Wisdom seems to be in rather short supply these days. I think one reason I’ve found myself so drawn to my theology studies is that it offers a wider view of things. At a time when each of us seems wrapped snugly in our own little ideology, it helps to pull back for a God’s-eye view.
This past Sunday’s reading from the book of Wisdom served as a good reminder: Wisdom is a gift from God. And the author here uses romantic imagery to present Wisdom as the most beautiful and desirable of lovers.
In his introduction to The Light of Christ — the primary text we’re using in the introductory theology course — Father Thomas Joseph White ties these themes together.
… “knowing” translates the ancient Greek word episteme, which means being around or intimate with. It is this sense of the word that allowed early modern translators of the Bible to use “knowing” as a euphemism for sexual intercourse: “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived.” We seek to know beauty in this way, wishing to draw close to that which is beautiful, seeking to make beauty a part of our lives.
In the fallen, sinful state of the world this “knowledge” — whether physical or intellectual — can too often be a violation of that beauty it seeks intimacy with. I’m reminded of Gandalf’s admonishment to Saruman in The Fellowship of the Ring: “He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.” Knowledge for its own sake, knowledge as a trophy or symbol of status, might be at the heart of that first disobedience when Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge.
An internet meme I came across recently said that “Knowledge is the understanding that a bell pepper is a fruit. Wisdom is the understanding that it doesn’t go in a fruit salad.” Wisdom is the check and balance of knowledge. “For the first step toward wisdom is an earnest desire for discipline,” Scripture tells us. “For setting your heart on her is the perfection of prudence.”
At times I imagine Wisdom sounding like Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park, admonishing us that we’re so preoccupied with whether or not we can do a thing, we don’t stop to ask if we should.
And just think how much of the world as we know it would be improved just by asking that basic, simple question. Should I have sex with a teenager? Should I tweet pictures of my penis to the women I work with? Should we dump toxic waste in our water supply? Should we get involved in a land war in Asia? A little prudence and discipline might go a long way in considering these questions.