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What is Wisdom?

In our culture, wisdom can tend to be thought of as extreme knowledge. A “wise person” is often depicted as an old man or woman with grey hair that sits on the top of a mountain and contains all the knowledge and understanding of the universe. That is not at all the Old Testament understanding of the term wisdom.

In order to grasp the Old Testament meaning of “wisdom” we must first discuss a major difference between the Hebrew worldview and the Greek worldview.  The Greeks believed in something called dualism.  They understood that there was a fundamental separation between what is physical and what is spiritual.  Within this separation there was also a distinction in value; the spiritual was good, the physical was bad.  For the Greek thinker, wisdom, and the path to enlightenment, was a completely mental endeavor.  If a person wanted to attain spiritual perfection, one needed only to study and discipline the mind to be able to grasp the complexities of the universe.  For the Hebrew mind — the mind originally formed through the instruction of Yahweh — the perspective was much different. The Hebrew mind was monistic.  In other words, the Hebrew mind did not separate the physical from the spiritual.  It was all spiritual.  How you washed your hands, went to the bathroom, ate your food, prayed to God, studied the scripture, planted your field, and loved your spouse; these were all equally spiritual activities.

The reason we struggle with this definition is because, as Americans, we are descendents of the Greek mind. “Western Civilization” has been the recipient of and the propagator of a dualistic worldview for thousands of years.  Unfortunately, much of the Greek dualism snuck its way into the early church and really confused a great deal of doctrine, leading people to believe that the kingdom of God was purely spiritual and that the physical world and physical activities were “evil.”  Holiness was perceived as a purely mental game.  We would do well to reevaluate that concept and get back in touch with the Hebrew perspective of unity and integration between the mind, the body, and the spirit.

This brings us to the real meaning of wisdom.  Wisdom is not superior knowledge.  In other places in the Old Testament, the exact word for wisdom is used to describe the skill that the craftsmen possessed who built the furniture in the tabernacle.  Wisdom is not abstract knowledge, it is knowledge put into action.

Wisdom is the knowledge of God put into action in the everyday activities of life.  A good working definition of Biblical wisdom would be:

the skill of living everyday life

according to the will of God.

We must be careful not to place people with extreme intellect or a large knowledge base on a pedestal.  Just because a person knows a lot about the Bible it does not mean that he or she is wise.  They may talk the talk, but if you want to know if a person is wise you must observe, over time, whether they walk the walk.

Hopefully you can see how this concept has impacted the basic philosophy of VibbleSpace. One of the key verses is Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” The heart, in the Hebrew mind, was the unity of the intellect, the spirit, and the physical body in contact with the physical world.  The Hebrews understood the foolishness of believing that you could think something to be true and call it “belief” without it impacting your daily activities.  You don’t truly “believe” something until it has transformed your behavior.  For example, if you smoke, you can say you believe that smoking is wrong and can kill you, but if you really “believed” it, in the biblical sense, you would stop.  Up to that point you simply aspire to the notion and think it is a worthwhile proposition.

A wise person doesn’t just fill up his or her head with knowledge without having the knowledge transform their spiritual contact with God and their physical interaction in the world.  In fact, a person who did that would be considered a fool in the Hebrew perspective.  Perhaps that is what the Apostle Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 when he said that God’s wisdom is foolishness to the wisdom of the world, but that God has made man’s wisdom foolishness. As followers of Jesus, we want to continually move toward the integration of our mind, spirit, and body into the full love of God.  We want to fill our minds with the knowledge of who God is and what He expects from us; we want to know God experientially through unity with our spirit, and we want the behaviors of our body — our play, love, community, work, finances, resources, dress, eating habits, relationships, etc. — to all be the overflow of our knowledge of God.  If this is true of us, then we will be wise. If we simply pay lip service to it, then we are fools.


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