How Do We Become Wise?

How Does Scripture Define Wisdom?

There is an entire section of biblical literature that we call “Wisdom Literature.” This genre includes much of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and Job. Proverbs states its purpose at the beginning:

To know wisdom and instruction,
    to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
    in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
    and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.

- Proverbs 1:2-6

Many of the admonitions throughout the letter are for the hearer - “My son,” – to “get wisdom.” It is a thing to be found and captured; to hold onto and obtain.

The best way to get at the "what" behind wisdom is to understand where the Scriptures say it finds its source. In Proverbs 9:10, Solomon (generally considered the compiler, and primary author of the book) says that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”  

It is in the “fear of the Lord,” that we begin to understand what it means to be wise. That phrase, "the fear of the Lord," is used to describe the kind of awe and reverence that we are to have for God as creatures relating to our Creator. It follows, then, that forgetting or ignoring God would be the beginning of sin and ignorance.

The Genesis of Faux Wisdom

No place demonstrates this more than the conversation between Eve and the Serpent in Genesis 3. After being deceived, and convinced that God is holding out on her, we read that “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate,” (Gen 3:6).

Notice the progression as Eve internalizes the deception: the tree was good for food, it was a delight to the eyes, and it was something to be desired to make her wise. There are so many ways to map this progression and internalized deception onto every sin and temptation in life! However, let's lay it overtop of our (often) unwise use of technology; digital/social media in particular.

A quick summary view will show us that technology fits in the "good for food" category. It is useful and in many ways, we have to have it to function in the modern world. To do otherwise would essentially be to imitate the Amish, and as appealing as that can be when we are drowning in e-mail, we know to completely disconnect would be unwise and untenable.

However, like the forbidden fruit, technology is not merely utilitarian; it is a "delight to the eyes" as well. There is a reason that so much time and energy is spent every year by tech companies on R&D leading to marketing of the same product, ONLY BETTER! There is a new model of your car and your iPhone - with even more dazzling features - each year like clockwork. Though that new computer with an even more vibrant display and even more impressive software specs are technically better - often the changes are marginal at best. Though the pace of change could be slower and still effective, we are wired to find delight in new and “better” things.

We Desire to Be Wise in Our Own Eyes

Neither technology's utility (it is good for food) nor its aesthetic appeal (a delight to the eyes) on its own (or even together) are wrong motivations for using and even embracing technology. I would argue that God has graciously given us both to meet our needs and fill our hearts with delight and wonder as we enjoy the beautiful aesthetics they provide.

However, just like Eve's desire for food and even food that looked good; utility and aesthetics are not the heart of the problem. The problem of sin and folly is found in the third phrase; that the fruit - or in our case technology - is to be desired to make one wise.

The desire for Wisdom is a good thing. Clearly, the Proverbs would agree and even direct us to desire wisdom. So what was the problem with Eve's desire for it and our own when we take technology into our hands?

The problem is found in the place where we locate the genesis of wisdom. Where is the beginning of our search for and acquisition of wisdom? That makes all the difference because getting that out of order leads to folly, but it doesn't lead to wisdom. It leads to being separated from God, but not “like” him in the way our sinful hearts desire to be. Like the people Paul addresses in Romans 1, "claiming to be wise," we "become fools," when we look internally to our own needs and desires for wisdom.

Endless Knowledge with Little Wisdom

Our devices, our media, and the countless bytes of data containing all the information in the world are sources of knowledge, but they are - on their own - a kind of faux wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and if we fail to recognize God’s omnipresence even in the digital spaces we inhabit, then we will never become truly wise. In fact, how often do we see in these digital spaces that we inhabit people who “claim to be wise,” ultimately “become fools.” Sin lurks behind every door that offers wisdom for itself absent of reliance on and reverence for God (the fear of the Lord).

The most absurd part of the entire proposition is that God offers wisdom to anyone who asks. The apostle James says as much, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him,” (James 1:5). Imagine if Eve had turned from the serpent’s lies toward God in fear and reverence and asked for the wisdom she desired? Imagine if you carried the fear of the Lord into every online engagement, every search, every email.

To find wisdom, we have to first fix our gaze on and desire what is truly good for food, a genuine delight to the eyes, and the fount of all wisdom that should be desired to make us wise. We need to see and know and trust Jesus the bread of life, the light of the world, the God who has lavished grace upon us, “in all wisdom and insight, making known the mystery of his will, according to his purpose,” (Ephesians 1:9).

Christian Wisdom in the Digital Age

This brings me to a shameless plug: if you are a part of Mercyview and find yourself desiring to walk in wisdom because you know the folly of aimlessly wandering through our digital age filled with technological land mines - sign up for our Spring Equip Group.

We are going to take five weeks to dive into this very topic, looking at the root of the problem in our, as Jonathan Haidt calls it, "uniquely stupid" moment in history. We will be walking through Brett McCracken's very helpful book, The Wisdom Pyramid, and how we can recapture the practices and disciplines of the Christian life that cultivate wisdom in an unwise age.

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