It is an encyclopedia of wisdom, although that word is used only a few times in the book. These two elderly men are described as moral leaders who transcend their own traditions and speak always from a concern for humanity as a whole. So, I thought I’d share some of their reflections to demonstrate what wisdom sounds like. From the Dalai Lama, “When we focus on ourselves, we are destined to be unhappy. Contemplate that; as long as you are too focused on your self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad, you will experience suffering. Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want does not result in happiness. Foolish selfishness means you think only of yourself, don’t care about others, bully others, exploit others. In fact, taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have happy life. So, that is what I call wise selfishness.” And, that’s Wisdom speaking.

From Archbishop Tutu, hear this: “Forgiveness is the only way to heal ourselves and to be free from the past. Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound to the chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped. Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, that person will hold the keys to our happiness, that person will be our jailor. When we forgive, we take back control of our own fate and our feelings. We become our own liberator.” That’s wisdom speaking. (5)

When people display an intuitive posture of truthfulness, that’s wisdom. The ability to see things clearly, with a sense of perspective and proportion, is wisdom. To thoughtfully discern right from wrong is wisdom. Wisdom creates, builds-up, nurtures and transforms. Wisdom is displayed as humility and humor, acceptance and gratitude, compassion and generosity.   

I want such wisdom to be obvious in what I say and do! Wouldn’t it be great if Wisdom could be handed out, with extra amounts going to those who particularly need it? Give me a double dose! The reality is, though, that we do have access to wisdom; it is a gift of God for humanity.

Christian theologians view this gift as coming to us in two ways. Wisdom, some scholars say, is the Holy Spirit personified. Others equate Lady Wisdom of the Old Testament with the logos – the Word made flesh - of the New Testament … Jesus. So, either through Jesus teaching and leading us, or the Holy Spirit empowering us, it’s accurate to say that we have a seed of Wisdom which, if cultivated, with grow.

We come then to the obvious question, how does one become wise? It’s a matter of time, of intentionality, of openness. For we who gather here, wisdom is gained by acknowledging God’s power and presence in our lives. Wisdom is gained by walking in Jesus’ footsteps, remembering his radical love and imitating it. Wisdom is gained when we are led, guided and formed by a life lived in the Holy Spirit, committed to treasuring and sharing God’s grace. Wisdom flourishes when we are healed of the pain that limits us, and are transformed by it, and willing to be agents of healing. Then, wisdom will shape our thoughts, words and actions.  Wisdom calls to us, and God delights when we respond, because, just as was described in Proverbs 8, wisdom creates order in the chaos around us.   AMEN

1. “A Desperate Need for Wisdom: Reflections on Proverbs 8” by John C. Holbert, May 16, 2016, The Peripatetic Preacher,
2. “Commentary on Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31” by Juliana Claasens,
3. “Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31” by Doug Bratt, May 16, 2016, Center for Excellence in Preaching,
4. “Wisdom Transformed by Love” by Thomas S. Hibbs, 2009, Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University
5. The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams, Avery Press, 2016, pgs. 234 and