Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Wisdom and Knowledge


I've always known there was a distinction between wisdom and knowledge. There is, after all, a reason they're listed as two separate spiritual gifts. A reason they have two different words. And while I've long had a basic idea of that difference, I hadn't fully thought it through until this past weekend.

It started when a list I belong to invited everyone to take a look at this blog, which claims that the church is largely anti-intellectual. The part I found most interesting was more than America as a whole can be anti-intellectual. By which I mean, we put great stock in experts, in facts, in hard knowledge...but not so much, anymore, in those who pursue knowledge for its own sake. That we love experts put pooh-pooh scholars.

I consider myself a scholar--I love learning, and I don't love learning just a particular field for a particular purpose. I just love learning. I love the discovery process, I love the way knew information makes me pause and think and reflect and reexamine all I once thought I knew. But that certainly isn't the way most schools teach kids to think these days, and so it's not where society's focus has turned. We as a whole aren't interested anymore in the what ifs, we're only interested in the Cold, Hard Facts.

But that's what led me to this distinction--there's no such thing as Cold, Hard Facts. Facts can change as knowledge grows. (Hello, eggs. Are you good for me this year or not?? And Pluto, I do so miss counting you as a planet...) As definitions change. As new information comes to light.

Knowledge is supposed to change as it grows. That's the beauty of it. That because we can stand on the shoulders of those who came and discovered before, we can reach new heights. New understanding. We can challenge old "facts" and find new ones. In my sophomore year of college, we read a lot of Aristotle, and one of the translations of the Metaphysics that most stuck with me was by one of our tutors [professors], Joe Sachs. He translated a certain line as "All men by nature stretch themselves out toward knowing."

That really hits the truth of the human condition, and it really captures what Aristotle was trying to say. It's not that we all know. It's not that we all reach toward knowledge. But we do all, naturally, stretch ourselves toward the process of figuring things out. But when society starts pooh-poohing the process and instead only emphasizes the "facts"...

It ain't good, folks. Discovery grinds to a halt, and you end up with a generation of parrots, capable only of telling us what other people thought and unable to think for themselves.

So that's knowledge. But wisdom...wisdom is something altogether different. Wisdom does not change with time. You can't shed new light on moral Truths and have them change. Right is still right. Wrong is still wrong, even after millennia of changing facts.

Wisdom is what God most often supernaturally reveals to people. Oh, we see in Daniel where He gave him the gift of knowledge, and it's listed in the New Testament among the gifts too. I think that's really, incredibly awesome. But when we pray, it's rare that God plops a new fact into our laps. What He does give us, regularly, is understanding of the human condition. Of moral truths. Of spiritual precepts.

This is wisdom. And this is deserving of all sorts of capital letters. Truth. Justice. Right. Wrong. Ideals. Principles.

But there's a very real difference between biblical wisdom and worldly wisdom, which is addressed many times in the Bible. Worldly wisdom says, "Might equals right. If you suffer, you're being punished. If you prosper, you must be just and good." Godly wisdom says, "Even when my enemies have me hemmed in all about, even when my world crumbles around me, I'll trust in my Salvation. I will follow His will, even when the world calls me a fool."

Worldly wisdom says, "There is no Right and Wrong. There's right for me, right for you...live and let live." Godly wisdom says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life."

The Bible, beautifully, isn't a treatise. It's not filled with knowledge alone--if it was, it would expire. It would go out of date. It could be termed wrong. But it can't, and it isn't, because it deals with the unchanging and unchagable.

Oh, the world tries to change that too. They try to claim that wisdom is like knowledge--mutable and shifting. And when the world tries to do that...

It really ain't good folks.

But understanding the distinction is our first step toward preserving each in its rightful place. And hey, when we do that...we've all got a bit of the scholar going on. ;-)

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