Who Is Wise?

K. A. Ellis
header for Who Is Wise?

Perhaps the most famous of the wisdom books in the Bible is Proverbs. It tells us at its outset why it exists:

For learning wisdom and discipline;
for understanding insightful sayings;
for receiving prudent instruction
in righteousness, justice, and integrity;
for teaching shrewdness to the inexperienced,
knowledge and discretion to a young man—
let a wise person listen and increase learning,
and let a discerning person obtain guidance—
for understanding a proverb or a parable,
the words of the wise, and their riddles.
(Prov. 1:2–7)

Life is confusing and at times, profoundly disappointing. If God hadn’t provided His Word and the Holy Spirit to guide us into all wisdom and joy, we would most certainly be people of absolute despair, with the pain of the world obscuring its joys and triumphs.

Once we gather some years and a bit of grey hair at the temple, we realize that some of life’s difficulties were the result of suffering the consequence of our own choices. At times those choices were made from ignorance, at other times selfishly motivated, and still at other times completely against the counsel of those who already knew the briar-covered path and had the scars to prove it.

Yet there are some who have come through this pilgrim’s journey as if it were a nomadic adventure—hard-won wisdom that produces joy in knowing what is the right thing in the worst situations. Imagine a nomadic people group who have always lived off the land. Their children are told as they walk along where the hazards are. In the savanna, death lurks in the tall grass where the lions hide; in the tundra, the danger lies in crossing the thin ice. In each case, those who are journeying pass on vital, life-saving information.

Wisdom and truth are part of the testament to the richness of that image of God bestowed on humankind that separates us from the animals.

We call these people wise.

Some who have not traveled the path reject their wisdom and grow more foolish with each passing year, only wishing to satisfy themselves. The old people used to say there’s no fool like an old fool, battle-scarred and never learning. Old on the outside, but children within. We all know people who’ve grown old yet never learned that the low grass provides clearer vision, that a whole community can cross on thicker ice. Moreover, the foolish do not only hurt themselves, since we never sin in a vacuum; our foolish choices always affect others because we are a connected, communal people made to either bless or curse after the fashion of our triune, promise-keeping Creator.

These people, we call fools.

It’s at the humble threshold of wisdom and life that we leave folly behind, where we move from haphazard to disciplined and from ignorant to understanding, able to receive from those who are elder-wise, trading shrewdness for inexperience, and pursue righteous, just, and holy living that respects our own dignity and the dignity of others.

And be prepared for the words of the wise in riddles: they are vexing and fun, much better lived than told.

Christ Is Our Wisdom

“Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. . . . It is from [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom from God for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30

Paul teaches in his letter to Corinth that the uncreated Christ Himself is our wisdom.

Yes, Wisdom is a person—the person of Christ, the Creator of all things. His wise fingerprints are upon us, His breath of life is inside us, and His image covers us inside and out. Wisdom’s imprint on us is a part of God’s garden package. By dwelling with wisdom in the person of Christ, by whom, in whom, and through whom all things were made, our first parents relied on Him to explain their world. Having unhindered communion with the triune God in some form while they lived in the garden, they were to pattern themselves after His image by understanding the world through His eyes.

While the Bible speaks of Wisdom as a person, it also speaks of wisdom as a benefit to life, created by Christ at the foundation of the world. Proverbs 8 tells us that the Lord brought wisdom forth as the first of His works, before His deeds of old, appointed before eternity, before the world began (see vv. 22–23). Before the “Let us makes” of Genesis 1, even before the “Let there bes,” Wisdom was.

Let’s continue to think of Wisdom both as a person (Christ), and as an asset created by that person . . . a byproduct of the source of all wisdom, if you will.

Wisdom and truth are part of the testament to the richness of that image of God bestowed on humankind that separates us from the animals. (I hesitate to say it’s the whole, because no library could exhaust the contents of the image of God.) But we cannot deny that wisdom the life-force was imparted to man by Wisdom the Person, when Christ breathed life into mankind and he became a living, breathing soul contained in a body.

Imagine that first intaking of breath . . . the first breath of life, how thrilling it must have been for Creator and creature, the tender exchange of life-giving, life-making air, billowing into the lungs from Life Himself.

We sing then with wisdom and amazement of the psalmist:

When I observe your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you set in place,
what is a human being that you remember him,
a son of man that you look after him?
You made him little less than God
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet.
(Ps. 8:3–7)

Lean on Me

Our first parents knew wisdom through intimacy with Christ. When temptation and sin slithered into the garden, so came Folly—Wisdom’s envious and unfortunate partner throughout Scripture.

They chose instead to dwell with folly and foolishness, and we as their children dwell with the foolishness of our own understanding of the world, apart from the One who created the world. Folly was not a part of the “very good” created order. It was forced upon the man and the woman by a hostile and deceitful enemy, hell-bent on frustrating the first couple’s God-given shalom.

Wisdom’s world of obedience was disfigured. Everything that made her a haven of rest and safety contorted into something grotesque, the product of fearsome rebellion.

In an instant, the lights dimmed a bit, the trees drooped, and creation uttered her first weighted groan. Relationship became brokenness, affection became resentment, trust turned to suspicion, unity morphed into discord, security decayed into danger, balance yielded to oppression, abundance evaporated into paucity. To echo Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the sweet bells of harmony with creation became “jangled, out of tune and harsh.”

Put another way, wisdom and truth brought them peace and harmony; folly and lies brought chaos and disorder.

As a result, the tuition for biblical wisdom ever since is now become astronomically high; we can take fire in our laps and experience the pain on our own flesh, or we can trace inquisitive fingers along the burn scars of others and ask, “What hurt you—was it your folly, or someone else’s foolish flame that jumped on you?”

And then we listen for the wisdom. But however the knowledge of consequence comes, someone has paid the price to know what is good and what is not.

Imagine if our first parents had followed the old proverb, stitched and hung on many a wall for generations:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise on your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Prov. 3:5–8)

Imagine if we better followed these wise words today!

For Further Reading:

Wisdom’s Call

by K. A. Ellis

Like all great building projects, the world runs on the wisdom of its Architect. The Bible tells us that the universe—its foundation, inner...

book cover for Wisdom’s Call