Friday, March 26, 2010

Wisdom is the Principal Thing

The Book of Proverbs in the Bible presents Wisdom as the first of all things (Prov.4:7). Wisdom existed before the worlds existed, for by it were the worlds created, it says. Therefore, King Solomon advices the youth to first seek for wisdom above all things, above rubies, pearls, and whatever categorized material blessings in those days. For, when wisdom comes it comes with these and more.

Interestingly, the word “philosophy” actually referred to the Greek quest or love for wisdom (phileo meaning “to love” and sophia meaning “wisdom”). Sadly, in the two millenia and half that rolled out after Socrates, skepticism, relativism, agnosticism, and nihilism scribbled their characters over the scroll of this discipline. Ironically, “philosophy”, in modern parlance, is far from being considered “a love for wisdom”. As G. K. Chesterton wrote:

“..the new rebel is a sceptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book (about the sex problem) in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite sceptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.” (Orthodoxy, 1908)

Therefore, one marvels if the modern general information system usually leaves a person more wiser. Certainly, it is agreed that neither Intelligence Quotient nor education, in the modernist sense, are badges of wisdom. One often hears remarks regarding some illiterate peasant or one’s own less-educated parent as having more wisdom to guide one’s life than all one’s education and experiences had produced in him/her.

So, we ask what wisdom is, after all. Certainly, we understand it. So, let’s try to just put it into words in order to have some talk on it. We understand a person to be wise not because of the many questions he raises nor because of the doubts he casts; we, usually, understand that person to be wise who is able to solve problems, one who has solutions to some problem. We also understand that person to be wise who knows what to act in which situation, one who has the discernment to make the right choice and take the right decision or route to action.

Now, a great many of our actions, though not appearing so on the surface, are made up of ethical choices. And, the choices one makes builds up one’s character as a wise or a fool; for, such choices determine the quality of one’s relationships with others. A wise man is readily taken to be a man of faith, and someone that is reliable as a rock, for he knows the truth and has the character to hold on to the right principles of action in this world. If one looks into the Holy Scriptures of any religion, one will certainly not find all the answers to the moral questions we face in our days. For instance, the Bible doesn’t specifically tell us whether smoking is right or wrong. Therefore, the laws that govern a nation continue to grow each passing day. But, wisdom as the principal thing is the key that opens the understanding to a discernment of what is right or wrong in a given situation. It calculates the moment, at hand, in perspective of God, fellowmen, and eternal repercussions. It also calculates the decision with regard to the knowledge of what is good, noble, and just. Therefore, a wise person’s company makes others wise; his countenance sharpens those who befriend him like iron sharpens iron.
Of course, as Confucius and several other people rightly noted, while the material universe is governed by the laws of nature, the psychological world of man is governed by laws of morality. Immanuel Kant once said that there were only two things that surprised him: the starry heavens above and the moral law within. Within the heart of every man and woman is written the moral law of God, and certainly a violation of this inner law not only mars and distorts one’s character, but also one’s perspective of reality. Reality is warped by transgression of the law of human behavior. Shame, guilt, pride, anguish, anxiety, vexation, distrust, mistrust, and whatever conditions disturb peace of mind are produced by a disturbed connection between the inner world and the outer world by the cord of moral understanding. It is like a boy who holds the cord to the kite that he flies in the sky. When the cord is broken, the soul is lost. The wise don’t fall prey to what the world dictates; they listen to the voice of wisdom that imparts discernment, inner rightness and justice, and mature insight. Certainly, then, faith is the mark of the wise; while the ignorant wallow in doubt, and the fool is marked by rebellion that destroys his own soul.

There is another thing to note about wisdom. It not only makes the right moral choice, it, in fact, goes ahead of this and inculcates an understanding of worth and purpose. Wisdom knows the worth of things and their purpose. It begins with an understanding of self-worth and purpose in this world. The skeptic and the unwise sees absurdity in the world. Wisdom sees meaning. I once read a quote by someone in Readers’ Digest that said “Any jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build it.” Foolishness invents mental chaos; wisdom builds the world. Therefore, wisdom is known as the principal thing. One must, also therefore, seek wisdom more than any other thing. In modern times, materialism has taken hold of many young minds and their lives oriented towards accumulation of dusty gold or gold dust, whatever. The Bible declares the love of money as the root of evil, a trap and snare that only afflicts and warps character rather than building it. This pursuit of gold is certainly not the purpose of man on earth. To Aristotle, the ultimate purpose of man was to be a rational being, because this was what distinguished man from the brute world. The Bible goes a bit further and declares man’s purpose to be the pursuit of God, who though not being away from anyone of us, is still unknown to the soul that is blinded by ignorance. Some have confused the pursuit of God with the pursuit of Godhood. Man cannot be the Maker. It is pride that would reject this principal gem of wisdom. Man’s pursuit of God alone constitutes the pursuit of meaning and purpose because the Maker alone knows what man has been created for. Our meaning of life is in the mind of God. The New Testament tells us that this meaning is communicated to us through the Incarnation of God in human flesh, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ who through His life, service, death, and resurrection declared to man what his ultimate reason is, his ultimate choice of purpose in life. It is not just heaven or salvation from judgment that the Cross of Christ provides for us. It is a life that discerns God’s will and pursues it because God’s will is good and wisdom is the law of the Good.

Somewhere one certainly sees where the difference lies between the perpetrators of crime against humanity and the lovers of humanity; to symbolize, between Adolph Hitler and Mother Teresa. Deep in the hearts of humanity is the answer: wisdom. To know the good and do it is wisdom; to transgress is folly.

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